In a state that’s last in almost everything, there’s nowhere to go but up.
But progress isn’t about partisan politics. It’s about policy, and policies that work for the people and not just bureaucrats require strong leadership.
Jay Block believes he’s the guy to pull New Mexico out of this slump, and he’s not just along for the ride.
“I don’t go into things to lose,” he said in a sit-down interview with The Conservative New Mexican on July 8, 2021.
A retired lieutenant colonel in the Air Force and current nuclear weapons consultant in the private industry, Block brings what he calls a “trifecta of leadership” to the race that sets him apart not only from incumbent Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, but his (now four) competitors in the Republican primary race:
- he has served his country in the military,
- he works in business development in the private sector, and
- he has successfully run for public office — and never lost.
It was after a 21-year military career that Block transitioned to the private sector and ran for public office. His opponent for Sandoval County Commissioner was a popular Democrat incumbent in a district that had never voted Republican.
“I trashed her record,” Block said of his opponent. “People said, ‘You’re beating up on a 70-year-old lady.’ It wasn’t negative, her record was just that bad for the people and the truth needed to be told.”
Knowing he had a target on his back, Block went to work immediately, improving roads, supporting small businesses, addressing illegal dumping, and passing a 2nd Amendment sanctuary resolution and a Right to Work ordinance.
His efforts paid off in 2020 when he won re-election — and with union support from firefighters and sheriffs deputies.
Despite Conservatives getting a bad rap for “union busting,” Block won a traditionally Democrat district with union support, and it’s that kind of bipartisanship he wants to see return to New Mexico.
While the governor’s comments about her critics being “lizard people” understandably steal the headlines, it is policy that changes a state, not rhetoric.
Block’s priorities are four-fold — reforming education, cutting crime, creating jobs, and security at the border.
To attract jobs, a state needs low crime and qualified workers, which is why the first tier of his plan tackles education.
Rather than pouring more taxpayer dollars into a system that never seems to improve, Block wants to give the power of educating students to the parents by creating a school voucher system.
As long as students are meeting standard test requirements, Block believes a parent should be able to take their $5,000 voucher, for example, and pay tuition to whatever institution of their choosing, whether a private school, charter school, or church.
“Government schools need to compete with private and charter schools,” he said.
Part of making students successful is getting them out of the classroom, which is why Block’s in-school academic approach includes an out-of-school hands-on training element.
Rather than dedicating resources to partisan issues like Critical Race Theory — which he promises to ban across all state agencies with an executive order as soon as he takes office — Block wants to see the state pushing students as early as 8th or 9th grade into internships and trades.
Students interested in STEM or finance, for example, should be spending at least one day a week at a business getting hands-on experience. This would not only increase engagement by making their education more interesting, but it would put students on a career path.
As long as there are objective standards for testing, students and parents should be able to decide the direction of their education, he said.
“We can’t just pass kids to pass them. We need kids who can compete.”
This will come with an up-front price tag, Block acknowledged, but in crime, potentially prison, job prospects and income, it will pay off in the long run.
In November 2016, New Mexico voters approved an amendment to the state Constitution that, on the surface, allowed courts to deny bail if prosecutors provided evidence that the defendant posed a public safety threat. In reality, it made it difficult for judges to detain defendants until trial as long as they claim they couldn’t afford bail.
It has proven a failed experiment.
Albuquerque is on track for a record homicide rate. Homelessness is taking over the city. And despite diligent efforts by law enforcement, there seems to be no end in sight. Repeat offenders are now so common that New Mexico is experiencing a revolving door of criminality.
“How many of you have been victims of crime or know someone who has?” Block said. A Sandoval County sheriffs deputy recently told Block he had arrested the same individual five or seven times:
“Police are tired of arresting the same guys.”
“Now that we’ve seen what effect it’s had,” Block said, it’s time to repeal no cash bail.
As governor, Block would immediately send New Mexico National Guard troops to the border, where they could help with security, IT, and logistics to allow Customs and Border Patrol agents to focus on stopping drugs, sex traffickers, and other criminals that are not only threatening public safety but which are “a huge cost to the country and to New Mexico.”
In March 2021, Intel announced it would expand operations to Arizona with a $20 billion investment that would create 15,000 permanent local jobs. There’s no reason Arizona should be attracting that kind of job development over New Mexico, Block said. With a secure border, improved education, and lower crime, New Mexico can start to attract businesses to the state.
Not only is crime and our last-in-the-nation education keeping businesses away, but workers have little incentive to stay after they retire. To attract retirees, Block wants to cut property taxes by 50 to 75% for first responders and reform the state’s policy of taxing Social Security.
According to the Tax Foundation, New Mexico is one of only 13 states that treats Social Security as taxable income, which is why New Mexico ranks as one of the least desirable places to retire, according to a MoneyWise study.
“The Land of Enchantment holds no allure for retirees, condemning it to the very bottom of the list this year. Social Security, retirement account distributions and pension payouts all get taxed here, and while lower-income seniors can catch a bit of a break, sales taxes are also above average.”— MoneyWise, April 14, 2021
Reforming Gross Receipts Tax has proponents on both sides of the political aisle, but Democrats in the majority of the state legislature’s House and Senate have kept the bill from reaching the governor’s desk.
According to a Rio Grande Foundation analysis:
“The GRT is a jobs-killer because it increases costs for business by 7 percent or more above competing states, most of which do not have taxes on business inputs and none as high as New Mexico’s in terms of the rate.”
Immediately upon taking office, Block would create a small business task force to get community input about how to ease the tax burden and cut regulations, which he says not only hurt New Mexican business owners but disincentivize out-of-state investors from building here.
“This is all simple stuff,” Block said: entice business, attract out of state residents, and make New Mexico a place where workers want to stay after they retire.
Block’s Conservative values reflect the classic American story of a young man pulling himself up by his bootstraps. He had a difficult upbringing in a lower-middle class family. He lived in a three-story apartment, chemical dependency hit as close to home as it could, money was tight, and Block struggled in school due to a severe learning disability.
But he had a few good influences in his life: his father, who showed the value of hard work as a painter and a welder; a coach in high school; and his first military commander who was hard as hell but an empowering force for the young Block.
Block graduated in 1989 and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force Reserve. Unable to afford college in New Hampshire, he moved to North Dakota, where he served in the Air National Guard and enrolled at North Dakota State University. According to his website, Block served more than two decades as a nuclear weapons officer, “volunteered for a combat tour in Afghanistan, commanded twice on foreign soil representing our country, and finally retired in 2016 as a Lt Col.”
Block pulled no punches criticizing the governor’s policies and scandals. From her COVID pandemic response to paying off an alleged victim of sexual assault to the more general statistics showing New Mexico ranking last in education, 49th in unemployment, and 50th in per capita welfare, Lujan Grisham seems to have made little progress on the issues affecting New Mexicans.
“This is a governor who has put the people in chains. New Mexico has never been in a worse position than it is now. We’ve never had a governor like this — she’s a bully, vindictive, a sexual predator — and that’s why I’m going to beat her.”— Commissioner Jay C. Block (R)
Categories: 2022 Governor's Race