US Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-NM, is six months into his first term representing the 3rd Congressional District, of which Santa Fe is a major portion. On Aug. 19, he joined SFR for a group interview (with a cameo from Truffles, SFR’s office pig) to talk about everything from life in Washington, DC to health care reform to what he learned visiting war zones. Scroll down to play the full interview.
SFR: As a freshman from a small district, do you get invited to the good parties in DC?
BL: We’ve been invited to the White House a couple times. But for the most part, you’re working your butt off. I was [talking to] a friend of mine [in New Mexico] after a late night of voting. He said, ‘What are you doing for dinner?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m going to see if there’s anything in the freezer.’
Health care lobbyists now outnumber congresspeople 6-to-1. Have you personally sat down with anybody paid to represent hospitals or the insurance industry?
I think people from hospitals may have come by. I think insurance agents came by; I don’t know insurance companies specifically. It’s been predominantly advocates who are in support of health care reform or constituents.
A House rep. said if there isn’t a ‘public option’ in the health bill, [it’ll lose] 100 votes on the Democratic side. Are you one of those 100 votes?
I signed on a letter that said if the public option isn’t in there, don’t count on our support…If it’s a piece of legislation that doesn’t achieve the reform we think is necessary, that’s where we say no.
On energy, do you see a realistic path to shifting the labs’ mission?
We’ve talked about cyber security, as an example, and homeland security. Not a lot of people think about the capabilities we have at Los Alamos [National Laboratory] and how they can share their experience in cyber security to national security and how they can protect big business, small business from the threats that are coming in. Last week, 130 million credit card holders were exposed by a hacker.
You just got back from Iraq and Afghanistan and, prior to that, you signed on to a bill to get an exit strategy. Coming back, is that still something you think is feasible?
It’s very clear that in Iraq we’ll meet the withdrawal of combat troops by August of next year. [In Afghanistan], the current rule by the Taliban, they’re really the only form of law in the country, and it’s by fear.
President Karzai allowed a piece of legislation that restricted a woman’s ability to leave her house without her husband’s permission. How does the US negotiate with Afghanistan when there are these serious human rights violations?
When I posed this question to some American officers at the embassy, [one] said, ‘Look, you have to see some of the protections that were in there for women.’ And this is not something I thought about. The concerns I had were, if you were raped or you were abused, you had to be silent about it. That’s a huge problem. It’s a problem we have to face in this country as well, from a domestic abuse perspective. We need to bring attention to it because, if we ignore the problem, it’s not going to get better.
Will you debate [Republican challenger] Adam Kokesh?
If he’s successful seeking his nomination, we’ll see what happens then. We’re in the midst of an important health care discussion, and these are the kinds of things people try to use to distract you from the job you have to do.
Since our office pig is here with us, maybe we can talk about stimulus pork. New Mexico, like many states, isn’t doing a great job tracking its stimulus funds.
We need to do better. We need to do more than just better. If we can be the example [so] that everyone else is looking to New Mexico, that should be the goal.