NM governor’s race hones in on crime, education and the economy ahead of general election
With early voting in the 2022 general election set to begin on Oct. 11, the race between incumbent Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and her Republican challenger, former meteorologist Mark Ronchetti, is in its final stretch. The campaigns have paid particular attention to a few key issues: crime, the economy and education.
While the candidates have sparred over the governor’s response to the pandemic, within those arguments emerge two issues a recent Albuquerque Journal poll found are particularly important to voters: New Mexico’s economic strength and public education system.
“Because our kids sat out of school the sixth most days of any state in the country. It was absolutely devastating, because we're 51st in education.” the candidate said at a recent debate on KOB-TV.
He’s proposed providing education stipends for students in first through third grade from families with low incomes and diverting more funding into classrooms.
At that debate, Lujan Grisham defended her decision to keep schools closed as long as she did, noting that it wasn’t easy.
“We’ve stayed the course. We’re investing now. It will, in fact, make the differences that we need,” she said.
Investments during her first term have included teacher pay hikes, tuition-free college, and expanded preschool and childcare among other initiatives.
Ronchetti has also hit the governor on the impact her public health emergency orders had on the state’s economy and New Mexicans’ pocketbooks. He proposes cutting taxes for low- and middle-income New Mexicans and dropping the gross receipts tax each year.
Lujan Grisham oversaw similar policies in her first term, including cutting the GRT for the first time in 40 years this summer.
Some of her other pandemic-era economic policies included increasing and expanding the Working Families Tax Credit, lowering sales taxes, eliminating taxes on social security income, enacting a state child tax credit, and providing direct financial relief to households. She called this out at the KOB debate.
“Don’t tell me about taking my own plan for supporting New Mexicans and that you’ll deliver that in a Democratic legislature,” she told Ronchetti.
She’s also touted a dropping unemployment rate, though it remains above the national average at 4.4%, according to the Department of Workforce Solutions.
Meanwhile, crime has also surfaced as a key issue in the race, with 82% of likely voters noting it as a “serious problem” in an Albuquerque Journal poll.
Ronchetti has criticized the governor for a decreasing prison population as the state struggles with one of the highest violent crime rates in the nation. A recent legislative report confirms that while arrests for violent offenses have dropped since 2019, when the governor took office, the statewide violent crime rate has too. The same can’t be said for Albuquerque, however, which has seen record homicides.
While Ronchetti has campaigned on increasing penalties for those who commit violent crimes and keeping more people accused of crimes in jail awaiting trial, Lujan Grisham has too. The governor has signed legislation increasing some penalties and supported creating stricter pre-trial detention rules, though that proposal failed to pass the Democratic-controlled legislature earlier this year.
The candidates have feuded over support for officers, as well, though both have pro-police platforms.
“The policies that this administration has advocated has made it far more difficult to be a police officer than it has to be a criminal,” Ronchetti said at a GOP primary debate on KOAT-TV in May.
Ronchetti cited a 2021 bill the governor signed that opened officers up to prosecution for civil rights violations. However, the governor has also boosted funding, training and recruitment efforts for law enforcement during her first term, including providing 16% raises for state police.
That said, Ronchetti has earned the endorsements of the New Mexico Fraternal Order of Police and the Albuquerque Police Officers Association.
Abortion has also emerged as a key issue in the governor’s race, with Ronchetti proposing a statewide referendum that would amend the constitution to ban abortions after 15 weeks with some exceptions. Lujan Grisham has expanded access to the procedure in New Mexico, including protecting providers and patients from criminalization, and overturning a dormant ban ahead of the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade.
Lujan Grisham has a significant fundraising lead, having raised over $10 million in her reelection bid, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. That’s compared to the $6.4 million Ronchetti has brought in. Libertarian candidate Karen Bedonie’s campaign has gotten about $122,000 in contributions.
A KOB-TV poll conducted by SurveyUSA in September shows Lujan Grisham with a double-digit 48-36% lead over Ronchetti. Bedonie secured the support of just 5% of those polled.
The Your New Mexico Government project is a collaboration between KUNM and New Mexico PBS with support from the Thornburg Foundation.