Alibi V.28 No.43 • Oct 24-30, 2019 

News Interview

Blair From District 3

Santa Fe Native, Obama Appointee Runs

John Blair
John Blair
photo by Corey Yazzie

That District 3 Congressional race we’ve been prepping you on just gets curiouser and curiouser.

In addition to a rather large field of donkeys getting ready to do battle for Ben Ray Lujan’s congressional seat en el Norte—which, as we’ve reminded you before, includes Santa Fe as well as parts of Rio Rancho and Corrales, places where one can pick up Weekly Alibi—more Elephants have come out of hiding and are looking toward the potential political opportunity of a lifetime.

Since its inception, the district has always been heavily Democratic; only one elephant, Bill Redmond, has served in the post. He was chosen in a special election to replace Bill Richardson in 1997. Richardson, as one recalls, went on to be the US Ambassador to the United Nations. Redmond was defeated by Tom Udall, who was succeeded by Ben Ray Lujan, and so on ad infinitum.

Of course this progressive path is not the future if the Republicans have their way. Now they’re running Anastacia Golden Morper, an Angel Fire, N.M. real estate agent, for the Republican nomination. As first reported in the Farmington Daily Times this past weekend, Morper supports strict immigration policies and the Second Amendment; she would support bills that would effectively ban abortion in the US. This is her first foray into politics.

Good luck with that political opportunity of a lifetime, elephants.

John Blair

Meanwhile, in reality, the Democrats are putting up some very decent candidates who share a seemingly progressive vision—although State Representative Joseph Sanchez seems to be the current centrist of the group, and has some affiliation with noted Democratic centrist, contrarian and gadfly Jeff Apodaca. We’ve yet to hear a word from Valerie Plame.

Besides this shared vision, most of the Democratic candidates vying for the seat in District 3 also have quite a bit of experience in governance, the law and in moving the political process forward.

This week, Weekly Alibi chatted with one of the most experienced candidates of them all, John Blair. Blair has served in the ranks of government for many years. He’s worked for now-retired US Senator Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Edward Chavez and then-US Representative Martin Heinrich. He was also the director of Intergovernmental and External Affairs at the US Department of the Interior and most recently served as Deputy Secretary of State here in New Mexico.

Blair is seeking elected office in order to continue to provide public service to the citizens of The Land of Enchantment. Weekly Alibi was impressed by Blair’s range of knowledge and articulate answers. Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.

Weekly Alibi: Could you tell our readers a little bit about your candidacy—where you’re from , who you are and what you represent?

John Blair: I was born in Albuquerque and grew up in Santa Fe. My mom and dad both worked for state government. My dad worked at PED [N.M. Public Education Department] for 32 years; my mom was at the Commission for the Blind for 23 years. I was your normal nerd growing up in Santa. I was in marching band and on the swim team. I was fortunate that I was able to travel the state quite a bit because of the activities I was in and because my parents wanted to make sure we saw the state. I’ve spent the past 25 year fighting for New Mexicans, fighting for a progressive agenda.

How did you get involved in politics?

I won a trip to Washington when I was in high school. That was my second trip to Washington, D.C. After that, I felt compelled to be a part of government, of serving. You know, my parents were both working for the state. My father was a teacher, my sisters are teachers, there’s a strong commitment to public service in our family. I was the sort of nerd that loved working in Washington. It wasn’t glamorous. My first job, I was opening the mail.

I see that as an example of the normative path into American politics. Start low and aim high. What was your education like?

I went to the University of Kansas.

Wow, the Jayhawks! That’s cool. Okay.

I interned for Senator Bingaman when I was in college. I knew I wanted to go to work for Bingaman. You can ask any of my friends from college. I spent the next three years [after the internship] telling people I wanted to go to Washington and work for Jeff. My parents weren’t wealthy. They didn’t come from any sort of political access so I moved to Washington without a job. I got a job a a retail store—this was before the internet—I was typing up job applications, and didn’t hear from anyone. Once a month, I’d knock on Senator Bingaman’s door and ask to come work for him. Finally, after about a year, I got a job. My job was to answer the phone and respond to correspondence. This was before the internet, so it was very busy.

Those were halcyon days, eh?

Yes, but you know what I learned? My job was to open up the letters and determine who was to be the staffer to deal with it; so I was reading the concerns of the constituents, writing from New Mexico about what they really cared about. People gave great thought and concern to what they wrote. It meant everything to them. I learned that there is great need in this state and there still is. There is a great need to improve just about everything we are doing. I feel committed to getting on board and doing that.

Clearly that experience inspired you to seek a career in public service. You’ve held a variety of positions in state and federal government.

I worked Senator Bingaman then for [Martin] Heinrich when he was a US Representative. There was a lot of work around public land issues, tribal issues, climate change issues. At the beginning of 2014, I was hired by President Obama to work in the Interior Department to help ensure that state and local officials throughout the country were able to have a say in the policies we were fighting for. I’m very proud of the work we did as an administration to push back on the fossil fuel companies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions at power plants. You know, President Obama had been coalescing support as he signed onto the Paris Climate Accord, around the methane rule that we wrote ...

So you were one of the people that worked on the methane rule?

I helped engage at the level of bringing public support to the initiative.

That was an important piece of environmental policy. It effectively capped methane emissions, right?

Absolutely. It’s unfortunate to see President Trump turning all of that back.

Yeah, there’s more natural gas production than ever, so more methane in the atmosphere.

Well one of the issues that we have is that methane gas is exponentially worse for the climate than is carbon dioxide. So all the work we’ve done to reduce emissions, allowing methane gas to escape [from production facilities] is essentially worse. We’re in a place where we’ve seen this administration—all that President Trump seems to care about is lining his own pockets, lining the pockets of his rich friends—make decisions at the expense of New Mexicans. They’re being made for his own self interest. We need to turn that around.

How do you propose we turn that around? How is having you as a member of congress going to change that dynamic?

For me, we’re at a place right now where we have multiple crises going on in the country. We are absolutely in a climate crisis. We have a President and Republican members of Congress who are ignoring science and reason, pretending that crisis doesn’t really exist. We also have an opioid epidemic and in addition, there’s an epidemic of gun violence in this country. Frankly, we’re also in the middle of a Constitutional crisis right now.

So this is a scary and stressful time for Americans, que no?

It is. Each of those issues, independently, deserves the full attention and voice of the country and the federal government. But what we have right now are multiple crises that require intervention. I think that the 25 years I’ve spent fighting for New Mexicans on the front line—with people like President Obama and Senator Heinrich—it’s that kind of experience that we need. We need someone who can jump in right away and hit the ground running to combat these crises.

And you believe you’re the man for the job?

I do, sir. I do. Talking about climate change, we have a moral obligation to save our planet. We are reaching that tipping point that scientists say we will not be able to turn back from. There was a day in August—around the time I launched my campaign—when Greenland had 11 billion tons of surface ice melt in one day. That is hard to wrap one’s head around. We are seeing irreparable damage being done.

Disappearing glaciers, rising surface temperatures ...

Absolutely. So for me, I see the climate crisis from two angles. One of which is this moral obligation I spoke of earlier; the other is that there really is the opportunity to make this northern Congressional District the gold standard for a clean energy economy. I know that won’t happen overnight, but we need to begin by incentivizing wind and solar production.

Do you see that as key to really moving forward with the renewable energy path that the Governor has called for?

It’s definitely one of the first steps we should take. We need to incentivize the clean energy industry to to the same extent, if not more than what we’ve been doing with the fossil fuel industries for generations. We need to invest in technology that will ensure the capture and storage of energy [produced by wind and solar sources]. We need to invest in transmission lines. Part of what we will need is well is job training. People who are currently living in communities in northern New Mexico—working in the fossil fuel industry—we need to provide the funding to retrain them.

We need to start creating the infrastructure for renewables. That has to do with the things you’ve mentioned, but also with education. How does education fit into your plans?

I think we’ve seen New Mexico really turn a corner this past legislative session with the investment that Governor Lujan Grisham and legislators got behind. I have a number of friends who grew up with me in Santa Fe. Some had a great education and some just missed out. We need to ensure that every child—regardless of where they live, what their parent’s income is—gets that. All those sorts of variables need to be taken into account. Every child has a right to be in a classroom that has access to technology, that has a small class size so that every student is learning and that we’re ensuring, from a very early age, that these students know how to read, that they can write, can do the arithmetic. That way, they can move on, step-by step, in a successful educational process.

How would you describe yourself politically?

I describe myself as a New Mexico Democrat. You hear people say, “Are you a Bernie Democrat or a Biden Democrat?” and I feel like that’s a trap. I don’t think that really works in New Mexico. I think what New Mexicans care about is [answering the question] who can jump in with both feet and fight for us to get things done?” What I talk about with my experience is that we clearly believe that it’s fundamentally important for a member of Congress to vote the right way, to make sure they are representing the views of the district. To me, what I bring to the table is the ability to pull all of the levers of federal govenment so that we can bring resources and ideas to the discussion. Not just to vote the right way be to be able to say, “What do we need to do to keep people living in Questa? What do we need to do help the people of Mora?” There’s not one magic answer, but these are things we need to start hammering out. I will do just that.