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April 22--WASHINGTON -- After serving five terms in the U.S. House, then losing a bid for the U.S. Senate in 2008, Heather Wilson returned to New Mexico and spent the past four years as a defense consultant in the private sector.
The work was challenging and lucrative, and Wilson said she enjoyed being home with her husband and children. But now she wants to return to Washington, where she thinks she can do the most good for New Mexico and the nation.
"I'm really concerned about the future of our country," Wilson said during a Journal interview in Washington. "We're in deep financial trouble. We've got a federal government that is more and more involved in every aspect of our lives.
"It is slowing the kind of economic growth we want to see, particularly from small businesses," Wilson added. "We've got to get this right, or we're going to leave our children a diminished nation."
Wilson built a reputation in Congress as a defense and intelligence specialist. She cited protecting Kirtland Air Force Base and helping to fend off job cuts at Cannon Air Force Base, as well as her work crafting wiretapping laws and improving intelligence collection, as some of her biggest congressional accomplishments.
But this campaign, she's talking a lot more about jobs, economics and the size of government. The first three issues listed on her Senate campaign website are jobs, spending and debt, and regulations. Defense is listed last.
In the Journal interview, Wilson stressed that, if she is elected, her votes for limited government and taxes will help lift America out of its economic malaise.
By now, Wilson's story is familiar to many New Mexicans. A New Hampshire native, she attended the Air Force Academy and met Jay Hone, an academy instructor. After graduation in 1982, Wilson worked defense jobs in Washington and overseas for nearly a decade. She kept in touch with Hone, however, who had moved from Colorado Springs to Albuquerque. Wilson married Hone and moved to New Mexico in 1991.
A Rhodes Scholar and former staffer on the National Security Council under President George H.W. Bush, Wilson first ran for Congress in 1998 after former 1st District Rep. Steve Schiff died of cancer. She won and went on to serve four more terms. She said she would bring unique qualifications to the U.S. Senate.
"There aren't a lot of people like me running for the U.S. Senate or public office anymore," Wilson said, citing her military background, service on the National Security Council, congressional career and private-sector experience.
Wilson ran for the U.S. Senate in 2008 but lost in the primary to Rep. Steve Pearce, a Republican who later lost the general election to Tom Udall, a Democrat. Wilson lost to Pearce in part because she was viewed as too moderate by many Republican voters. She has worked to burnish her conservative credentials since then -- publicly siding with the Catholic Church in a debate over a birth-control mandate in the Affordable Care Act, for example. Wilson argued that the federal government should not be allowed to force religious institutions, such as a Catholic-affiliated insurance plan or hospital, to provide contraception.
However, Wilson said she won't agree with conservatives on everything.
"I'm not going to play games, and I will always tell the truth," she said. "People know that they can come in and talk to me and I'll listen, learn and seek to understand."
In 2008, Wilson's last year in the U.S. House, the National Journal ranked her slightly to the right of the middle -- the 148th-most conservative member of the 435-member chamber.
Wilson said that if elected, she would work to overturn the Affordable Care Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law in 2010.
"I think it's the wrong way to go for the country," she said. "It doesn't control costs, it increases taxes, it increases the cost of health care and we're seeing premiums already go through the roof."
Wilson said the key to reforming Medicare and its runaway costs is to build consensus among Democrats and Republicans. She cited Medicare Advantage -- a premium service for seniors who pay more -- and the prescription drug benefit Congress added to Medicare starting in 2006 as templates for reform. Many Democrats, however, contend the drug benefit wasn't paid for and helped blow a big hole in the federal budget.
"The way to control costs is to improve the health status of people who have chronic disease," Wilson said. "Medicare Advantage addresses that much better than feefor-service Medicare and Medicaid where they pay for episodes of illness. We added a prescription drug benefit that is both cost-effective and very popular. You have competitive bidding, and people get a lot of choice and low prices and a lot of options."
Wilson contends federal regulations of banking and other businesses under Obama are hurting Americans' quality of life -- regulations that others say protect consumers.
Asked for an example, she cited the Dodd-Frank mortgage lending regulation bill Obama signed into law in 2010. She said the law has prompted at least one New Mexico bank to cease residential loans "because the risk of noncompliance is so high."
Wilson also said the Obama administration is waging a war on oil and gas production, a linchpin of New Mexico's economy. Wilson favors construction of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.
"The federal government is doing everything it can to kill fossil fuel use in this country," she said. "There is an agenda in this town that is seeking to reduce fossil fuel production -- coal, gas and oil -- and that will cause electricity and gas prices to go through the roof. And this is only the beginning."
Wilson, whose area included Sandia National Laboratories while she was the representative for the Albuquerquebased 1st Congressional District, has tried to position herself as the candidate best prepared to protect Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratory in today's grim federal budget climate.
The labs' defense missions -- safeguarding the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile -- should remain, she said. She said the Obama administration's recent decision to shutter a multibillion-dollar plutonium project at LANL in favor of a different project at Oak Ridge, Tenn., was the current (mostly Democratic) delegation's fault.
"Why did that happen?" Wilson asked. "Because the Tennessee delegation stood up and fought for Oak Ridge and our delegation didn't. It's a mission they don't believe in."
EDUCATION: Master's and doctoral degrees in international relations from Oxford University in England, 1985; bachelor of science, U.S. Air Force Academy, 1982
OCCUPATION: Smallbusiness owner; former Air Force officer, former secretary of New Mexico's Children, Youth and Families Department, former U.S. representative FAMILY: Husband, Jay Hone; three children.
EXPERIENCE: U.S. representative, 1st Congressional District, 1998-2009; secretary of New Mexico's Children, Youth and Families Department, 1995-1998; director for European defense policy and arms control on the National Security Council staff at the White House, 1989-1991; U.S. Mission to NATO, 1987-1989; HQ USAF in the UK, 1985-1987
(c)2012 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.)
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