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New Mexico Special Election Could Further Reduce Pelosi’s House Majority

The following appeared at National Review on May 4, 2021.

national-review-logo | Jennifer C. Braceras

Nancy Pelosi’s majority in the House of Representatives continues to shrink. The recent swearing-in of Republican Julia Letlow of Louisiana has taken the House Democrats’ majority down to 218–212. This means that Pelosi has a mere two-vote governing majority with which to push the Biden administration’s big-government agenda.

The GOP will soon have another chance to reduce Pelosi’s margin for error when voters in New Mexico’s first congressional district (which includes Albuquerque and its environs) go to the polls to elect a replacement for Biden’s newly minted secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, a Democrat. Early voting begins today, while Election Day itself is June 1.

The district is classified by many in the national media as a “blue” district that should safely remain in Democratic hands, and as recently as November 2020, Haaland defeated Republican challenger Michelle Garcia Holmes by an overwhelming 58–42 percent margin. The seat was previously held by New Mexico’s current Democratic governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, and before that, now–senator Martin Heinrich, also a Democrat.

But Republicans have faced challenges in candidate recruitment in recent years in this congressional district. The last time they had a truly top-notch challenger was in 2010, when Jon Barela lost just 52–48 to Martin Heinrich, and in 2009 Heather Wilson, a Republican, held the seat, having done so for a decade. With this race being the sole topic of a special election and so much at stake in Washington, this could be a much more interesting contest than outsiders expect.

The candidates to replace Haaland could not be more different. While there is a serious independent contender and the Libertarians technically have major-party status, the Republican and Democrat contenders are state legislators with long histories of voting on important policy issues. Republican senator Mark Moores has been in the New Mexico Senate since 2013. In addition to his prior experience as a staffer for various Republican officeholders Moores played offensive line for the University of New Mexico Lobos.

Melanie Stansbury, on the other hand, was unknown in the state until she ran for the New Mexico house in 2018. Her prior political experience was in the Obama administration’s Office of Management and Budget.

The legislative track records of these two candidates are also drastically different. For starters, Stansbury strongly believes that New Mexicans should have their tax burdens increased rather dramatically.

In 2019, she voted for HB 6, which subsequently became law. Among other provisions, the bill increased taxes on auto sales, imposed taxes on Internet purchases, and increased New Mexico’s personal income tax. Ironically, this tax hike took New Mexico’s top personal income-tax rate from 4.9 percent (set by former Democratic governor Bill Richardson and the Democrat-controlled legislature) and brought it up to 5.9 percent. Moores voted against the tax hike, but it was subsequently signed into law by Governor Lujan Grisham, despite the state having a surplus in excess of $1 billion at the time.

In their most recent legislative session, the New Mexico legislature was back to raising taxes, and Stansbury was more than happy to go along. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and a state unemployment rate that remains among the worst in the nation, the combined forces of New Mexico’s resurgent oil and gas industry and the massive economic stimuli out of Washington again put the New Mexico budget comfortably in surplus territory.

Nonetheless, Stansbury and other Democrats in New Mexico’s legislature voted for and passed numerous tax hikes. HB 122, which failed after House approval, was subsequently folded into SB 317 and ultimately signed into law. Stansbury voted for the bills both times. The bills increase a tax imposed by the state on health-insurance premiums from 1 percent to 3.75 percent — a tax increase of 275 percent. Moores voted against the tax hike.

As if that were not enough to illustrate the stark difference between these candidates, Stansbury joined her Democratic colleagues in the New Mexico House to push even more egregious tax legislation in the form of HB 291. This bill which passed the House with Stansbury’s support would have again increased New Mexico’s personal income tax, this time to 6.5 percent, but (more problematically) would have revised the state’s personal income-tax structure to make the higher tax rates kick in at much lower income levels than under current law.

On top of this, the proposal Stansbury endorsed would have allowed property-tax assessments to increase by up to 10 percent annually if the property was not occupied by the owner. The current cap in New Mexico limits annual increases to the already-substantial rate of 3 percent per year. The measure was intended to target Texans with second homes in New Mexico, but it would have applied to apartment and condo dwellers as well.

Fortunately for New Mexicans, cooler heads prevailed in the (also Democrat-controlled) Senate Finance Committee, which eliminated the tax hikes from HB 291 before the bill passed into law.

These are just the tax hikes endorsed by Stansbury in her three short years in the New Mexico legislature. During her time in office, she has voted to ban local governments from enacting “Right to Work” laws on the local level, and she voted for New Mexico to abandon the Electoral College, saying instead that it should dedicate its five electoral votes to whatever candidate won the popular vote. The latter would have dramatically diminished what influence small-population New Mexico has in presidential races for no benefit aside from her ideology.

Stansbury is a true big-government radical. Her advocacy of big government in the New Mexico legislature places her to the left of Nancy Pelosi. At a time when every race matters in a closely divided U.S. House, conservatives cannot ignore this special election in a “blue” but winnable district.

 

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Is New Mexico REALLY “Following the Science” on COVID?

Recently (on February 29, 2021), Tracie Collins, M.D., New Mexico Secretary of Health was deposed in a case in US brought by various businesses that have opposed the Gov.’s lockdown policies relating to COVID 19.

The Deposition was videotaped, so we can provide broadcast news outlets (or even just YouTube and similar platforms) with clips. Here is the full transcript of Collins’ deposition.

Key Take-aways:

  1. The Department of Health does not consider the economic impact of lockdowns in crafting its Public Health Orders.
  2. The Department of Health does not adjust “positive COVID test” results to account for false positive tests.
  3. The Department of Health cannot explain why Florida and Texas, which are not locked down, have lower COVID fatality rates than New Mexico. The experiences of other states are not considered by the Secretary or the New Mexico Department of Health in crafting the Public Health Orders.
  4. The Department of Health does not take into consideration other adverse health impacts, like increased depression, suicide, and childhood obesity in crafting the Public Health Orders.
  5. The Secretary places significant reliance on the Department of Health’s legal staff when crafting the Public Health Orders. She does not know if any of the Department’s lawyers have any training or education in public health.
  6. The Secretary is unaware of any scientific studies that support the specific restrictions, prohibitions, and permitted activities under the Public Health Orders.
  7. The Secretary cannot say whether the risk from COVID must be zero, before the Public Health Orders will end.

Below are Page and Line references to deposition testimony:

Data and Experience from other States “can” be considered in crafting New Mexico’s Public Health Orders, but Secretary Collins will not say that it “should” be considered.  See, page 11, line 2 to line 14 (“11:2 – 14”)

The Department of Health has minimized economic harm from the shutdowns by reducing morbidity and mortality from COVID-19 and keeping people alive so that they will have an opportunity at some time in the future to reopen their business.  See page 32, line 24 to page 34, line 5 (“32:24 – 34:5”)

The Department does not track or control for false positive tests, or make adjustments to their numbers based on the presence of false positive tests.  34:11 – 37:17; and 37:21 – 41:11

The Secretary cannot explain why Florida and South Dakota, which are not locked down, have a lower COVID-related fatality rate than New Mexico.  Nor is she interested in using such data to determine whether lockdowns work.  48:3 – 53:19

The Secretary does not know why New Mexico has not done a regression analysis to determine whether the shutdown orders have had a positive impact on COVID transmission rates.  54:2 – 56:2

The Secretary is not aware of New Mexico attempting any other analysis of the adverse economic impact of the shutdown orders.  She does not know if the State has done anything to consider the economic cost and damage caused by the shutdown orders.  She does not know if the economic costs and damages arising from the shutdown orders is significant.  57:15 – 58:22; and 100:15 – 20

The Secretary does not know what adverse health consequences have arisen as a result of having to close business and losing jobs.  The Secretary has done no study regarding the adverse health consequences caused by lockdowns (increased depression, suicide, childhood obestity, etc.).   58:23 – 63:3

The Secretary is not aware of any studies that the business activities that are permitted under the Public Health Orders are less risky than the business activities that have been prohibited.  63:4 – 64:7

The Secretary would have to confer with the Department’s general counsel (i.e., its lawyers) to understand why certain businesses, like TopGolf and New Mexico United are allowed to operate, and others are not.  64:8 – 66:13

The Public Health Orders do not consider the potential harm or damage to the businesses that are being closed.  The Secretary does not know who, if anyone, in State government is supposed to look at the cost and damage to the businesses and people subject to the Public Health Orders.  67:10 – 69:1

The fatality rate from COVID for children ages 5 to 14 is 0.001%, or 1 out of every 100,000 children who contract the virus.  For children age 19 and under, the fatality rate is 0.003% or 3 out of every 100,000 children who contract the virus.  This is lower than the fatality rates for other infectious diseases.  69:4 – 70:4.

New Mexico has not studied the effect of the pandemic on childhood obesity.  72:20 – 74:13

The Secretary is unaware of any studies by the Department of Health of the impact of play deprivation on children resulting from the lockdowns and public health orders.  80:11 – 82:4

The Secretary cannot say whether the Public Health Orders will continue until the risk of COVID is zero.  82:5 – 83:5

In general, other factors such as adverse health consequences to children and adults and adverse economic impacts on businesses and employees are not taken into consideration by the Department or the Secretary when it comes to the contents of the Public Health Orders.  84:5 – 85:8.

Decisions about which businesses are in what category in the Public Health Orders is determined by the legal department working with the Secretary.  The Secretary does not know if there is a “written trail” for the decision as to which type of businesses will go in which category; nor does she know if any of the lawyers in her department have any education in public health.  89:1 – 18

The Secretary is unaware of any analysis or studies that were performed before gyms, group fitness classes, skating rinks, bowling alleys, and personal trainers were taken off the “prohibited from opening list” in the Public Health Order, to the permitted to open under limited capacity list.  93:23 – 94:14

The Secretary would have to confer with the Department’s lawyers before she could say how an industry or particular business activity can have its category or definition changed and be allowed to open.  94:15 – 95:7.

The Secretary would have to confer with the Department’s lawyers to understand why some business that cannot practice social distancing, like massage parlors, barbershops and nail salons are open, while other businesses, like trampoline parks and other “close-contact recreational facilities” where the Department is concerned about social distancing, are closed.  100:21 -101:23.

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New Mexico session another missed opportunity

The following appeared in the Las Cruces Sun News on Sunday, March 28, 2021. UPDATE: Originally the article stated there was a production moratorium on federal lands. There is “only” a moratorium on new permits.

New Mexico is in one of the most unusual economic times in its history. Profound forces have impacted our State over the last year in unforeseen ways.

    • The Gov. and COVID shut down much of our State for much of the past year. COVID is declining, but New Mexico remains among the most locked-down states in the nation;
    • Oil and gas prices plummeted last April due to the pandemic and an international price war, but have come roaring back and produced $300 million in “new” money and a budget surplus;
    • Democrats in Washington recently passed a $1.9 trillion dollar “stimulus” that will dump an astounding $9 billion on New Mexico State and local governments. Meanwhile the Administration’s moratorium on oil and gas permits on federal lands will cost our State more than $700 million over the next few years according to Gov. Lujan Grisham;
    • While New Mexico governments are awash in money, businesses are struggling to recover. The State’s unemployment rate is 8.7 percent, 4th-worst in the nation.

To say we are living through unpredictable times would be an understatement. Oil and gas have always been volatile but are now more unpredictable than ever. This reflects broader economic uncertainty, but with the Biden Administration targeting the Industry, the Legislature must diversify our economy (this does not mean simply new sources of government revenue).

The unprecedented stream of federal spending flowing into our state is currently augmented by a flow of people. Housing markets are tight in most of our cities as Americans from big, expensive, states like California embrace remote work or simply move to states like New Mexico where they can spread out and buy a house for a lot less money.

Current trends are favorable, but long-term economic prosperity requires enacting policies that make the State more attractive as a business destination. The 2021 Legislature had a few successes but ultimately failed to enact policies that will bring long-term prosperity to New Mexico.

Despite a big budget surplus, the Legislature raised taxes on health insurance (SB 317). They imposed a new sick leave mandate on businesses, including small ones (HB 20). And, passage of HB 4, the misnamed “Civil Rights Act” will impose massive new legal costs on New Mexico governments without actually improving policing or protecting civil rights.

There were bright spots. HB 255 reformed New Mexico’s liquor licensing to make it easier for bars and restaurants long-term. HB 177 passed which allows New Mexicans to start micro-businesses by making non-perishable food items in their homes for sale.

But the gross receipts tax and its taxation of busines inputs and services remains a stumbling block for businesses. New Mexico also remains among a relatively small group of states that tax Social Security. No significant tax cuts or reforms were adopted. Also, no widespread reform of burdensome regulations (like the State’s “prevailing wage” law that artificially increases costs on public works) projects was enacted.

Some will argue that (after a decade of trying) tapping the Permanent fund to boost various education programs will help improve our workforce, but the track record of governments (including New Mexico’s) spending more money to boost education outcomes is spotty at best. Empowering parents and families with the resources needed to choose the educational option that is right for them (especially after a year of Zoom education), is more likely to succeed and at a fraction of the cost, but legislation to that effect was quickly defeated this session.

Microchip manufacturer Intel just announced that it is investing $20 billion in neighboring Arizona to build two new facilities. Such “economic diversification” is exactly what we need and what the Gov. and Legislature claim to want. Until the Legislature gets serious about reforming our economy we’ll continue riding the wave of luck, boom and bust in the oil patch, and Washington debt.

Paul Gessing is president of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation. The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, nonpartisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility

 

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RGF’s Paul Gessing talks New Mexico politics and policy w/ Mick Rich

The following conversation between RGF president Paul Gessing and Mick Rich (former US Senate candidate and owner of a construction business) aired on local television in Albuquerque, NM recently. It is split into four segments of about 10 minutes apiece.

In the first segment Mick and Paul discuss health care reforms made under ObamaCare, why it has failed, and how Biden plans to move forward with the same government-driven philosophy.

In segment two we discuss the evolution and economics of New Mexico’s film industry and its oil and gas industry.

In the third segment we discuss some of the crime issues at play in the City of Albuquerque.

In this segment we discuss the upcoming 2021 legislative session, the Rail Runner, Spaceport, and five things the Legislature SHOULD do to bring prosperity to our state.

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Is there a worse idea in this time of Coronavirus than Pat Davis’s plan to “more fully” ban plastic bags?

Just a few days ago Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis told local media outlets that he was planning to “close a loophole” in the City’s plastic bag ban which took effect this year. Davis wants the Mayor to get rid of plastic bags that are thicker than 2.25 thousandths of an inch. The thicker bags were exempted from the law for the simple reason that they are considered “reusable.”

Instead of mandating “reusable” products, retailers (like Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts) concerned about potential health implications of reusable items are banning them. Davis cares about politics whereas the retailers are doing what is sensible.

The problem in this age of Coronavirus is that Davis’ preferred reusable bags are KNOWN vectors for viruses in grocery stores. Don’t take my word for it, check out this report from Loma Linda University.

A 2018 report from Loma Linda University was based on an experiment in which researchers purposely “contaminated” a reusable bag with a harmless form of a virus. A single shopper then went through a typical grocery store and the research team tracked the spread of the virus.

Quoting directly from the executive summary of the report, “The data show that MS2 spread to all surfaces touched by the shopper; the highest concentration occurred on the shopper’s hands, the checkout stand, and the clerk’s hands.” The graphic below which was taken directly from the report reflects this.

Instead of pushing to make the plastic bag ban even more onerous and aggressive, Councilor Davis, Mayor Keller, and Bernalillo County Commission should ALL reconsider their bag bans…at least for the duration of this public health emergency.

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Freedom Index Results Highlight Challenging 2019 Legislative Session

(Albuquerque) The Rio Grande Foundation has tracked floor votes in New Mexico’s Legislature from the perspective of individual freedom (both economic and under the US Constitution) for several years. Final results for the 2019 Legislature are available now.

Unlike most legislative “scorecards,” the Foundation’s Freedom Index tracks hundreds of bills (more than 800 bills were rated this session alone) and rates them from -8 to +8. High scores are tough to come by because minus votes actually subtract from the vote total. Thus, a positive overall score is considered “good.”

Unfortunately, as Rio Grande Foundation president Paul Gessing noted, “2019 was not a good year. In fact, when it comes to New Mexico taxpayers and their economic and constitutional freedoms, 2019 was the worst year he could recall.”

The Five Highest Point Scorers were:

Rep. Candy Spence-Ezzell
Rep. Rod Montoya
Sen. Mark Moores
Rep. Rachel Black (tied)
Rep. James Strickler (tied)

The Five Lowest Point Scorers were:

Rep. Joy Garratt
Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton
Rep. Daymon Ely
Rep. Debra Sarinana
Rep. Eliseo Alcon

The Worst Bills Rated and Voted on Included:

HB 2 (The Budget which increased spending by 11%)
HB 84 (Automatic Voter Registration)
HB 85 (Eliminating local Right to Work ordinances)
SB 489 (Forcing utilities to use 50% “renewable” electricity)
SB 2 (More than doubled film subsidies from $50 million to $110 million annually)

 

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RGF weighs in on NM’s Medicaid Problem

Bernalillo County Commission unanimously adopted a resolution asking the Legislature to develop a Medicaid buy-in program. But Medicaid is a very expensive program that imposes an ever-growing burden on state and federal taxpayers.

KOB TV (much to their credit) wasn’t satisfied with simply reciting talking points from advocates for Medicaid and Medicaid expansion. Instead, reporter Patrick Hayes actually talked to BOTH SIDES on this issue and allowed me to explain that there are real drawbacks to all that “free” money. Check out the well-done and relatively in-depth story below:

 

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New RGF brief: New Mexico has ample opportunities to reduce health care costs, improve quality

(Albuquerque, NM) – The Trump Administration failed in its efforts to completely repeal the health care law known as “ObamaCare.” Aside from the individual mandate which was repealed in separate tax reform legislation, the health care law remains relatively intact.

Nonetheless, state-level policymakers still have numerous reform measures that can be adopted to make health care work better. Often, those “levers” are available to state-level policymakers although some policy changes can be expedited and assisted with a more flexible administration in Washington.

A new policy brief by Roger Stark, By Roger Stark, MD, FACS, Adjunct Health Care Policy Analyst at the Rio Grande Foundation outlines in detail some of the ways in which New Mexico’s leaders could positively impact both the State budget and health care outcomes alike. The paper is available here.

While the federal health care law improved access to insurance, particularly in rural communities it can be a challenge to find practitioners, especially specialists. New Mexico has the highest percentage of births to moms on Medicaid, and the Medicaid systems is a large and growing burden on the State of New Mexico’s finances.

A few of Dr. Stark’s specific reform ideas include: Enact tort reform to reduce wasteful medical expenses, Expand and promote the use of association health plans, promoting telemedicine, and reforming scope of practice and professional licensing laws.

Stark will present these and other ideas at a presentation sponsored by the Rio Grande Foundation at the Marriott Pyramid on April 18, 2018 at a luncheon that will take place from 12 to 1pm. Seats are still available and can be reserved by clicking here or calling the Foundation at: 505-264-6090.

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Dr. Roger Stark Physician and Free Market Health Care Reformer: How States Can Make Health Care Better For Patients and Taxpayers

Albuquerque Event Notice

Click here for registration form.

With the (tentative) failure of Congress and the Trump Administration to completely repeal ObamaCare, the states continue to grapple with ways to make the Law work better for them.

The good news is that states still have some leeway within the law in order to make it work better and cost less. And, with an Administration in office that is more amenable to reform, now is the time for conservatives in governor’s mansions and state houses to make much-needed reforms to improve the deeply-flawed law.

Dr. Roger Stark is is the health care policy analyst at Washington Policy Center and a retired physician. He is the author of two books including The Patient-Centered Solution: Our Health Care Crisis, How It Happened, and How We Can Fix It.

Under the auspices of the Rio Grande Foundation and the Washington Policy Center, Stark’s paper “Federal administrative improvements to the Affordable Care Act and state options for health care reform” has been released in New Mexico.

He’ll be sharing his thoughts on the American health care system now as the Trump Administration’s initial reform efforts have failed. He’ll offer ideas on what, if anything might happen next in Washington on the health care reform front and offer insights into what might happen if needed reforms are not undertaken.

  • Location: Marriott Pyramid 5151 San Francisco Rd NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109
  • When: Wednesday, April 18, 2018, 12:00 noon to 1:00pm
  • Cost: Seating is limited and can be purchased at the discounted price of $30 until Friday, April 13, 2018; $40 after the 13th

Stark graduated from the University of Nebraska’s College of Medicine and he completed his general surgery residency in Seattle and his cardiothoracic residency at the University of Utah. After practicing in Tacoma he moved to Bellevue and was one of the co-founders of the open heart surgery program at Overlake Hospital. He has served on the hospital’s governing board. He retired from private practice in 2001 and became actively involved in the hospital’s Foundation, serving as Board Chair and Executive Director. He currently serves on the Board of the Washington Liability Reform Coalition and is an active member of the Woodinville Rotary. He and his wife live on the Eastside and have children and grandchildren in the area.

Click here for registration form.

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Vaping technology could improve health, cut costs

When it comes to the percentage of its population on Medicaid, New Mexico is at the top of the heap. An astonishing 44 percent of our state’s population is on Medicaid. This is a costly situation for taxpayers in the other 49 states who pick up nearly $5 billion of the program’s annual $6 billion cost in New Mexico.

While the Rio Grande Foundation spends a bulk of its time working to reform the Medicaid program itself, this does not mean that new technologies and/or improvements in the health of our population couldn’t have positive impacts on Medicaid spending.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 480,000 people die from smoking in the United States alone every year. This is one of the leading preventable causes of death and disease in the nation. Yet, 37 million Americans continue to smoke, including more than 278,000 adults in New Mexico. The prevalence of smoking in New Mexico has a direct impact on taxpayer-funded health programs such as Medicaid, with an estimated cost of more $223 million on an annual basis.

Vaping is a leading alternative to cigarette smoking. The health effects of vaping are being studied and debated, but study after study has shown vaping to be far safer than smoking. The Royal College of Physicians and Public Health England have concluded that the use of current vapor products represents no greater than 5% of the risks of combustible cigarette use. That is because without combustion that results from lighting tobacco on fire, you remove most of the harms associated with cigarette use. A wide range of products in the U.S achieves this result, ranging from products currently on the market to products under review for future approval by the FDA. There is promise in a number of technologies that reduce the harm associated with cigarette use, even for those who can’t completely kick the habit of nicotine use.

There is already recognition in the U.S. that this could reduce cigarette use, resulting in taxpayer savings and increased public health. Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products has explained, “Newer and more novel forms of delivering nicotine… could be incredibly helpful to curtail cigarette smoking if (smokers) completely switched.”

“At the end of the day, it’s not the nicotine that causes disease and death,” Zeller continued. This may be part of the reason that vaping other smoke-free alternatives has risen in popularity among adult smokers looking to quit. According to a 2015 report from the CDC, nearly 48 percent of current tobacco smokers said they had tried e-cigarettes at least once. Among those who recently quit smoking, more than 55 percent said they’d tried the devices.

In other words, large numbers of Americans are already using e-cigarettes and vaping as a replacement for the far more harmful activity of smoking traditional cigarettes. Tens of millions of American smokers, however, may be looking for even more reduced risk alternatives to cigarettes and may not have found vapor products on the market that work for them. For that reason alone it is critical for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the federal government in general to approve as many potential lower risk alternatives to cigarette smoking as possible. It is important that as Mitch Zeller has noted, “We have…an open mind.”

Better health outcomes for everyone and reduced Medicaid expenditures for taxpayers in New Mexico and throughout the nation; that is the very definition of a win-win. It is time the federal government and the FDA in particular work to expand access to cigarette alternatives like vaping rather than slowing the technology and its spread.

Paul Gessing is president of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation, a non-partisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility.