Alibi V.28 No.38 • Sept 19-25, 2019 

News Interview

Serna Runs for Congress

A Conversation About Justice and Prosperity

Marco Serna
Marco Serna
Corey Yazzie

The race for Congressional District 3 en El Norte continues to provide relevant and newsworthy comparisons to large-scale affairs like the Democratic race to replace Herr Trump.

Here in The Land of Enchantment, there are many candidates—from the far flung left field of the party to centrists with a vested interest in carrying on current congressional work—and even a few candidates who seem to veer toward the right when questioned about their platform. Oh, and we’ve also got a celebrity and a mystic running in the primary, which is scheduled for the first Tuesday in June 2020.

Last week, Weekly Alibi entertained notions about the relevancy of the political class and the effects of having someone who is not an expert in the complexities of governance become an elected official.

This week, Weekly Alibi sat down with Third Congressional District candidate Marco Serna, currently the District Attorney up in Santa Fe and Los Alamos Counties. We discussed his candidacy as one of the leading Democrats in the state and as a potential inheritor to the seat currently held by Ben Ray Lujan. And while Serna is a member of the Democratic establishment, he’s proposed several evolutionary ideas about issues that directly effect our state’s citizens.

Weekly Alibi: District Three has been a longtime Democratic stronghold in New Mexico.

Marco Serna: That’s right; geographically speaking, it’s also the biggest congressional district in the United States.

You’ve had good amount of experience in New Mexican politics and you’re a well-known public figure and leader; what are you running for and about?

As you know, I’m a prosecutor, I’m a district attorney. And I want to build off of what I’ve done as a district attorney—specifically addressing the opioid epidemic in Congress. As you know, I was born and raised in Northern New Mexico. I knew I was going to grow up to become a public servant because my parents instilled in me the value of public service. I went straight into government. I love being a prosecutor but—as a native of Rio Arriba County specifically—I’ve seen the effects that the opioid epidemic has had. It’s been happening in Rio Arriba [County] for 30 years.

Even when I was younger, places like Española and Chimayo were known to have a high number of overdose deaths. That problem seems to have become more geographically diffuse. From personal experience, my wife and I have recently noticed an uptick in overdose deaths among those we know peripherally. It seems like the problem is closer to people’s everyday lives than ever before. Something needs to be done. What do you propose?

Well, what I’ve done as district attorney is that I’ve put a focus on a policy of the office: [We’re] no longer trying to jail individuals who suffer from addiction, but trying to get them treatment. I’ve expanded the office’s pre-prosecution diversion program so that we put individuals in a two-year program staffed by people in my office—to monitor them. We get them [people suffering from addiction] into treatment. We get them to create corrective action plans so that they are working, going to school—we’re making sure that they are staying out of the cycle of addiction. With that, we do understand that some individuals that suffer from addiction, it takes a couple of bites from the apple [before they get well], so we’re not violating them if they test [positive] for drugs for one session. We understand that they may falter, but we want to keep them on the right path. We want to keep them out of the criminal justice system. Besides that program and prior to my tenure, my predecessor brought in the LEAD [Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion] program.

I think we’re trying to institute that here in Burque.

Yes, you are and I have an attorney on staff that has been helping out here and went down to Doña Ana County to discuss the LEAD program. I’m very proud of the fact we’ve been able to expand that program into Rio Arriba County. Just so you know, these types of programs need community involvement.

Are you referring to individuals in the community?

No, I’m talking about the programs themselves. You’ve got to have community buy-in. That includes the city, the county, local law enforcement, first responders that are going to be taking part in the program. If my office, if the public defenders office or law enforcement isn’t involved, the program doesn’t work. What makes me really proud of this program is that people are starting to look at this [opioid epidemic] as not just a matter of criminal activity, but as a behavioral health issue.

Is this a public health issue?

Yes, it’s a public health issue as well. And those individuals are suffering from addiction and addiction is driving the criminal activity. And what we’re seeing at a national scale about this issue is a buy-in by Representatives and Senators. We need to start effectively addressing this problem, not just try to jail our way out of it.

The fact that you’re making treatment a priority over incarceration represents a huge sea change in the way our culture views prosecution and addiction.

And nonviolent offenses too. When an individual commits a nonviolent act, typically there is something driving that act, drugs or some sort of addiction, it could even be a gambling addiction. So let’s get to the root of the problem.

I hear the roots narrative frequently from progressives and it’s good to know that we’re changing gears.

I think what Democrats are seeing is—and a lot of people are seeing it, Republicans are seeing it—the system for addressing addiction was broken. What’s actually working in different programs around the country and in my district too is [the fact that] we have a good number of diversion programs producing positive results. It’s all about followup; you need to follow-up with with such individuals.

How can such progressive politics help with economic development in New Mexico?

My family are small business owners; my mother specifically. I’ve seen the impact of larger corporations like Walmart and Amazon having an effect on small businesses in rural New Mexico. And small business in Santa Fe, Taos and Española.

Is that a kind of gentrification that pushes out the small players, the mom and pop enterprises?

Absolutely.

Does that limit prosperity? Are New Mexicans who what to be entrepreneurs stifled by large corporations?

They don’t stand a chance. When Walmart came into Española, my mom’s business had already been there for 20 years. She was able to weather the storm because her clientele kept coming back to her. That’s not to say she didn’t take a hit. When Walmart came in, a lot of mom and pop shops closed. They had no choice. Now Amazon and online shopping are having an effect on local businesses. When I’m talking to people across the district, I recognize that small businesses are our lifeblood in New Mexico. Without them, rural New Mexico cannot sustain itself. And people are having to leave [as a consequence]. If you can’t find a sustainable job, then you can’t stay in your community. As a result the population in rural New Mexico is shrinking.

How do we ameliorate that?

We need to make sure that we encourage proper infrastructure needed for economic growth and stability in New Mexico and that includes providing broadband internet. We need to make sure that tax breaks aren’t going to corporations like Amazon or to petroleum companies that are making billions of dollars of profit every year. We need to ensure that small businesses are getting those tax breaks. They’re the ones that need those breaks.

They often bear the brunt of so-called corporate taxes.

We also need to create sustainable jobs, specifically in the energy field.

Let’s talk about energy since many would say that oil and gas revenue is running the state’s purring engine at the moment. How are we going to replace all the money that the dinosaurs are giving up?

Economic growth, creating that infrastructure, will allow us to start the transition plan. We’ve also got to recognize that we just can’t do away the oil and gas industry because we rely on it so much. Over $930 million of that revenue went to education this year. That’s huge. And it’s needed. We have to taper off properly, so that we encourage clean energy but also make sure that were bringing production of such resources into the state. As we’re tapering off, we’re replacing infrastructure and jobs.

With so many progressive Democratic candidates vying for the District 3 seat, why should you be the one to move forward to the general election in 2020?

I’m the best candidate. I was born and raised in Northern New Mexico. Being a native son, my family has been invested in New Mexico and I’ve been invested since I came back from law school. I think that everyone [in the race] brings something to the table, but I’m the most well-rounded for the entire district. I understand the rural issues in the district, too, with regards to ranching, farming and economic growth. As district attorney, I’ve been able to encourage political change; that’s something we’re going to need in Washington.