The state Republican Party is calling out the New Mexico Oil & Gas Association for praising U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, a Democrat, ahead of her reelection bid in November against GOP challenger Yvette Herrell.
Ryan Flynn, executive director of the Oil & Gas Association, told the Associated Press last week that Torres Small has been an advocate for the industry.
Torres Small publicly opposed legislation from other House Democrats earlier this year that would have banned fracking, an extraction process that can contaminate groundwater supplies and pollute the air.
Flynn, who was state Environment Department secretary from 2013 to 2016 under former Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, said in a statement Sunday that the Oil & Gas Association does not give political endorsements and praised both candidates in the race.
“Rep. Torres Small understands the important role that the oil and gas industry plays in New Mexico. Throughout her first term in Congress, she has been a strong advocate for our state’s energy interests and responsible production and has stood up to those in her party who want to completely ban fracking,” Flynn said. “Former Representative Herrell also demonstrated a favorable record during her service in the Roundhouse.”
The Republican Party of New Mexico doesn’t think Flynn should praise a Democrat.
“Mr. Flynn is supposed to be in support of the industry,” Steve Pearce, the state GOP’s chairman, said in an interview. “When one of our friends are out of line, we’re going to say something.”
In an op-ed published in The New Mexican, Pearce accused Flynn of using the Oil & Gas Association “as a political weapon.”
“Getting NMOGA involved in this race is not only unethical, but also potentially illegal and risks permanent damage to the Association’s reputation,” he wrote.
The rift between the state GOP and the Oil & Gas Association underscores how contentious the House race in New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District has become.
In 2018, Torres Small defeated Herrell by just over 3,700 votes. Many expect the rematch this fall to be just as hotly contested.
Torres Small, whose district has long been a Republican stronghold, has come under fire for voting to impeach President Donald Trump. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report has ranked her as one of the 15 most vulnerable Democratic incumbents in the general election.
Torres Small said she continues to oppose any ban on fracking.
“I have consistently spoken out against a ban on fracking, and my record backs that up,” Torres Small said in an email to The New Mexican on Sunday. “Here in Southern New Mexico we know that if we shut down oil and gas today, we’ll have to shut down our schools tomorrow.”
The Fracking Ban Act was introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders in January and was referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced a similar bill in the House in February, and it was referred to the House Natural Resources and Energy and Commerce committees.
The bills would ban all onshore and offshore fracking by 2025. Neither bill received a vote in either chamber, although Torres Small released a statement opposing it.