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Wind or Oil? New Mexico Voters Face Sharp Choice on Nov. 2

Teague's clean energy agenda draws some, but others say Pearce will defend the state's oil industry

By Elizabeth McGowan

Nov 1, 2010

Editor's Note: SolveClimate News political reporter Elizabeth McGowan traveled to New Mexico to cover the 2010 midterm elections race in the state’s 2nd Congressional District. It pits an incumbent against a former legislator, both with long careers in the oil and gas industry. This is the final installment in a three-part series. Read Part 1 and Part 2.
 
TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES, N.M.—Mention cap-and-trade systems, renewable electricity standards or low-carbon economies to Hatty Smith, and her snappy blue eyes quickly telegraph that such Washington gibberish gives her a headache.

But turn the conversation toward harnessing her home state’s ferocious winds to create electricity and the 83-year-old’s ears perk up.

“I think it’s the best thing they could ever think of,” says Smith, a retired restaurant owner. “It’s natural. We have plenty of wind, and it’s free. I don’t understand why we’re not using more of it.”

Boosting wind power is one of the reasons Smith is backing renewable-energy champion Democrat who’s in a down-to-the-wire match with a climate-change denying Republican to hang on to his House seat in New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District.

is a hardscrabble-leaning community of about 7,300 residents some 150 miles south of Albuquerque on Interstate 25. It’s in the heart of Teague’s district—a sprawling, rural and traditional GOP stronghold encompassing the southern half of the state—where the 61-year-old freshman legislator won with 56 percent of the vote in 2008.

Sandwiched between the Gila National Forest and the White Sands Missile Range in the high desert of the Rio Grande Valley, the oddly named city is surrounded by a seductive, magical mix of mountains, buttes, canyons and calderas formed during an ancient volcanic past. It’s as if a colossal —and explosive—artist spent a career toying with sand, rocks and lava.  

In the midst of this stunning geography, Hatty and her husband, 89-year-old William, join dozens of other retirees tucking into a lunch of sweet and sour meatballs, fried rice, string beans, apricots and biscuits at the Sierra County Senior Center just a week before Election Day.

On days like this one—with weather forecasters issuing warnings for sustained winds of 50 mph and gusts up to 75 mph—the Smiths laugh in agreement to the suggestion that it makes sense to lengthen the state’s nickname to the “Land of Enchantment and Relentless Wind.”

However, the registered Democrats are not nearly as receptive to televised attacks on Teague, whom they have met during various campaign swings. For instance, they’re offended by a ad claiming the Democrat’s vote for the will kill jobs and lead to costlier electricity and $4-a-gallon gas.

“Nope, that doesn’t scare us a bit,” says Hatty, speaking up to be heard over the luncheon’s live piano accompaniment. “It’s all ridiculous.”

Election-Season Smears and Squawk-Fest

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