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Congresswoman attempts to bar press

Tells reporter “No Press Allowed” at Raton Meet and Greet

by Sharon Niederman
RATON — On a campaign swing through NE New Mexico April 20, 2022, Third District Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-NM) had a packed day in Raton that included a round table discussion of rural partnerships, a tour of the wastewater facility, a Voices of Veteranos listening session at the Shuler Theater regarding the proposed closure of the Raton VA clinic, and a tour of the clinic, topped off by a campaign meet and greet at Casa Lemus restaurant.

As this reporter crossed the Casa Lemus parking lot heading toward the 5:30 pm meet and greet, Leger Fernandez’ regional office manager, Xochitl Campos-Biggs,  approached to inform her the event was closed to the press. When that order did not deter the reporter, Campos-Biggs returned, accompanied by Congresswoman Leger Fernandez.

Parking Lot Confrontation
At this point, progressive Democratic Congresswoman Leger Fernandez, with her aide, stopped the World Journal reporter in the Casa Lemus parking lot. She repeated that the press was barred from attending.
“The press is not allowed into this event, but I will call you tonight and tell you how much the events today meant, and everything I learned,” the congresswoman told the reporter.
“I will wait for your call,” said the reporter.

After the congresswoman and her staffer entered the event, the reporter continued to the restaurant doorway, where she saw friends Hal and Laura Brewer and shared the incident.

“Well, come in with us,” said Laura. “They can’t just pick you up and have you removed.”
The reporter then took a seat inside Casa Lemus, and in a few minutes, Campos-Biggs appeared. “Didn’t we just have that conversation outside in the parking lot?” she asked.

“There is no legitimate reason to bar the press from a public campaign event,” the reporter said, “we don’t do that in New Mexico.” Relying on her First Amendment rights, the reporter refused to budge despite Campos-Biggs’ repeated arguments demanding she leave.

The event proved to be a typical campaign rally, with the candidate sharing her biography as a born and bred daughter of El Norte. She is from Las Vegas, NM and received her education at Yale and Stanford.  She told of her accomplishments in bettering the lives of constituents, and asked for votes and donations. She requested people to go to her website and subscribe to her newsletter. There were a few questions and comments from the audience concerning matters of common knowledge.  Perhaps the congresswoman altered her presentation due to the reporter’s presence– there is no way to know.

Despite her promise, the congresswoman did not call the reporter that night.

Leger Fernandez Announces Grants, Loans and Tech Assistance
During the April 20 scheduled events, the Congresswoman announced the following programs intended to benefit Raton and other northeastern rural communities.

* USDA Rural Development has funded a water project for the City of Raton, New Mexico in the amount of $2,583,000. The loan/grant financing package consists of a $1,754,000 loan and a grant in the amount of $829,000. The money will be used to upgrade and modernize the current water treatment system;
* The Rural Partnership Network Pilot Program A consortium of Taos, Colfax, Mora, and San Miguel Counties have made a regional application and were selected to participate in this pilot program.  The funding for this program comes from FY 2022 appropriations.

USDA Rural Development staff will provide on-the-ground staff to designated localities—including Taos, Colfax, Mora, and San Miguel—to help facilitate federal funding opportunities.  The staff will work with the locality on1) identifying community needs; 2) helping them understand what federal funding opportunities exist and which ones to target; and 3) provide technical assistance so they can apply and access government resources.

Congresswoman Supports Keeping VA Clinic in Raton

Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernandez visits with staff during her tour of the Raton VA clinic. Photo by Sharon Niederman.

Congresswoman Leger Fernandez made clear throughout her visit her unqualified support for keeping the community-based outpatient VA clinic open. All four endangered clinics, serving 4,717 veterans, are in her district. In a letter to Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough she explains “It is our nation’s solemn obligation to provide veterans the
health care, services, and support they have earned. Unfortunately, these closures would jeopardize that obligation and make it harder for veterans to receive essential heath services.”

Listening Session at Shuler Theater
In nearly two hours of testimonials, some angry, some tearful, all heartfelt, Leger Fernandez listened to stories of local veterans’ treatment and encounters with the VA.  She said she would take these stories back to Washington, DC in the battle to keep the local clinic open.