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“I am running for re-election to continue the important work that I have started,” New Mexico State Sen. Mary Kay Papen, D-Doña Ana, said in the news release announcing her bid for a sixth term representing state Senate District 38. “This community and the people of Senate District 38 are my priority,” she said.
“I’m going to run hard, I always run hard,” said Papen, who has two challengers in the June 2020 Democratic primary. She is one of several incumbent Democrats in the state Senate who have primary opponents. “The progressives are after us,” Papen said. “They want us gone.”
Papen said opposition to her re-election arose because of her votes on several bills during the 2019 legislative session, including House Bill 51, which would have repealed certain state laws that criminalize abortion. Papen said she has always supported abortion rights in cases of rape, incest and the health of the mother, but believes adoption is a better alternative to abortion in other cases. “There are so many people out there who want to adopt,” she said.
Papen said serving as president pro-tem of the state Senate has placed her in a “unique position to really help this community. It has made a huge difference down here,” she said. “We’re have power down here. We’re not the stepchild to the north.”
Papen said she “has helped pass some of the state’s most important legislation” during her 20 years in the Senate and has served on 18 legislative committees.
A 2018 bill Papen sponsored transferred property to reestablish Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park near Las Cruces and Mesilla. She also is the author of Katie’s Law, which requires that DNA samples be taken from all people arrested in the commission of a felony.
A long-time advocate for mental health, the developmentally disabled and autism awareness, Papen was critical of former Gov. Susana Martinez for freezing Medicaid payments to behavioral health providers in the state. “Her bill to provide access to Medicaid services and to afford due process to Medicaid providers will help resolve disputes and will require a judicial review of credible allegations of fraud,” a campaign news release said.
The best way to solve immigration and U.S.-Mexico border issues is to “come together and come up with a comprehensive plan,” Papen said. “We need to process people in the right way,” she said, to accommodate those who come to the United States legally and to deal properly with illegals. Programs that allow workers from Central and South America to work in the U.S. and return to their home countries need to be re-established, she said. “We need to find a way to fix the problem, not just ring our hands and just say ‘no.’”
The international border is a federal issue, she said, “but they’re not willing to tackle it.” “I know this border,” Papen said in the interview. “I understand this border. This border has always been a part of who I am.”
Papen said one reason she decided to run for re-election is to “protect the things I think are important, including the state permanent fund, which some legislators have suggested tapping. “We are so flush with money, why would we go and take money out of our savings account?” she asked.
Papen said she is also running again because of “unfinished business” on issues like mental health, autism, the colonias, addressing the needs of the City of Las Cruces and Doña Ana County and making sure New Mexico State University “is all it can be.”
As part of that effort, Papen helped create funding for autism testing to be conducted at NMSU, so families needn’t travel to Albuquerque and wait for service. “This is going to be big for helping people with a disability,” she said.
“I believe in hemp,” Papen said, adding that hemp farming could be a boon for Doña Ana County farmers and the local economy. She’s also an advocate of adequate research to determine any health risks related to the use of medical marijuana. “I’m willing to look at it,” she said about the legalization of marijuana in the state. “I think you need to take a very measured approach on this. I want to know the effects.”
Papen, 87, said age “should not be a determinant of whether you are capable of running or doing your job.” She continues to drive back and forth regularly to Santa Fe and other parts of the state, she said, and remains in good health.
“I just feel like my work isn’t finished.”