Sustaining strong communities: Susan Herrera focuses on what she can do for her district
Susan Herrera, the Democrat running for re-election to the New Mexico House of Representatives to represent Disctrict 41, says her primary focus as a legislator is to protect the strengths of northern New Mexico’s communities, build on those strengths, and help sustain communities in the face of economic and infrastructure challenges.
While the press sometimes focuses on the district’s problems, Herrera points to good things happening in the areaa, including the recent revitalization of the El Rito campus, at which Northern New Mexico College now offers both vocational training and continuing education courses. Northern’s enrollment has risen by eleven per cent — at a time when most other colleges and universities in the state are experiencing drops. Another recent accomplishment is the newly opened substance-abuse rehabilitation center in Española, Darrin’s Place; Herrera was instrumental in securing funding for the center.
Herrera got to know the district well during her years as the head of the LANL Foundation, growing the foundation’s endowment, setting up scholarship funds, organizing home visiting programs, and funding educational initiatives across northern New Mexico. She got to know it even more intimately in 2018, when she walked every precinct in the far-flung district, knocking on doors and asking for people’s votes. She ran for the legislature in part because she felt the district’s needs were not being well addressed in Santa Fe, but were instead taking a back seat to the concerns of out-of-state corporations represented by generous lobbyists.
Lawmakers must consider bills on a bewildering variety of topics; no one can be an expert on all of them. So any legislator must choose where they will spend their time and effort. Herrera’s guiding rule is simple: she wants to work on issues that directly affect voters in her district. She does not sponsor legislation developed by outside lobby groups; she drafts legislation to address the problems she sees in her district.
Herrera describes her immediate goal as “good practical policies that enable people to lead good, healthy, happy lives.” Economic and infrastructure policies are key. In her first legislative session she sponsored a bill to impose a 36% API cap on non-bank loans in New Mexico, matching the cap imposed by federal law on loans to military personnel. In her second session, Herrera introduced a bill to create a permanent fund to assist mutual domestic water associations with maintenance and improvement of their systems, which are vital to northern New Mexico communities. And she is one of many legislators striving to ensure good internet access to all citizens, no matter where they live.
Above all, Herrera is working to bring jobs into the communities in her district. “If you can get good jobs for everybody, they can figure out the rest for themselves!” Better rural infrastructure — whether water systems or broadband connectivity — is important not just for its own sake, but because it will help support jobs in the district.
The changes Herrera seeks don’t come easy: her predatory lending bill made it through three committee votes but was caught in a logjam at the end of the session and never came to a vote on the floor of the House. The water infrastructure bill similarly received bipartisan support in the House Agriculture, Water, and Wildlife committee, but died in the House Taxation and Revenue Committee. Still, Herrera has not given up on getting them signed into law. It can take a while, she explains, until legislators feel familiar enough with an idea to vote in favor of a bill. So she’ll reintroduce both bills in the coming session, educate a few more fellow legislators on the need for both bills, and keep working at it.
In the New Mexico legislature, patience and persistence are required. But patience and persistence are two things Susan Herrera has. “I’m going to make that happen,” she says.
In Susan Herrera, we have a legislator who does not shy away from hard work, and who uses her time to focus on issues that directly affect the district. We will all benefit.
House District 41 includes the eastern part of Rio Arriba County, from near Dulce in the northwest corner of the district to Dixon and Española in the southeast, and the western half of Taos County, as well as one precinct in northern Santa Fe County.