An iconoclast from the Pajarito Plateau:
Christine Chandler seeks policy solutions based on facts, not ideology
By Michael Sperberg-McQueen
Christine Chandler, the Democratic incumbent as NM state representative for district 43, prefers to make decisions based on facts, independent of political considerations. Her legal education trained her in research and analysis, and she has honed her skills further during twenty-seven years of service as an in-house counsel at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
So when legislative committees meet in Santa Fe, Chandler is often the one posing awkward questions, or saying out loud that the rationale being offered for (or against) a given bill is not fully fleshed out or simply does not make sense. Her analytical skills, attention to facts, and resistance to conventional thinking all stand her in good stead in her work on the House Judiciary Committee and the House Taxation and Revenue Committee. Taxation presents a lot of densely technical subject matter, difficult to penetrate, and no matter what the topic, the Republican minority can be counted on to suggest that the best solution would be to cut taxes. In her first term, Chandler co-sponsored a successful bill to ensure that national laboratories in New Mexico would pay gross receipts tax even when operated by not-for-profit organizations. Another bill she is proud of is the New Mexico Work and Save Act, which makes it easier for small companies to set up tax-sheltered retirement plans for their employees. She also points to the tax relief bill passed in the special legislative session this past June, which lightens the load for individuals and small businesses during the pandemic by waiving interest and penalties for late payment of taxes for a year.
The Massachusetts native says her interest in public policy started early: at nineteen, she was elected to the local school board, where she experienced policy discussion in its most local, and often very heated, form. More recently, she served two terms on the Los Alamos County Council. Growing up as the child of working-class parents in a college town, she experienced the class divide and saw how class plays into educational and other opportunities; this background has informed her thinking on many policy issues. Education remains one of her top priorities. In her own life, she says, it was good teachers working in a strong public education system, that enabled her to move from the working class to professional status.
In next year’s legislative session, Chandler plans to re-introduce some bills she has worked on in the past: bills relating to trapping on public land, to water law and acequias, and to paid family and medical leave are on her to-do list. The last is a challenge, she says, because the economic downturn caused by the pandemic is hurting many businesses. The key, she says, will be to find ways to address the family and medical leave issues without placing an undue burden on small businesses.
The pandemic has also placed the issue of better internet access front and center on Chandler’s agenda: the abrupt shift to remote learning has exposed the cracks in our infrastructure. Parents, she observed, are having to drive their schoolchildren to places within range of an internet hotspot to do their homework. This is a symptom that something needs fixing. Offering another tax break to internet companies is not going to solve the problem, she says. She is not yet certain what the best approach will be. So she is currently engaged in active research to understand the details of the problem and identify steps the legislature might take to improve the situation. When the time comes, she wants to be in a position to evaluate proposals in an informed way, or make proposals of her own, based not on purely political considerations or ideology, but on the facts of the matter at hand.
District 43 includes Los Alamos County, parts of southern Rio Arriba County including Gallina, parts of Sandoval County including Cuba and Jemez Springs, and part of Santa Fe County reaching east to the western edge of Santa Fe.