Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Chávez Talks Job Cuts at LANL
By Dan Boyd
Journal Staff Writer
While others were returning to work Monday after a long holiday weekend, Martin Chávez took to the road.
Chávez, the mayor of Albuquerque and a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Pete Domenici, met with Los Alamos National Laboratory employees to discuss the potential loss of up to 750 LANL jobs.
Along the way, Chávez lashed out at U.S. Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., his opponent in the Democratic primary, for voting in favor of a bill that would cut funding for the laboratory.
"There's some things where you fight to the end, you don't cave like he did," Chávez said of Udall. "He promised he would vote for the labs, and then he voted to cut them."
Laboratory officials unveiled a plan Nov. 19 to cut 500 to 750 jobs through voluntary buyouts. If not enough volunteers step forward, layoffs probably will follow.
But Udall staffers say the attempt to link job losses with Udall's vote this summer smacks of political desperation.
"It's really sad that instead of working together, they're attacking Congressman Udall," said Udall's chief of staff, Tom Nagle. "(Udall) has been working for northern New Mexico for his whole career."
Udall, who has served in Congress since 1999, voted in favor of a water and energy appropriations bill in July that would cut about $400 million from LANL and Sandia National Laboratory compared to the previous year's funding.
The bill is still languishing in Washington, D.C., as the Senate and the House of Representatives have been unable to reach a compromise. Stopgap funding measures have been approved in the meantime.
Although Udall has claimed the lab needs to modernize its mission and direct more funding toward renewable energy programs, Chávez said Monday that Udall has had nearly a decade to effect desired changes.
Support of New Mexico's national labs has "always been beyond partisanship," said Chávez, who claimed Udall is the state's only congressman in history to vote for cutting funding to LANL and Sandia.
But Udall, who recently noted that he offered an unsuccessful amendment to add $192 million to the appropriations bill, is hardly unsupportive of the lab, backers say.
Nagle said embracing the future is the only way for LANL and other national laboratories to remain relevant.
"If the lab doesn't move forward into these new areas, the state is going to be in big trouble," he said, referring specifically to global warming and energy efficiency research. "The need for nuclear weapons is going down. The jobs of the past aren't there anymore."
With the Democratic primary slated for June 2008, the campaign season is already in full swing.
Udall was a guest of honor at Friday's holiday tree lighting in Santa Fe, where Mayor David Coss introduced him as "Senator Udall."
Alhough more than seven months remains until next year's primaries, early surveys lend credence to that prediction. A recent SurveyUSA poll of 2,100 registered New Mexico voters said Udall holds a sizable lead over Chávez and would probably win the election if it were held today.
On Monday, Chávez acknowledged he probably won't win over many of the "trust-fund elite" in Santa Fe, but played up his New Mexico heritage and said he thinks he can connect with working-class voters.
Whoever wins the Democratic primary will likely face a formidable Republican foe in the general election. U.S. Reps. Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce are seeking the GOP nomination.