New Mexico Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Ronchetti on Aug. 14, 2022 at a political rally in Carlsbad, N.M. (Photo by Jessica Onsurez / Carlsbad Current-Argus)
CARLSBAD, N.M. — New Mexico’s conservative voters lined up for hours to listen to the state’s top Republican politicians during a campaign event at Carlsbad’s Walter Gerrells Performing Arts And Exhibition Center on Sunday.
U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell joined GOP gubernatorial candidate Mark Ronchetti and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on stage to rally voters.
Even though she stood in line in the hot southeastern New Mexico sun to get a good spot at the event, Annie Mitchenson left early. “I’ve seen enough,” she said. Before she could share more information about her experience, she took aim at a flier put on her windshield. “What is this? Who put this here?” she asked no one in particular. She crumpled the paper.
It had been distributed by a man from Santa Fe, who didn’t give his name, who’d said before she came out that he wanted to show attendees Ronchetti’s “true stance on abortion. He supports it, and it’s not a true conservative position.”
Mitchenson, upset, littered the paper and sped off, shouting “We’re coming in November!”
Ronchetti’s said he supports a ban on abortion after 15 weeks, with exceptions, in New Mexico.
Mitchenson’s enthusiasm for Republican politics was shared by the attendees in southern New Mexico, even though the past few years have not been kind to Republicans after an electoral whooping in 2020, a national brand tarnished by federal investigations and a false insistence by some that the presidential election was stolen.
This was the first major rally for Ronchetti, a former meteorologist for KRQE and the next in line to possibly lead the state Republican Party. It was the first time some people said they heard Rep. Herrell talk in person since she took office in 2020. And for everyone else, it was the first glimpse of a potential future national platform led by DeSantis.
But as the party tries to move forward, so many in attendance said they’d still like to keep some things the same. Namely, the name on top of the ticket, Donald J. Trump.
Roosevelt Armendariz said he attended the event to celebrate “conservative values,” and while he was excited DeSantis brought his platform to Carlsbad, he’s not sure he is ready to take the top spot. “He said a lot of things that I really appreciated. I would like to see him run. I’d like to see Trump 2024. It would be cool to see Trump/DeSantis. But I’d like to see Trump get another four years.”
Armendariz shared this common perspective of everyone in attendance: Oil and gas needs to be supported at all costs. This oil-rich region wants to ensure business keeps booming, and despite record profits, they think Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham does not do enough to back the industry.
Voters like Alisa Ogden flatly said they feel ignored by Lujan Grisham.
“Southeastern New Mexico is totally conservative,” she said. ”And so you can see how we’ve been punished with the current administration, because we’re such a conservative corner of the state.”
Ogden cited the public health order during COVID and an unfriendly environment for small oil producers and local ranchers. She said the governor’s push for hydrogen projects during the last legislative sessions ignores the established oil and gas industry that built this community. She would like to see Ronchetti appoint people with conservative values in cabinet positions to run the state’s regulatory departments.
“We’re at the mercy of the federal government and the state government on a lot of the drilling, but on the private lands also,” she said. “You need to have fewer regulations as far as being imposed on doing the infrastructure that is needed to be able to do the production.”
The state’s Environment Department has said repeatedly that New Mexico hasn’t budgeted anywhere near enough for the number of inspectors and staff that would be needed to fully enforce oil and gas industry regulations — despite having a Democratic governor and largely blue Legislature.
Ogden also said she understands the reality of a Ronchetti administration bumping heads with the Legislature. She invoked the ghost of former Republican Gov. Gary Johnson and his famous veto pen used to corral Democrats in the Roundhouse.
“The line-item veto would be amazing. You know, Gary Johnson used it to the nth degree,” she said. “To just be able to line-item veto out a lot of the funding that’s going on right now would be huge. And that’s the first thing that (Ronchetti) could do as a governor, is line-item veto a lot of things.”
Reversing Lujan Grisham politics was the goal for nearly every voter interviewed at the event. 2022 might not give Republicans control of the state Legislature or Congress, of course, but they would be energized headed into 2024 if Lujan Grisham was defeated.
Norma Underwood is an anti-Lujan Grisham voter.
“What she’s done for abortion, which she did for the oil and gas, what she did during COVID, all the small businesses that shut down … She wanted to get in big with Washington, D.C.,” she said, “and she put her people on the line to do so.”
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