FARMINGTON — Rep. Ben Ray Luján intended to spend the morning Tuesday touring nonprofit groups in Farmington. But first, protesters treated him to a Tea Party.

A dozen protesters greeted Luján, D-Nambé, when he arrived at Goodwill Industries to learn about the nonprofit organization's employment programs.

"You're a Nancy Pelosi stooge," one protester shouted.

Another criticized Luján for supporting regulation that he said hurts oil and gas drilling.

"You're killing our industry," said the protester, Steve Sexton of Farmington.

Luján spoke with the protesters in front of Goodwill for several minutes before beginning his tour. He responded that he supports legislation that would boost demand for natural gas by converting vehicles to run on the fuel.

That answer did not satisfy Sexton. "It's a great idea, but it's not implementable," he said.

Luján is visiting his district during a recess from Congress. He met with officials at Goodwill and Childhaven, which helps abused children, and spoke with former Peace Corps volunteers. He later made an appearance in Shiprock.

Luján appeared to take the protest in stride.

"It's important that we get out to visit our constituency," Luján said. "We think that's important, and we'll continue to do that."

Some congressional representatives have scaled back their interactions with constituents following the January shooting of Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Luján said he hopes Giffords' shooting was an isolated incident.


"I think people are more aware," he said.

Luján noted that the protesters were "mostly respectful," but said they did not know he voted against raising the debt ceiling and supports natural gas vehicle conversion.

"That's why it's good to talk," he said.

Farmington, as a conservative bastion in a mostly liberal district, is tough country for Luján. San Juan County voters favored his opponent, Farmington Republican Tom Mullins, by a nearly 2-to-1 ratio in 2010.

The protesters said they spread word of Luján's visit by phone and email. One protester said the demonstration was associated with the San Juan County 9/12 Project, a Tea Party-aligned group.

"I thought we'd come out and share our thoughts with him," said Joe Rogers of Farmington, who called friends to join the protest. Rogers said he wanted to question Luján on military spending in Libya and federal regulation of regional haze.

Darrel Clark of Farmington said he came for "a chance to see the elusive representative."

"He needs to get out of politics and make room for an American," Clark said.

Luján is a lifelong New Mexican. Clark later explained that he meant an "American patriot."

The atmosphere was much calmer inside Goodwill, where the group's state executives led a tour. The Goodwill center, 1861 N. Hutton Road, opened in 2008. It features a large thrift store and a computer lab open to job-seekers.

The organization also provides job training to individuals with disabilities and other obstacles to employment, including felony convictions.

Goodwill also offers a financial literacy program in conjunction with San Juan College. The program is funded by a Bank of America grant.

"Too many people think this is the best thrift store around, and don't know what we do with the money," said Bruce Higgins, a board member for Goodwill Industries of New Mexico.

Almost nothing donated to the Goodwill location goes to waste. Whatever isn't fit for sale in the store is sold to dealers. The store has a robust secondary market for its goods, said Ryan Stark, marketing manager.

Luján praised Goodwill as a "true example of an enterprise."

"This is an impressive facility," he said.

Chuck Slothower: