BELEN—The council chambers at Belen City Hall was filled to capacity as U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small visited the Hub City on March 30.
After just a little more than three months on the job, the freshman legislator visited with constituents who asked her about issues ranging from education to gun laws to the legalization of marijuana during the town hall meeting.
Torres Small, a Democrat representing New Mexico’s second congressional district, said it doesn’t matter if they voted for her or not, she is in a position that allows her to work with everyone.
“We know at some point, we have to make hard choices,” Torres Small said of the recent government shut down, “and we have to put the people ahead of politics. Now we have the job of real government. It’s important we take on the real issues, such as affordable prescriptions and doctors.”
She said she’s working for everyone, regardless of political parties. Torres Small said she is fighting for education, the youth and for those living in rural communities across New Mexico.
“We need to invest in kids and in education; make sure we have infrastructure, internet and cell phone service so small businesses can compete in the world marketplace,” she said.
As a member of the Armed Services Committee and the Homeland Security Committee, Torres Small said it’s an important time to be on both committees.
“We have two military installations in the district, and it’s also important because our national security is at risk,” she said. “Every time we talk about what’s going on in the world, we need to realize the importance of coalition building, investing in other countries because that’s how we build alliances.”
The representative said the more the United States pulls away, other countries are putting resources into making alliances.
“We can’t be safe unless we have friends in the world,” she said.
As a member of the Armed Services Committee and the Committee on Readiness, she believes personnel and strategies need to be in place.
“Climate change is going to affect our readiness and security,” Torres Small said. “I was so proud of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle who were asking about water scarcity and energy — (both) are the main reasons for the caravans. This is an issue that affects the men and women in uniform.”
Saying she is proud to be the only member who represents the area along the U.S./Mexico border, she is able to speak of the realities on the ground.
“I know that one solution doesn’t fit our entire border stretch,” she said. “I know we need real security, the right personnel, to keep drugs smugglers and traffickers out.
“I know that border security has been one of the most contentious issues. I was honored to cosponsor a bill with two Republicans on border security. I know we can work together and how we can work together to solve problems,” she said. “I am so proud to work along those margins to find solutions and build relationships. New Mexico is a constant inspiration, and we have work that needs to be done.”
Diane Angel, a fifth-grade teacher in Albuquerque, asked Torres Small about education and the lack of teachers.
“We have a huge deficit of teachers in this state,” said Torres Small, whose mother is a retired educator. “People are leaving the profession. Certain policies are driving people out of the business. We need to get teachers into rural places.”
John Bretting asked the congresswoman about her stand on the Dreamer issue and what she believes is the best legislation.
“This was an issue 10 years ago that hasn’t been resolved,” Torres Small said. “Eighty percent of people believe they need protection, but they’re now being told they are no longer welcome here.”
Saying the country has invested a lot of resources in Dreamers, Torres Small says they need to have status and pathway to citizenship.
“Let’s use the Dreamers to get comprehensive immigration legislation passed,” she said. “It’s just wrong. An overwhelming amount of Americans believe this is something that needs to get done. After that, then we can talk about other immigration and border issues.”
Lawrence Bailey asked Torres Small when will the politicians do what the people want them to do, saying some want to take guns from citizens.
“I don’t want to take your guns away; I’m a gun owner,” she said. “I grew up with guns in our home and I’m a hunter. I believe in our Second Amendment rights.”
Torres Small said it’s her job to keep herself and others safe.
“We also have a responsibility of safety,” she said. “The majority of gun owners believe in universal background checks. We need to find real solutions … (I want) legislation that makes sure it works for gun owners.
“It is my job to listen to the people I represent,” she added. “I want to continue to learn and listen to you. I can’t do what each and everyone wants, but I will always try to learn. Please hold me accountable and continue to engage. I can’t guarantee Washington will make that change.”
One person from the audience asked if there is anything that can be done to change cannabis from being classified as a Schedule 1 narcotic.
“I have not come to the point where I can support that legislation,” she said. “There’s not a clear way yet to measure intoxication when it comes to cannabis … It’s something I’m open to considering, and I believe in the impact of medicinal cannabis.
“But I also see the incredible expense to enforce this law that frankly may not be as detrimental as alcohol,” she added. “We do need to get the federal government out of the way of local decisions.”
After an hour of answering numerous questions, Torres Small thanked the crowd for attending and thanked her team for helping constituents with their issues.
“My staff does an incredible job of reaching out to help people,” she said. “We are trying to make the calls to hold people accountable. I can’t guarantee success on every level, but if you have an issue with the federal government, we’re going to do everything we can to help.”
Last week, the Belen City Council approved a lease agreement with Xochitl Torres Small’s office to open a staff office in the Belen Business Center. It’s not clear when the office will open.
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.