Sen­ate can­di­dates clash in TV de­bate

Hein­rich takes fire from John­son, Rich

Albuquerque Journal - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAN MCKAY

In a free­wheel­ing, tu­mul­tuous de­bate, U.S. Sen. Martin Hein­rich and his two op­po­nents spent an hour late Fri­day ques­tion­ing one an­other sharply, in­ter­rupt­ing one an­other’s an­swers and tak­ing turns mak­ing their pitch to vot­ers.

Lib­er­tar­ian Gary John­son and Repub­li­can Mick Rich seized on the first tele­vised de­bate of the cam­paign to send barbed com­ments Hein­rich’s way and cast them­selves as the right choice to rep­re­sent New Mex­ico in the U.S. Sen­ate.

John­son was by far the most lively — point­ing his fin­ger at Hein­rich at one point.

He and Hein­rich mixed it up on John­son’s bud­get ve­toes dur­ing his ten­ure as gover­nor and whether John­son’s calls to re­duce govern­ment spend­ing would dam­age New Mex­ico mil­i­tary bases.

John­son dis­puted the idea that ad­dress­ing the fed­eral bud­get deficit — a defin­ing is­sue for his cam­paign — would harm the state. In­stead, he said, the state should gain mil­i­tary as­sets from else­where in the coun­try be­cause of New Mex­ico’s cli­mate, airspace and other strengths.

“It’s an ar­gu­ment unique to New Mex­ico,” John­son said. “I think we’ll end up gain­ing as­sets.”

Hein­rich, a Demo­crat seek­ing re-elec­tion to a sec­ond term, said he didn’t buy it.

“I just don’t think it’s cred­i­ble to say we’re go­ing to cut ev­ery­where else, other than New Mex­ico,” Hein­rich said. “I think that’s a pretty flip­pant an­swer.”

Rich, a con­trac­tor who has worked across the state, fo­cused much of his en­ergy on ques­tion­ing Hein­rich’s com­mit­ment to New Mex­ico. He said Hein­rich ac­tu­ally lives in Mary­land.

“He has be­come a Wash­ing­ton politi­cian,” Rich said. “He has aban­doned New Mex­ico.”

Rich also turned to a few lines over and over.

“I care about New Mex­ico,” he said, a phrase he re­peated, in some ver­sion, about five more times.

He cast him­self as some­one who would sup­port Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ju­di­cial nom­i­nees and work to boost bor­der se­cu­rity and fight to safe­guard and ex­pand New Mex­ico’s mil­i­tary work­force.

The can­di­dates’ pointed com­ments came dur­ing a 60-minute de­bate aired by KOAT-TV late Fri­day and jointly spon­sored by the Jour­nal.

The three can­di­dates re­sponded to ques­tions from Jour­nal Se­nior Ed­i­tor Kent Walz and KOAT an­chors Shelly Ribando and Doug Fer­nan­dez.

Hein­rich, a for­mer Al­bu­querque city coun­cilor who also served in the U.S. House, pitched him­self as a bi­par­ti­san work­horse who was com­mit­ted to work­ing across the aisle to craft leg­is­la­tion on im­mi­gra­tion, en­ergy pol­icy and other top­ics, in ad­di­tion to bring­ing fed­eral jobs to the state.

“I think New Mex­i­cans de­serve an econ­omy that works for all of us, not just the few,” Hein­rich said.

John­son de­scribed him­self as some­one who had taken a one-per­son handyman busi­ness and grown it into a large and suc­cess­ful com­pany. His ten­ure as gover­nor from 1995 to 2002, he said, demon­strated his com­mit­ment to hon­esty and trans­parency.

“I wasn’t a wall­flower as gover­nor,” he said.

John­son said free mar­ket prin­ci­ples and com­pe­ti­tion could help im­prove health care, ed­u­ca­tion and the econ­omy.

The can­di­dates chal­lenged one an­other of­ten, some­times speak­ing over one an­other and draw­ing warn­ings from Fer­nan­dez, the moder­a­tor.

Hein­rich said Rich’s con­struc­tion com­pany was late fin­ish­ing a project at the New Mex­ico Mil­i­tary In­sti­tute.

Rich re­sponded by say­ing his son was now lead­ing the com­pany, but that the job would be fin­ished.

“I have a great rep­u­ta­tion in this state as a con­trac­tor,” he said. “… Sen. Hein­rich has yet to build any­thing for the last 10 years in Wash­ing­ton.”

John­son said he was happy to see Hein­rich in per­son, sug­gest­ing the in­cum­bent was avoid­ing fo­rums with his chal­lengers. John­son said that in his 1998 re-elec­tion cam­paign for gover­nor, he de­bated his op­po­nent 28 times.

“It’s great to see you, by the way,” John­son said to Hein­rich, “be­cause we haven’t seen each other this whole time.”

Hein­rich re­sponded: “Usu­ally when I see you, Gary, it’s on a ski lift.”

John­son: “You’ve seen me one time! You’ve seen me one time for two min­utes.”

GREG SOR­BER/JOUR­NAL

U.S. Sen­ate can­di­dates, from left, Lib­er­tar­ian Gary John­son, Demo­crat Martin Hein­rich and Repub­li­can Mick Rich on Fri­day night par­tic­i­pated in a de­bate broad­cast on KOAT-TV.

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