Erhard pledges to focus on ‘the plight of the people’
Many have a difficult time on America’s ‘uneven playing field,’ Evelyn Madrid Erhard, the Democrat taking on U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., says. She wants to ‘work with farmers, ranchers, the oil industry, whoever it is necessary to work with to achieve balance and to make sure that everyone pays their fair share of taxes.’
“I’m running for congress, and I’m a Democrat,” Evelyn Madrid Erhard offers strongly and convincingly.
I ask Erhard, why now? Here’s what she says:
“I came to Las Cruces in 1975, and for most of that time the district has been Republican. First it was Joe Skeen and now it is Steve Pearce. They’re always with the Republicans – there was the ‘Contract for America,’ Skeen was there for the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Halliburton incidents and so on. Now the Republicans are bringing the U.S. close to failure and deep poverty.”
Her website includes this note: “Their agenda was always to take care of their own interests and the interests of the top 1%. They have supported laws that created corporate loopholes and stripped American workers of pension and health insurance benefits.”
Because of those concerns, and having received leadership recognition from the Democratic National Committee and being invited to participate in Hispanic leadership conferences, Erhard felt that her time to try and make a big difference had come.
Although always a long time political observer – “I remember having an interest in politics starting about the time that JFK was assassinated,” she said – Erhard never really had an opportunity to get involved until the Obama campaign of 2008.
“My husband really encouraged me, even though I was busy all the time,” she said. “He knew that I listened to other people’s stories, and when the Obama office opened here in 2008, he told me to go there.”
She did, and found herself busy as a volunteer from the first day. She helped sign up more volunteers and assisted in arranging campaign events locally for Obama and former U.S. Congressman Harry Teague, who lost to Pearce in the last election.
Her efforts did not go unnoticed, and in 2009, she was one of a handful of supporters to be chosen to meet President Barack Obama at a rally in Rio Rancho.
“He did a talk and there were some pictures of us taken with him,” she said. “He… encouraged me to continue to work hard, and recently has given me his support for my campaign.”
A grassroots candidate’s uphill battle
Erhard faces an uphill battle in her race against the incumbent Pearce. One could argue that the election system of this country always gives short shrift to perceived underdogs or those who don’t fare well in polls or with the media, or who don’t receive proper support from party officials.
There have been no publicly-released polls of this race in part because of the lack of attention on it. To date, Erhard hasn’t accomplished what it takes to generate buzz in today’s political and media worlds. As of June 30, she had less than $3,500 on hand to Pearce’s $815,000.
But one would probably have to look long and hard to find a more grassroots, non-third party candidate for national office than Erhard, the Democratic candidate for New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District.
Her campaign is decidedly low key and without a huge advertising budget and any professional handlers as she crisscrosses the district without the use of polished political consultants. “I’m not even aware of what the salary is for this job, is and I don’t want to know,” Erhard noted in our recent interview. “The issues are much more important to me than the salary.”
In case you are interested or want to run for the office yourself next time, the salary is $174,000 a year, with an annual cost-of-living increase. Retirement benefits kick in after five years in office. And the only requirements to run for such an office are to be at least 25 years old, a U.S. citizen for at least seven years, and to live in the state that you want to represent. You do not have to live in the district you want to represent until you file to run for office.
New Mexico has three districts, with District 2 covering the most ground (not to mention being the 6th largest in the Unite States), reaching clear up to I-40 in two spots. The area is lightly inhabited and has Hispanic majority.
Erhard’s staff is small and made up of what appear to be younger volunteers. Her media contact person is Mark Steffen, a well-known local filmmaker and media consultant who is working on his first political campaign. Steffen is also her chief assistant, helping to make appointments and accompanying her to appearances around the district. The small budget for her campaign has effectively not allowed for the hiring of any outside consultants.
The ‘uneven playing field’
Erhard was born in Española in 1955, and said, “how I came into the world has a lot to do with how my parents’ lives and careers came together.”
Erhard went on to tell the story of how her parents met prior to World War II, then married and lived with a set of grandparents until her father served in the war as a medic.
“They used to group the men by their skills, and he had some first aid training from high school,” she said. “He was later asked to help with more serious wounds and injuries and became a surgical assistant.”
She noted the boost that the GI Bill gave her father after the war. It helped get a lot of returning vets back into the world and workplace, something that she feels strongly needs to happen now to get present-day Americans and returning veterans back on their feet.
“I wasn’t born into poverty. I did have some extraordinary opportunities while growing up, too. My father became a teacher and basketball coach and my mother worked at Los Alamos National Lab,” she said. “So, I want to try and make sure other people receive opportunities as well.”
Erhard attended New Mexico State University and, after graduating, had her first job at White Sands, working for Lockheed as a technical writer.
But her interests were more diverse than that. She worked for the speech department at NMSU later and also owned a small business in Mesilla, the Patchwork Cat, in the 1980s.
“It did really well the first year, but after that my husband (Tom, a retired drama/theatre professor at NMSU) has some health issues, and the economy was not there,” she said.
They persevered and, along the way, Erhard started learning more about what she labeled the “uneven playing field.”
“I would go to buying shows and the representatives from the ‘big box’ stores would always get a big break, and I was thinking that the (small) shops could have done better,” she said.
‘The plight of the people’
Erhard’s small business was not meant to be, and after closing her store, she went back to teach at NMSU. That’s where, she said, she began to hear about the “plight of the people,” which has become the fuel for her congressional campaign.
While an instructor in a public speaking class, Erhard talked with a student who submitted an essay that Erhard found moving.
The woman was a non-traditional student, and Erhard asked why she was there.
“She said she had been working for a local company for 20 years, and just recently had been required to go to part-time employment, she had lost her benefits, and had divorced,” Erhard said. “She had two kids and wanted to learn something new or pick up a new trade for another part time job.”
Erhard compared this to her own situation, a fortunate one with some degree of security, and it really opened her critical thinking about was really going on around her. Here’s what she said about that:
“My heart was big enough to know how things were for many other people, but I was always too busy to get involved in helping to change that. I was always paying attention and also tried to share with others how to use critical thinking skills.
“I’d think, here are the issues, and I should study them from both sides. Most of us aren’t shown how to look at things from the other side, so critical thinking is important for me to look at what goes on in politics. It is not necessarily wanting to be right or correct, but to vote for what your needs are.
“I’m not asking for Republicans to vote for me, although that would be appreciated, but rather for them to use their own critical thinking skills when they do vote… what are your needs?”
Erhard noted that she has heard the same story that her former student told her over and over again the last few years.
As a community activist, Erhard was busy again in 2010, working in Southern New Mexico to get people to register to vote. Motivated in part by the passage of SB 1070 in Arizona, the controversial “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act,” she said she wanted immigrants in New Mexico to know someone cared. She also attended the Hispanic Congressional Caucus Institute, which helped motivate her to run for a top office in her first attempt to be elected.
A would-be first if elected
If elected, Erhard said she plans to take her communication and leadership skills to Washington, and is presently working with all sorts of organizations – Hispanic, women’s groups, and others – to help her break that barrier that so many people face – recognition for their talent and abilities.
New Mexico has a light history of women elected for national office. Other than former congresswoman Heather Wilson, a Republican who is now running for U.S. Senate, only one other New Mexico woman has been in Congress, even though the state has sent representatives to Congress since long before statehood, beginning in 1853.
Georgia Lee Lusk, a fascinating woman from Eastern New Mexico, defeated six Democratic Party bosses to win the nomination for U.S. representative in 1946, then easily won the general election. Her national career was cut short when she was defeated the next election, but she remained active in state politics until 1960.
Another unsung female heroine of New Mexico politics is Adelina Otero-Warren, who shocked party bosses when, as a suffragette and advocate for New Mexico art, education and Hispanic tradition, she won the Republican nomination for Congress in 1922. Although defeated, she was later appointed the head of the state Civilian Conservation Corps by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Erhard would be the first Hispanic New Mexico woman to hold national public office, something many may find hard to believe considering the state’s 150-year political heritage.
‘No one is listening to us’
“I care about you and I know the importance of getting people out to vote. No one is listening to us,” has become Erhard’s personal mantra of sorts.
She is also an advocate of bringing jobs back to the United States that have been given to other countries.
“None of this is good for working people. They don’t have dreams anymore. Dreams of owning their own homes are gone. That has become the norm in District 2. Many of them can’t even afford to buy the stuff that is made overseas,” she said.
“We’re one disaster away from being in poverty.”
Erhard said she’s been “getting ready” to run for Congress for a decade, and recently her husband told her she was ready. In Congress, she said she is more than willing to “reach across the aisle” and work with Republicans on the issues.
“I’ve been paying attention for a long time,” she said. “I want to work with farmers, ranchers, the oil industry, whoever it is necessary to work with to achieve balance and to make sure that everyone pays their fair share of taxes. Everyone needs to pay their fair share.”
Erhard is in a unique position to bring Georgia Lee Lusk’s thought to truth:
“Men will listen to women, but they are unwilling to give them recognition.”
She is determined to bring her dexterity and passion to the forefront to try and work for everyone in District 2, thus giving Lusk’s comment credence by becoming the first Hispanic woman from New Mexico to hold national office.
Jeff Berg is a Las Cruces based freelance writer who would like to thank the people who donated to NMPolitics.net for making this article happen! This article has been updated for clarity.
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