During the month of September, Peace Action West organizer Daniel Senecka worked to highlight the issue of nuclear weapons in the New Mexico races by asking candidates for Congress about their stance on nuclear weapons policy. With all three seats for the House of Representatives open, a race for retiring nuclear weapons advocate Sen. Domenici’s spot in the Senate, and a history of nuclear weapons research, development, manufacturing, and waste disposal, New Mexico is the place to organize.
The races in New Mexico are:
US Senate: Rep. Tom Udall (D) vs. Rep. Steve Pearce (R)
CD 1: Martin Heinrich (D) vs. Darren White (R)
CD 2: Harry Teague (D) vs. Ed Tinsley (R)
CD 3: Ben R. Luján (D), Dan East (R), and Carol Miller (Ind.)
Earlier this year, a series of workshops in New Mexico were conducted by Arnie Alpert of New Hampshire American Friends Service Committee, Joni Arends of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, Holly Beaumont of the New Mexico Conference of Churches, and Jessica Wilbanks of Faithful Security. The workshops taught skills for "bird-dogging," which means engaging candidates in positive ways to advance issues that matter to voters and finding out where candidates stand on issues. Building off the success of these workshops and working with Peggy Prince of Peace Action New Mexico, Daniel hit the ground running and attended more than a dozen candidate events. Volunteers Antonio, Chris, Amy, and Adam joined him in putting these skills to use in asking four of the candidates questions.
At candidate Ben R. Luján’s Rio Rancho Town Hall meeting, Daniel’s question and Luján’s response were caught on video. Daniel started his question by talking about the Wall Street Journal Opinion Editorial in which former Secretary of State Kissinger, former Secretary of State Shultz, former Secretary of Defense Perry, and former Senator Nunn embrace a global drawdown of the number and role of nuclear weapons, and encourage the US to take a leadership role in that reduction effort. Watch the video here.
After the New Mexico Professional Fire Fighters Association’s endorsement of Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, Daniel had a chance to shake hands with each candidate and ask a question. While holding a copy of Dr. Arjun Makhijani’s “Carbon Free and Nuclear Free: A Roadmap to US Energy Policy,” he pointed at it and asked Rep. Udall if he would support a redirection of New Mexico’s national laboratories away from nuclear weapons and towards renewable energy. Udall reaffirmed his stance by answering “Absolutely.”
During his handshake with Heinrich, Daniel also asked if he would support redirecting the mission of the labs in New Mexico towards renewable energy. Heinrich said that he would want to study the effects a redirection would have on everyone, but that building support for alternative energy is one of his key issues.
At an event being held by the University of New Mexico’s College Republicans, Daniel was able to ask Congressional candidate Darren White about his stance on nuclear weapons. In his question, Daniel said that New Mexico has a long history of nuclear weapons funding and testing and mentioned the same Opinion Editorial on the dangers of nuclear weapons in the Wall Street Journal. He also mentioned that about 80 percent of the American public favors nuclear arms reductions. Despite this, the Bush administration has been repeatedly advancing new nuclear weapons programs to be paid for with our tax dollars. He concluded the question by asking, “Do you support these steps or would you push for reduction and nonproliferation?”
White first asked Daniel if the new nuclear weapons program he referred to was the RRW (Reliable Replacement Warhead) program. Daniel replied yes, as well as Complex Transformation, Bush’s proposal to modernize and revamp the entire nation’s nuclear weapons complex.
White said that if the scientists, who have more experience with nuclear weapons, have a way to make our arsenal easier to maintain and transform, then there would be aspects that are beneficial. He pointed out that many people say that the Bush administration is trying to increase the stockpile. He also said that it would be a good thing if we can work to make it cheaper to maintain, and have lower maintenance. As for reductions, White said that it would be important that we recognize that it is not our security alone that is at stake: many nations around the world rely on our strength for their own security. Despite the end of the Cold War, the world remains a dangerous place, especially with Russia acting like the USSR again.
Daniel was able to ask a follow up question in response to White’s answer. He first talked about how many jobs there are at the Los Alamos (12,000) and Sandia National Laboratories (8,500). Since the labs have some of the best scientific minds, would White support a redirection of the mission of those labs to deactivation, disposal, and cleanup? Additionally, he talked about the legislation introduced by Congressmen McGovern and Lungren, the Global Security Priorities Resolution (H Res 1045), that proposes a drawdown from 10,000 nuclear weapons to 1,000 deployed and an additional 2,000 just in case. Would White support legislation like this if elected to Congress?
White answered that he hadn’t seen the bill and so could not come out and specifically say if he supported it, but was definitely willing to consider “something like that.” On redirecting the mission of the labs, he said that the mission of the labs will need to change, but that $2.5 billion currently goes to them. National security must remain the priority at the labs. White pointed out that at Sandia there are 8,500 jobs, not counting periphery industries. He asked, “If funding were to be interrupted, what would I say to all of these people?” Finally, White said that he wouldn’t be someone that “goes to Washington to say nukes, nukes, nukes.” They play a vital role at the labs, but there is a balance now with renewable energy.
It's critical that voters know where the candidates stand on nuclear weapons issues. The next Congress and president that we elect will have an opportunity to change US nuclear weapons policy significantly and either put us on a path towards eliminating nuclear weapons worldwide or continue with the dangerous policies of the Bush administration.