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Steve Pearce (Courtesy Photo)

Steve Pearce says he believes New Mexico can overcome the somewhat dubious reputation it’s garnered in recent years by appearing near or at the bottom of national lists regarding poverty, education and crime.

“We have one group that says it’s too late and one group that says, ‘No, I’m hopeful for the future, we can get better,’” Pearce said Thursday during a visit with the Daily Press. “I kind of saw that play out in my family. We had my dad, who was always careful. We were stuck at the bottom of the economic ladder, but my mom said, ‘We’re not going to live this way. We’re going to do better.’

“I watched that tension between them my whole life.”

Pearce says that he had a natural inclination to be more like his father – cautious, timid, and afraid to take risks.

“But my mom kept kicking me in the pants, saying, ‘Get up, get back out there, keep trying.’ After I got out of the house, I chose my mom’s direction. So I believe in the future. I believe we can make this state better, and that’s why I’m running for governor.

“We have the raw materials here. We have the people, we have the resources, we have the best environment… we’re not affected by earthquakes or hurricanes or things like that, and manufacturers want to be here because of that. Let’s let them come here. I have all the optimism in the world for the future of New Mexico.”

Sitting over a large glass of iced tea at The Jahva House, Pearce outlined his gubernatorial platform and also touched on the issues he’s still working on as U.S. representative of New Mexico’s Second Congressional District.

One of those issues includes the GOP’s recently passed tax bill. He says one of the reasons he backed the bill is that it contains provisions to help small businesses like the local coffee shop.

“I’d insisted to the president and Kellyanne Conway way back in June and July, ‘I’ll fight you if you take individuals out and if you take small businesses out.’ Because that’s what we are in New Mexico,” Pearce said. “We don’t have any Fortune 500 companies here.

“Let’s say you’ve got a guy here who’s a welder and he wants to buy a new truck. With this bill, he can write the whole thing off in Year One. You don’t have to wait for it to depreciate, just right it off, and that’s going to spur a lot of investments. I think you’ll see small businesses get steadier, because when they have new equipment, they’re more productive.”

There’ve been conflicting reports regarding how much help the tax bill will actually be to the middle class, with most analysts saying that while many – not all – will see tax breaks in the short term, those breaks will dissolve over time.

Pearce said he feels that problem could be solved by pressure on future congressional leaders.

“Once people start getting this money back in their paychecks, any future Congress that doesn’t keep those (cuts) in place, there’ll be tremendous pressure to do so,” he said, “and I think that’s the answer to them being made permanent.”

The congressman says the immediate benefits to the middle class will help those who are “just hanging on by a thread.”

“If you’re making $60,000 with a family of four, two kids and the parents, you’ll get 75 percent of your taxes back, and everybody below that is going to be even incrementally better,” Pearce said. “We doubled the standard deduction, which means people at the bottom end don’t have to prove anything; you take the standard deduction and go. And we’ve also increased the child tax credits by double, so that’s a big deal.”

Pearce says he feels concerns over the $1.5-trillion increase to the national debt the bill is projected to cause over the next decade could be allayed should the nation’s growth rate hold steady.

“It was 1.8, 1.9 percent at the end of last year,” Pearce said. “If we continue like that, there’ll be a deficit. But if the economy continues to grow more, there’s going to end up being a surplus.

“The break-even is 2.6 percent; for the last 40 years, we’ve averaged 3.3, and it’s at 3.3 right now. But even at 2.6, there would be a surplus, not a deficit.”

While other opposition to the bill was also generated by the fact it is most beneficial to the 1 percent and corporations, Pearce says the new corporate tax rates will help bring business back to America.

“When we’re in a retail economy, we’re just trading money back and forth,” Pearce said. “We want manufacturers to come back here. Refining is a form of manufacturing, so you all have a good, steady job base here because we produce the oil but we also manufacture it, so those two levels cause a better economy.

“Lowering the rate from 36 to 21 is significant, because at 21, we can compete. Right now, Europe is at about 18.5 percent, and Ireland is at 12, and that’s the reason a lot of companies left here and went to Ireland. We were the highest in the industrialized world, and we wanted to get competitive.”

Pearce also spoke Thursday about a bill he has crafted that would provide a compromise in the recent debate over Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

“There are very high emotions on both sides of this,” said the congressman. “Some people say they should follow the law and should leave. Some people say we should give them amnesty. To me, those are the two extremes. So I wanted a bill that was down the middle of the road – we’re not going to give you amnesty, but we’re not going to kick you out, either.”

Pearce says his bill offers DACA individuals 10-year rolling increments of time in which to complete their paperwork.

“By not giving citizenship, we end chain migration,” he said. “All of us want immigration, but we want the system to work properly. I’ve talked to DACA recipients, and they’re excited that I have a compromise, because they themselves believe amnesty may not get passed.”

As for Pearce’s race for governor of New Mexico, he says his platform is fourfold and simple: grow and diversify the economy, fix education, confront poverty, and attack crime.

“Economically, I really want to try to put a new refinery in,” Pearce said. “We haven’t built one in 30 or 40 years, so it’s time to bring some of that prosperity back here.

“The major companies are telling me the best fields in the world are here. And we’re filling the pipelines to Houston again; now we want to fill the pipelines to a refinery in New Mexico.”

Copper mining, technology, the film industry, and the spaceport are other areas of focus economically for Pearce.

“Some people say we shouldn’t have done the spaceport… well, we’ve put $200 million in it, it’s too late to say we shouldn’t have done it,” he said. “Now we have to fight every day to make it work. We started ahead of everybody and have let Texas and Florida get way ahead of us, so now it’s going to be a total, all-out battle to keep our investment worth something.”

Pearce says directing manufacturing efforts to the areas of New Mexico that are most in need is key in addressing poverty.

“Let’s build and create jobs where the poverty is the deepest, like around the reservations where some of that poverty is absolutely generational,” he said.

That also goes hand-in-hand with addressing crime, the biggest contributor to which, Pearce says, is cartel and drug activity.

“I don’t think poverty causes crime; if so, my family would’ve been the biggest criminals, because we grew up dirt poor, but there was no doubt we weren’t going to be criminals, because mom laid down the law,” Pearce said. “But if we start with the cartels and start helping people get out of drugs, and dealing with mental health as a separate issue instead of just putting some of those people with mental health problems into prisons, it all has an impact.

“I think it’s possible to reclaim these lives, and when you do that, you lower domestic violence, you lower the effect on our kids, and wen our kids don’t have so many bad effects coming from home, they perform better in school.”

Giving students who may not have the ability or inclination to continue their educations collegiately another option would also help reduce poverty, Pearce says.

“I want to put apprenticeship programs in our high schools so that when you graduate, if you don’t want to go off to college, you have a journeyman’s certificate and are able to go to work that day,” he said. “Let’s start working with the kids that want to work with their hands. It’s a noble profession. And we’ve got the kids, we just sometimes don’t think they’re worth as much in our school systems.”

As for local school systems, Pearce says his aim is also to return to them the bulk of the decision-making power as it pertains to their individual districts.

“We want our teachers to be everything but teachers,” he said. “They’re truancy officers, they’re policemen, they’re behavior counselors, they’re drug counselors… they are everything but teachers, and that’s one of the reasons they don’t like teaching anymore. We have crushed the desire to teach out of our teachers.

“I want to put decisions back at the local level, the school board and superintendent level. The evaluation systems are obviously very flawed. Yes, we should evaluate, but it doesn’t need to be this cumbersome, bureaucratic process it is now where we’re holding teachers responsible for things that are out of their control. If they can teach, let them teach, and if they can’t, train them or replace them.”