January 22, 2019

Udall Addresses New Mexico Legislature

SANTA FE - Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall addressed a joint session of the New Mexico Legislature. In his speech, Udall discussed opportunities to advance New Mexico priorities in Congress, including reforming our democracy, addressing climate change, and securing strong investment in rural communities, broadband internet, water infrastructure, and more.

"As I travel this state, I hear from hundreds, thousands of New Mexicans. And what I hear is this: the people of New Mexico all want the same things – a livable wage. Job security. Stable and decent housing. Affordable and accessible health care. A good education system," Udall said. "We want our streets and schools safe. And we want our environment protected for future generations. To leave our children a stronger state and a brighter future."

"I know that each one of you here understands this as well. And, even when we disagree, I know we are all committed to these same, basic goals," Udall continued. "We are one state. We all have a stake in the prosperity of our communities. We all have a stake in the success of our children’s future. When we work together--regardless of partisanship or party affiliation--we accomplish so much more than when we isolate ourselves within the walls of our own party."

Below are Udall's full remarks as prepared for delivery:

Good morning. Thank you for the kind introduction, Lieutenant Governor Morales.

Greetings President pro tempore Papen, Speaker Egolf, Leader Ingle, and Leader Townsend, distinguished members of the New Mexico Legislature, Tribal leaders, and honored guests.

It is always an honor to appear before you.

I’m thrilled to be joined by my wife, Jill. Wasn’t she a magnificent MC at the Governor’s inauguration? And my daughter, Amanda; and my son-in-law, Jim.

We now begin a new year. The jockeying and competition of the election season is over. And it is now time to govern. It’s time to roll up our sleeves. And do the hard work.

This is a year where bold action from Congress, and from this legislature, is imperative.

Folks – our democracy needs rebuilding, strengthening, revitalizing. Just like a vineyard or a garden – we must carefully tend to our democracy. Or it will wither.

In all my years of public service, I have never been so worried about our democracy.

At the national level, there is a deep disconnect between what the American people want and what their elected officials are giving them.

Poll after poll shows the American people want a world class education system, affordable healthcare, good paying jobs, gun safety laws, measures to combat climate change, and humane immigration laws.

Yet, Congress and the Executive seem blind to the people’s will. The 1 percent is heard. But not the rest.

It’s no wonder trust in Congress is so low. Root canals, famously, have a higher approval rating.

Our democracy has reached a crisis point: A healthy democracy depends on all citizens voting. Yet, we make it far too hard to vote. A healthy democracy depends on elected officials responding to the wishes of the majority. Yet, elected officials are too beholden to the most wealthy and powerful – and to raising money for re-election campaigns -- because of a campaign finance system run amok. And a healthy democracy depends on government officials working for the public interest, not their own wallets. Yet, far too many in Washington are caught in conflicts of interest.

Elected officials are being run by the lobbyist industrial complex. By the electoral consultant industrial complex. Not by the electorate.

Yesterday, we celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. -- his dream, his legacy, his sacrifice. Dr. King once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

None of us can afford to be silent.

The people are not silent. And we must listen. And respond.

I’ve worked for three decades to bring about change and reform. We have reached a critical juncture--where inaction is not acceptable.

I will be introducing updated, comprehensive reform legislation that I’ve been pushing for years. My bill is called the For the People Act. I will be the lead in the Senate. It:

• Makes it easier, not harder, to vote.
• Creates independent commissions to put an end to gerrymandering that skews our Congressional elections.
• Calls for overturning Citizens United -- so we rein in unlimited campaign contributions.
• Requires full disclosure of all political contributions – so we shine a light on dark money.
• And holds elected officials and lobbyists to high ethical standards. So we actually drain the swamp.

I hope all of you will support the For the People Act.

And I challenge you to enact your own bold reforms for New Mexico: Creating a strong state ethics commission -- voted on by the people. Making automatic voter registration a reality. Strengthening our democratic ideals.

These measures are not red or blue. They are red, white, and blue.

And they will help return our democracy to the hands of its rightful owners – the people.

This terrible partial government shutdown is the most visible – and painful – example of the Executive and Senate’s complete lack of responsiveness to the will of the people. The people do not support an ineffective, wildly expensive, divisive wall. They do not support shutting down government -- holding federal workers and contractors hostage. And they are holding the Executive responsible.

My office conservatively estimates more than 10,800 federal employees are furloughed or working without pay.

Yesterday, in Albuquerque, I met with about two dozen government employees, federal contractors, companies depending on government services, and their families. It was heartbreaking.

This shutdown is affecting real people, with real mortgages, real bills to pay, and real families to feed.

The cruelty of this shutdown must stop.

The House is ready to fund government. The Senate was ready in December. We had a deal with the president – and he reneged under pressure from the far right news media.

We need to open government. And then we can debate and negotiate in good faith on border security.

I support strong border security. But I want to see smart, cost-effective, and locally appropriate measures.

I support real immigration reform. Dreamers and their families should be able to stay in our state, in their communities. Each and every child must be reunited with their families. And the inhumane immigration policies of the current administration must end.

As we think about what the American people want and about the future we are going to leave our children, there is no more pressing issue than climate change.

Climate change is here and now.

New Mexico’s agricultural community doesn’t need science to tell them that. We feel it in New Mexico. We’ve now had years of drought. The most recent Drought Monitor shows dry or drought conditions in 60 percent of the state – with the northwest being hit the hardest.

The scientific consensus is clear. And, the International Panel on Climate Change warns we have 12 years–only 12 years–to meet this challenge head on or we can’t reverse course.

The current administration has gutted or is trying to gut all Obama-era climate change measures. I’ve fought that vigorously.

Where I can make a big difference is sitting as a senior member of the Appropriations Committee.

Passing strong drought measures and making sure that New Mexico’s water infrastructure is up to date and modernized are top priorities for me.

We cannot meet 21st century challenges with 19th century infrastructure.

On the Appropriations Committee, we nearly doubled the funding to rural water projects – at $113 million in total.

I pushed the Bureau of Reclamation hard to use its discretionary funds for New Mexico water infrastructure priorities. While the president’s budget proposed nothing for the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water System, we secured over $4 million. And, we secured Bureau funding for more than $7 million for water projects for the Rio Grande, Isleta Pueblo, and the Carlsbad area. States are now the breeding ground for innovation to combat climate change -- because this administration, and its allies in Congress, are abdicating their responsibility.

So I support the governor’s call for an ambitious renewable portfolio standard. Fifty percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2040 are great renewable goals for New Mexico. And, absent adequate federal action, we must pass a state methane rule -- that will curb excess emissions, bring more revenue into the state, and create new jobs.

Saving New Mexico’s enchanted lands and our nation’s public lands is in my DNA and so much of what defines my commitment as a public servant.

Toward that end – we successfully kept Rio Grande del Norte and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monuments off the president’s chopping block. Our newest national monuments not only protect majestic lands--they are an economic boon to the rural communities surrounding them.

Chaco Canyon is treasured by New Mexicans. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Greater Chaco landscape should be protected.

I’m working with all stakeholders to protect that iconic land that houses literally thousands of important Native sites and artifacts – from unfettered development. The region surrounding Chaco landscape is over 90 percent under oil and gas development. While New Mexico benefits from oil and gas – we must keep our most prized places protected.

Public lands are essential to our identity as a state, to our way of life – and to our economy. We must keep public lands in public hands.

I have the privilege of serving as vice-chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. Serving in that capacity has been the honor of a lifetime. Our state is proud to be home to one of the largest percentage of Native Americans in the nation — ten percent.

New Mexico has one of – if not the richest – diversity of cultures in the nation and we stand proud of that.

In all that I try to accomplish for Indian Country, three principals guide me: respect for tribes’ and pueblos’ sovereignty, promotion of self-determination, and the federal government’s obligation to engage in meaningful consultation whenever federal actions affect Indian Country.

I am proud that we passed into law the Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act. Some of you may remember the tragic story of 11 year old Ashlynne Mike, a young Navajo girl, abducted and murdered in 2016. The bill fixes a loop hole so Native communities can access federal dollars to send out emergency alerts to protect children.

I was honored to partner with the late John McCain on that bill -- which will save lives of the most vulnerable. John was a great friend and a great American.

Sitting on the Appropriations Committee, I have a key seat at the table for funding that benefits New Mexico and the nation. And–fortunately-we’ve seen bipartisanship at work in the appropriations process.

The president’s two budgets proposed cutting or eliminating critical programs – programs that New Mexico relies on -- like USDA rural development, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, TIGER grants, the National Endowment of Arts, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Thankfully, Congress rejected those slash-and-burn proposals – on a bipartisan basis. And I will keep fighting to ensure they continue to benefit all New Mexicans.

One of my top priorities is working to invigorate our rural economy. We secured historic gains for New Mexico farmers, ranchers, dairies, acequias, land grants, and Tribes and Pueblos in the 2019 Farm Bill.

For the first time, Tribes and Pueblos got their agenda into the Farm Bill.

I championed new funding for Beginning Farmers and Ranchers and for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers. This $435 million program triples the current investment and will increase resources for New Mexicans looking to begin or expand their own farm or ranch.

Acequias and land grants are of central importance to New Mexico. But they face red tape trying to access USDA programs.

We pushed through legislation that now makes them directly eligible for Natural Resource Conservation Service technical assistance and funding so they can upgrade outdated infrastructure and improve water conservation. We must never let our acequias disappear. They are our lifeblood.

As we work to vitalize our rural economy, we must think big and adapt to a changing world. I am committed to completely closing the digital divide in rural New Mexico and across the nation. High speed, reliable internet is an absolute necessity in this day and age. That’s why we secured new grants to expand high speed internet in rural communities.

And steered through legislation that helps tribal broadband and telephone service providers refinance loans to help them lower interest rates and improve infrastructure to New Mexico tribal members.

I believe that health care should be a right–not a privilege–for every New Mexican and every American.

That’s why I fought hard to fend off bill after bill that would have taken away health care rights from Americans. Americans with pre-existing illnesses. Disabled Americans. Seniors. Impoverished children. We have, for the most part, defended the protections under the Affordable Health Care Act.

But, Congress must do more: We must make sure that every single American has access to affordable health care. Period. Full stop.

And part of that promise is making sure that we attack head on the opioid addiction that is ravaging our country and our state. More dollars translate into more treatment, fewer lives lost, more families saved. I’m making sure federal agencies recognize that New Mexico needs and deserves funding and our state was recently awarded more than $15 million dollars to 16 New Mexico health centers to combat the opioid crisis.

New Mexico’s national laboratories and military bases help keep our nation secure and technologically superior and are a cornerstone of New Mexico’s economic base and work force.

Los Alamos and Sandia national labs are national jewels. Both are at record funding levels. And our labs are set to receive an increase of over $110 million dollars for fiscal year 2019.

And we want to make sure that clean up at LANL goes forward, full throttle, and secured millions more for that effort than the President’s proposal.

New Mexico’s four military bases – Kirtland, Holloman, Cannon, and White Sands – all serve critical national security missions. And we have made sure those missions continue -- and are secure into the future.

As I travel this state, I hear from hundreds, thousands of New Mexicans. And what I hear is this: the people of New Mexico all want the same things – a livable wage. Job security. Stable and decent housing. Affordable and accessible health care. A good educational system.

We want our streets and schools safe. And we want our environment protected for future generations. To leave our children a stronger state and a brighter future.

I know that each one of you here understands this as well. And, even when we disagree, I know we are all committed to these same, basic goals.

We are one state. We all have a stake in the prosperity of our communities. We all have a stake in the success of our children’s future. When we work together--regardless of partisanship or party affiliation--we accomplish so much more than when we isolate ourselves within the walls of our own party.

So, let me end where I began. Elected officials must be genuinely responsive to the people we serve. This is the essence of democracy.

We must do all that we can – as representatives of the people – to strengthen the foundations of our democracy. To carefully tend to this garden. And to fulfill the bold promise our state and our country hold