Alibi V.28 No.39 • Sept 26-Oct 2, 2019 

New Mexico News

Fernandez from District 3

On Elections, Democracy and El Norte

Teresa Leger Fernandez
Teresa Leger Fernandez
Corey Yazzie

The other day, someone wondered why Weekly Alibi is spending any time at all talking to the candidates of a big congressional race whose storm is still forming on the horizon. There are, after all, 11 Democrats seeking the political opportunity of a lifetime: To be the replacement for one of our state’s most effective and powerful legislators as he moves on to higher ground.

What’s not to cover? The District, as we’ve written before, comprises much of the part of the state commonly referred to as El Norte—a linguistic and cultural nod to the essence of Nuevo Mexico—a multicultural place, with deep roots in Indigenous and Latinx culture.

Besides that, parts of what we consider to be the Albuquerque Metropolitan area—Rio Rancho and Corrales, not to mention that weird partition north of Coors and south of Paseo del Norte centered around Paradise Hills—are part of District 3.

There are more than 600,000 people living in the district. Democrats comprise a majority of the registered voters or about 217,000 citizens. Almost two-thirds of those donkeys are urbanites. Of that number there are more than 20,000 registered Democrats (about a tenth of the total Democratic voters in the district) living in Rio Rancho. In Corrales there are about 3,500 registered Democrats.

We’re pretty sure that those voters—with easy Alibi access—want to know what the score is so far in a race with wide implications, locally, statewide and as we’ve mentioned time and time again, nationally too.

This race represents the bigger picture—politically and especially for Democrats—as our electorate grapples with potential directions and political proclivities post-Trump.

We’re going to assume his administration will go down in flames à la Nixon before next spring’s primary election and that’s part of our process, too. We want readers to know who they can count on when the next blue wave materializes over the deep ocean that is America.

So, this week, Weekly Alibi talked to Teresa Leger Fernandez, a Democrat and a progressive who’s running to become the Democratic nominee in District 3.

Fernandez is a longtime community activist with a deep mind, effective decision-making skills and a hand in much of the policy that binds the cultures of our state together.

A former White House Fellow, Fernandez the legal ace was instrumental in helping establish and maintain affordable housing and voting rights for Latinx and Indigenous communities statewide. She now serves on the board of Homewise, a statewide program designed to help New Mexican families purchase affordable homes.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg for a candidate who is as qualified as they come.

Weekly Alibi: Could you tell our readers a bit about yourself, why you’re running for Congress in District Three?

Teresa Leger Fernandez: With regards to why I’m running: I believe this is one of those times, one of those transformative moments. And when you’re faced with a transformative moment, you need to decide whether you’re going to take incredibly strong, bold and courageous action to address the issues.

Why is this a transformative moment?

It’s a transformative moment because 2020 is going to be a significant election year. We’re going to elect a new president, we’re going to strengthen our position in the House [of Representatives] and there is the possibility of flipping the Senate. What that means is that we have to not just undo the damage that was done during the last four years. We need to determine what our vision is, what we want to accomplish. I think that strength of purpose and vision are what we are facing now. It’s a transformative moment. I feel like I’m stepping up, I feel almost called to run.

Where does that call to public service originate in Americans, in you?

I come from a family of public servants. What I always say is that my father, when he wanted to get something done would say, “Hora es cuando.” It’s time. It’s my time to run because of what I bring to the race. It’s a great combination—not just the fact that I’m from one of those very large Latinx families in Northern New Mexico with 18 tios and tias—and I was steeped in the tradition of public service. My father was a state senator. My mother was a bilingual education pioneer [in the State of New Mexico].

Wow. I did not know that!

Yes, there’s a roadside historic marker [in New Mexico] dedicated to her and her work. It’s in Guadalupe County, up by Delia [, N.M.] So I’ve got these deep roots in terms of family in New Mexico, but more importantly, I’ve spent the last 29 years working in community in New Mexico, making things happen. I was trained as a rebellious lawyer at Stanford Law School.

So, just to paint a contrast, you’re not a prosecutor, but rather someone who advocates for the common citizen?

I’m someone who tries to make things happen to improve our communities.

So, would you say you’re a lawyer who is involved with community service?

Yes, in community service. So that involves civil rights, Latinx rights, work with Native Americans—I represent Native Americans and tribes—so that means I’ve done a whole range of work.

Weren’t you one of the folks at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), an organization that sued the state to bring attention to racial and cultural educational disparities in the state? Discuss.

I was Vice Chair of the MALDEF board for six years. I think that what MALDEF has done nationwide, and what they’ve done here in New Mexico, is say that “we want to let Latinxs have equal rights, equity and justice.” So, my life has been dedicated to creating equity and justice.

How can those goals be accomplished?

To do that, you need to build economic development, you have to have education and healthcare and you need to make sure you are not being discriminated against. MALDEF looks at all of those issues. It was great to serve on their board, but also great to continue exploring those issues [as a candidate]. While I was at MALDEF, we also worked on the [Congressional] redistricting project and the voting rights act. I’ve personally taken on those issues. That includes making sure we do not have gerrymandering [in New Mexico]. I’ve been pushing to make sure that citizens have access to voting in minority communities and rural areas. A lot of this work happens at the grassroots level.

You also argued for ranked choice voting in Santa Fe and presented those arguments to the state supreme court, que no?

Yes. This idea of voting and voting rights in a democracy is essential to my campaign.

Is that the main plank, as they say?

Yes. The idea is about the importance of democracy. The importance of making sure that everyone [who is eligible] has a vote. Elections matter. The way we have people in our communities respond to them is by making sure they get out and vote. Part of what’s happened—in New Mexico and the country—is that we haven’t gotten the vote out. We haven’t gotten people to recognize that if you don’t go out to vote, then you get presidents like Trump. Here in New Mexico, former governor [Susana] Martinez won because of low voter turnout. I want to see strong voter turnout.

What are some of the big issues that you’re looking into as a candidate?

I believe climate change is an overarching issue.

How do you stand on the Green New Deal?

I’ve been for the Green New Deal from the beginning.

And what about renewable energy, given this fact: This year more than $950 million in money from oil and gas revenue will go toward badly needed fixes in New Mexico’s public education system. But the state is committed to weaning itself from dinosaur juice of all sorts within a couple of decades. How is that going to work?

There will be a transition period where we—as a country and state move away from oil and gas—will develop renewable energy [transmission and infrastructure] by dedicating some of those revenues to funds that will be needed to make the transition. It will be a long transition, but if we don’t start now, we’re not going to have a state where education is even possible, because we’re not going to have water. As we address climate change, we can also create opportunity. That’s an idea we need to embrace: We can create economic opportunity that builds a vibrant economy through renewable energy.

Why should you be the human that follows Ben Ray Lujan in the Congress of the United States of America?

I think that if the voters want someone who has the experience—someone who has actually proven on the ground that she accomplish things that are vital and sometimes pathfinding for communities statewide—in addition to high level federal work that allowed her to become an expert at the legislative process and someone who is deeply rooted in El Norte, I bring those three qualities together. That is what makes my candidacy incredibly strong.