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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Road To Congress Gets More Rocky For Roxanne "Rocky" Lara; WIPP Leak Throws Her A Curve Ball Proving Hard To Catch As Rep. Pearce Works To Get In Front Of WIPP Parade 

Rocky Lara's road to the southern New Mexico congressional seat may have gotten a lot rockier. The soon-to-be Dem nominee--who will challenge GOP US Rep. Steve Pearce--has been in silent mode ever since the sensational news broke that here had been a radiation leak at WIPP--the nuclear storage site in Eddy County near Carlsbad in SE NM.

Dona Ana and Grant counties are bastions of environmentalism in the 2nd CD and are counties Lara needs to win big if she is to have any hope of competing with Pearce. National Dems have targeted this race and are pounding the table for Lara. Her mum-is-the-word approach on this most high-profile of environmental issues has the eyebrows raised.

Lara's problem is that she is a former chair of the Eddy County Commission and--like Pearce--has been a big booster of WIPP. That has not gone unnoticed on the campaign trail. In a letter to the Sun-News Connie Potter of Las Cruces scorched attorney Lara for her quietude on a news story that has made global headlines:

Lara. . . . has not acknowledged her great involvement in the private NM nuclear waste industry which is under intense scrutiny for safety issues. . .Most importantly, she promotes New Mexico as the nation’s nuclear waste depository through membership in the Eddy County Energy Alliance, Energy Communities Alliance and the Nuclear Task Force. The Nuclear Task Force has a vested interest in stockpiling wastes near Carlsbad, Ms. Lara’s home, as a source of jobs (albeit less than 1,000) and “national defense.”  Amazingly, the Energy Communities Alliance of which Lara is a member thinks nuclear wastes should be placed in above ground tanks (a first in the U.S.) and spread over nearly 1,000 square miles of NM. . . 

Lara's campaign says it does not respond to letters-to-the-editor. but she did give NM Politics with Joe Monahan her first statement to date on the WIPP accident: 

Until the source of the leak at WIPP is known and addressed, it is important that the responding agencies are forthcoming with information and responsive to the community's inquiries," Rocky Lara said. “The safety of the workers at WIPP and of the Carlsbad community is my primary concern. I am reassured by the reports that have shown that the employees who tested positive for radiation exposure are not expected to have any adverse health effects, but we must remain vigilant.

Democrats like letter writer Potter feel Lara is conflicted on the nuclear waste issue and is not going to be able to do much to compare and contrast her position with that of Pearce's thus bypassing a major opportunity for the D's.

PEARCE CATCHES UP

Heinrich, Udall & Pearce @ WIPP meet
As for Pearce, we noted he was slow out of the gate on the WIPP leak. That's because his web site shows that after his first statement about the Valentine's Day leak on February 15, he went silent until he announced a WIPP town hall meeting on March 4.

But Pearce has since picked up the slack and has also avoided any ill-advised boosterism of WIPP or vouching for the safety of the facility.

The surrounding communities are shrouded in nervousness, awaiting more information on the cause of the leak. Pearce has made an effort to separate himself from the Department of Energy which is responsible for WIPP and has not inspired trust in the way it has handled the incident:

“I will hold their feet to the fire. In my meetings with Secretary Moniz, and in my conversations with top officials at the Department of Energy, I have strongly voiced New Mexicans’ concerns about the lack of information about WIPP, and they have committed to improving regular and transparent communications with the community. Friday’s town hall was a productive and frank discussion between top department officials and members of the community, and I expect the Department of Energy to continue with daily updates and straight answers in that same spirit.”

Pearce was part of a recent meeting about the WIPP leak with Dem Senators Udall and Heinrich and Secretary Moniz. A widely distributed photo of the meeting gave the very conservative Pearce a patina of bipartisanship.

Pearce now reports that current WIPP employees will continue to get paychecks, even as WIPP remains shut to new canisters of nuclear waste.

The Pearce and Lara statements are essentially the same. Given the uncertainly as to what caused the accident, that's understandable. But that works best for Pearce who is known for his strong nuclear stance and now seems in front of the story whereas Rocky--who has presented herself as a vastly different politician than Pearce--does not.

BOWING OUT

Also on the southern congressional front, it appears that little-known Leslie Endean-Singh of Alamogordo is the only candidate dropping out of the June primary race because she failed to get 20 percent of the vote at the Dems Saturday preprimary convention. She was seeking the Dem nomination against Roxanne Lara for the southern congressional seat:

In light of the results at last Saturday’s pre-primary convention, I will be formally withdrawing from the race. . . .The delegates to our pre-primary convention have made their decision, and, in the spirit of Democratic unity, I believe it is best if we unite behind our party’s nominee, and our next congresswoman, Rocky Lara.

DID YOU KNOW. . . .

That between 2008 and the current school year, ABQ Public Schools cut its staff by about 1,000 employees? Now that's a recession. . . .

And we've been looking for this number:

All told, New Mexico received more than $4.6 billion in Department of Energy funding in fiscal year 2014, most of it for LANL and Sandia National Laboratories. 

Going through our blog archives we find that then-Senator Jeff Bingaman reported that for fiscal year 2010 total NM DOE funding was $4.3 billion. DOE funding appears to have increased annually since then at a bit less than 2 percent--or about the rate of inflation. That helps to explain some of the ongoing stagnation in the state economy. 

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