Democratic candidates Darshan Patel and Gabe Vasquez differ on healthcare, gun control

·6 min read
Darshan Patel and Gabe Vasquez are running for Congress as Democrats in New Mexico District 2.
Darshan Patel and Gabe Vasquez are running for Congress as Democrats in New Mexico District 2.

Former Las Cruces City Council member Gabe Vasquez and Dr. Darshan Patel, a rural physician and labor union leader, face off for the Democratic nomination in Congressional District 2 June 7. Whoever wins the primary will face first-term U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-N.M., in the general election this fall.

While CD2 has traditionally been a red seat, it's been marked as a likelier Democratic district by the Cook Political Report following redistricting last year.

The Sun-News asked the primary candidates for their positions on a number of key issues in video interviews.

The candidates differed in what they'd expect to be the most pressing items for the country in their upcoming congressional terms if elected.

Patel pointed to legislative gridlock, which he said stalled the passage of bills and impeded compromise on issues where there is public consensus, as the biggest issue needing to be addressed. Vasquez said inflation and the economy are likely to be the biggest issues in the coming term.

When asked if there were any issues on which the candidates were not willing to compromise — to the extent they'd break with party leadership — Vasquez said compromise should always be on the table, no matter the issue. He said legislators become the "enemy of progress" when they refuse to compromise and should be open to even "incremental steps."

"There's things I feel incredibly strongly about, but I also know what it means to make progress," Vasquez said.

Patel said Democrats need to be willing to speak out against their own party when they believe it's right and pointed to his own candidacy as an example.

Dr. Darshan Patel, M.D. waits to be introduced during the Picacho Hills Country Club Forum on May 17, 2022. Patel is running for the 2nd congressional district, a seat currently held by Republican Yvette Herrell. Neither Herrell nor Patel's democratic rival Gabe Vasquez attended the forum.
Dr. Darshan Patel, M.D. waits to be introduced during the Picacho Hills Country Club Forum on May 17, 2022. Patel is running for the 2nd congressional district, a seat currently held by Republican Yvette Herrell. Neither Herrell nor Patel's democratic rival Gabe Vasquez attended the forum.

"I think in a lot of ways, my candidacy is that, right?" Patel said. "The party leadership in New Mexico and the nation has very vocally been in support of my opponent."

Healthcare

Patel and Vasquez each support universal healthcare, and have cited the high costs of healthcare as a problem, but disagree about their preferred policy solution.

Patel supports a single-payer system where the federal government is the sole source of health insurance for Americans, sometimes referred to as "Medicare for all." Vasquez supports a public option, under which Americans could choose between private insurance or a government-run insurance plan.

"I think that folks should be allowed to continue to stay on (their) healthcare plans and not be mandated to have a certain type of healthcare," Vasquez said. "For folks who don't have healthcare, they should have an option to be able to have healthcare. So I am a full supporter of universal healthcare. But I don't think that there's a one-size-fits-all option at this point."

"(Single-payer) is what will actually address the costs and actually insure the people that we need insured," Patel said. "The public option basically just adds another insurance plan to all the other plans, and then dealing with subsidizing a public option, when you're not actually able to control costs, I think it's just going to be an expensive alternative without solving the actual problem."

Immigration

Patel and Vasquez, both first-generation Americans, are running in a district that includes 180 miles of U.S.-Mexico border. Both said they support immigration reform which would include a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers — people brought unlawfully to the U.S. as children. They both also said they support a pathway to citizenship for millions of other undocumented immigrants.

Las Cruces city councilor Gabe Vasquez, left, speaks at his last council meeting on Monday, Dec. 20, 2021 as Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima listens. Vasquez chose not to run for reelection to city council to focus on his run for U.S. Congress.
Las Cruces city councilor Gabe Vasquez, left, speaks at his last council meeting on Monday, Dec. 20, 2021 as Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima listens. Vasquez chose not to run for reelection to city council to focus on his run for U.S. Congress.

While Vasquez and Patel each said they support a path to legal status for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, they agreed that they expect a negotiation process in Congress could limit who qualifies for that pathway. One limitation, for instance, could be the length of time someone has lived in the U.S.

Climate and energy

Both men said it was important for them to pursue climate-related policies if elected this November.

More: Oil and gas touted by southeast New Mexico leaders, economists warn of volatility

Patel said he supports an agenda which would drastically reduce global carbon emissions by 2030. He said that would include bold investments into clean energy infrastructure, retraining and a financial safety net for workers in the oil and gas industry. He also said he'd support grants programs to assist households with the cost of transition from oil and gas to renewable forms of energy. Finally, Patel said he thought fossil fuel companies could lead the way on the transition.

Vasquez said he would seek to hold oil and gas companies accountable for what he labeled as "price gouging at the pump." He also said he opposes flaring, venting and leaking of methane gas, opposes making taxpayers cover the cost of cleaning up abandoned oil wells and favors providing subsidies for renewable energy to encourage a more aggressive transition. Vasquez also favors a higher royalty rate on oil and gas production.

Guns

Gun control is on people's minds following two high-profile mass shootings in the last month. While Patel and Vasquez have similar policy positions for addressing gun violence, they differ in one key area.

Fact-check: Do armed campus police prevent school shootings?

Both men believe in universal background checks, ghost gun bans and red flag laws. While Patel said he supported a ban on assault rifles, Vasquez did not commit to that or any bans on certain types of weapons.

"I think that I personally have to learn a lot more about different styles of firearms that  can be used both for self-defense and for hunting purposes," Vasquez said. "I know for sure that an AR-15 is not a weapon that you should use for hunting, for example. But I want to be somebody that comes to the table and talks about these in a way that reflects both the values, the culture of New Mexicans, and at the same time keeps our kids safe."

Gabriel Vasquez attends a City Council meeting at the Las Cruces City Hall on Monday, Aug. 16, 2021.
Gabriel Vasquez attends a City Council meeting at the Las Cruces City Hall on Monday, Aug. 16, 2021.

Abortion

As the Supreme Court is likely to severely restrict abortion access nationwide as it prepares to reportedly overturn Roe v. Wade, both candidates said they support federal legislation to protect abortion access. Both men also said they don't believe states should be allowed to place any restrictions on when someone can get an abortion.

More: 'A period of reckoning:' What happens in New Mexico if Roe v. Wade is struck down?

"I think that the decisions that women make about their own reproductive rights, and about the decisions when to start a family, should be left 100 percent to themselves and to their medical providers, and never ever to politicians, never ever to Congress," Vasquez said.

"It is a complicated and fraught issue for the patient and for the provider, but the government needs to stay out of this conversation," Patel said. "Government does not regulate any other health care issue as much as it does abortion, and abortion is an essential health care procedure for a variety of different reasons for women."

Michael McDevitt is a city and county government reporter for the Sun-News. He can be reached at 575-202-3205, mmcdevitt@lcsun-news.com or @MikeMcDTweets on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on Las Cruces Sun-News: Democrats Vasquez, Patel differ on healthcare, guns ahead of primary