N.M. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham speaks at a rally for reproductive rights at Tiguex Park in Albuquerque following the Supreme Court ruling that ended nearly 50 years of national protections for abortion rights under the U.S. Constitution on Friday, June 24, 2022. (Photo by Shelby Wyatt for Source NM)
With the midterm elections less than three weeks away, and early voting expanding on Saturday, the New Mexico governor’s race is in a sprint to the end. Incumbent Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is running against Republican challenger Mark Ronchetti and Libertarian Karen Bedonie. The governor praised President Biden’s pledge this week to codify abortion protections in federal law if the Democrats secure a majority in congress. Lujan Grisham characterized the move as a commitment to “echo” the work being done here in New Mexico.
KUNM: While you repealed a dormant ban last year, a right to an abortion has not been further codified in state law. Will you pursue that if you’re reelected?
MICHELLE LUJAN GRISHAM: Absolutely. And I’ve made clear that the reason abortion is safe and legal in New Mexico is because I’m the governor. And women, for basic primary care and reproductive health, are blocked all over the country, making it impossible for them to gain and garner access to health care. It’s outrageous. New Mexico will continue to be a place that supports women’s health in all aspects and be a beacon for women all across the country.
KUNM: Now, you’re running on your record of extensive experience in public service compared to Ronchetti, who’s a former meteorologist and has not held elected office before. At the KOB-TV debate, you said you took offense to Ronchetti’s attack on your legislative work as making you out of touch. Saying that working with lawmakers to get initiatives passed is complicated and hard and that you’re good at it. With growing skepticism about the political establishment, how do you convince voters that it’s better to elect an insider than an outsider?
LUJAN GRISHAM: Well, by rejecting those labels, “inside” versus “outside.” Experience absolutely matters. And given that I campaigned on expanding education, doing cradle-to-career, universal early childhood, better childcare, a diversified strong economy, that we would take care of folks if it got tough — it did get tough out there. And think about what we can do based on experience, relationships, knowing how to not only pass it, but execute it, statewide, without a pandemic, fire, and floods. And I hope in the end, that my record and my effort on behalf of everyday New Mexicans will shine through.
KUNM: New Mexicans are, like many, worried about inflation right now. You’ve approved multiple tax rebates and direct relief payments, but New Mexicans are still struggling. Of course this is a national issue, but what more could the governor do?
LUJAN GRISHAM: It’s really, Nash, an international issue, right? And I wish that one state alone could resolve inflation — because if you could, we would. We’re going to keep building the economy, but we’re going to support people where they are. So given that we’ve got record revenues available, New Mexicans should expect me to make it easier for them, and they should expect direct assistance proposed by us in a number of ways that lifts them up through inflation.
KUNM: You’re running in part on your pandemic response, where you led with some of the strictest public health mandates in the country, including being one of the last states to lift a mask mandate. Is reinstating mandates in New Mexico —whether that’s masking or even shutdowns — still on the table if we see a COVID surge this winter?
LUJAN GRISHAM: We’ve seen surges, so the answers easy: No. And the reason is because we’ve done an effective job at making sure people have access — ready access — to vaccines. And that means that we don’t overrun hospitals. And now we’ve got much more viable treatments, including Paxlovid. So we’re the sickest per-capita state in America with the least access to health care, particularly hospital beds and intensive care, which you needed pre-vaccine, pre-real treatments. So the only way to minimize was to stop spread. That means masks and other public health orders or mandates. Today, New Mexico’s very well-positioned to manage this pandemic and, God forbid, prepare in the next 10, 20 — I hope it’s not in my lifetime — the next pandemic by having a strong public health investment and set of responses ready.
KUNM: Now, you’ve got a substantial lead in the latest polls. Though Ronchetti did out-raise you in the most recent reporting period.
LUJAN GRISHAM: Who says? I’m teasing, Nash.
KUNM: That would be according to the Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver.
LUJAN GRISHAM: She’s right. She’s right, Nash.
KUNM: But the Albuquerque Journal reported that there was a significant uptick in Republican turnout during early voting compared to the last midterms, around this time in 2018. Is the GOP doing a better job of firing up their base here in that final stretch?
LUJAN GRISHAM: No, I don’t think so. I want people to vote, so that’s not an area where you get mad at anyone voting. We want every New Mexican to vote in this election. If you looked at the numbers today, now we’ve outpaced Republicans in early voting. Democrats tend to do absentee and early votes. Our same-day registration is working. So it shows me not where the race is per se, but rather that our voter protections and expansions for people are making the difference for every candidate.
But we feel very good about where we are and who’s voting, and feel very confident going in to November 8. But I want to end with this Nash: I always work till the very last minute. I want to earn every single vote out in New Mexico. I’m going to work 24/7 for the next 20 days. I’m raising resources and meeting voters where they are, and we’ll do that until the last poll closes on Tuesday the eighth.
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