By MORGAN LEE Associated Press
SANTA FE, NM (AP) — Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Ronchetti sounded a rallying cry for residents dissatisfied with crime and public education in a live debate Friday, while incumbent Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham promised to protect access to abortion and defended her response to disasters and her focus on investments in social programs.
The two candidates squared off in their first televised debate of the campaign, on KOB 4, ahead of the November 8 general election. Early voting begins October 11.
Ronchetti painted a dire portrait of public safety conditions and the economic outlook for small businesses, arguing that a windfall in state government revenue could be put to better use, including annual individual rebates tied to oilfield production and stipends. education to improve early literacy.
The former television weatherman repeatedly asked viewers if they thought they were better off amid inflation pressures and if they could feel the effects of the governor’s programs.
“Have you felt it in your bottom line? Do you look at things now and say, ‘yeah, I can pay what I need to pay,’” Ronchetti said. “A lot of their programs are not making a difference to people on the ground.”
Lujan Grisham noted that his administration already this year delivered sales and gross receipts tax cuts, along with tax rebates of up to $1,500 per household, touting his ability to work with a Democratic-led Legislature.
“He says he proposes it, I already did it,” said Lujan Grisham, a former three-term congressman.
He urged the public to support and sustain new state spending on public education and college grants, arguing that small businesses crave a skilled workforce.
“We’ve invested billions of dollars in public school classrooms and salary increases for teachers and to expand pre-K and day care and … free higher education for thousands of New Mexicans,” the governor said. “The seeds are planted. Positive change is truly our destiny.”
Lujan Grisham, the state’s third consecutive Hispanic governor, used the debate to cast herself as a staunch supporter of abortion access.
In 2021, Lujan Grisham helped lawmakers repeal a dormant 1969 statute that had banned most abortion procedures as felonies.
“Because I am governor, abortion is legal in the state of New Mexico,” said Lujan Grisham. “As long as I am governor, a woman’s constitutional right to privacy to deeply make her own decisions and those of her family will continue to be legal.”
Ronchetti, who lost a 2020 U.S. Senate bid to Democrat Ben Ray Luján, advocates banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy with exceptions for rape, incest, and risk to the physical health of women. the mother, suggesting that the Legislature schedule a statewide referendum on abortion restrictions.
“Everyone in the state of New Mexico should be able to vote and propose something that fits with our shared values,” Ronchetti said, describing the governor’s approach to abortion as extreme.
New Mexico has alternated between Democratic and Republican governors since the early 1980s. A sitting governor last lost re-election in 1994.
Recent Republican losses at the polls have left the GOP out of all elected offices statewide and the state Supreme Court, as Democratic majorities lead in both houses of the Legislature.
Still, the November gubernatorial election will be a test of Democratic resolve as the state grapples with the economic whiplash from the coronavirus pandemic and concerns about a rise in violent crime in Albuquerque and beyond.
On criminal justice issues, Ronchetti has vowed to stand with police officers by restoring immunity from prosecution to law enforcement agencies, while criticizing the state’s pretrial release system. A constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2016 made it harder to deny bail while defendants await trial.
“We have judges soft on crime and we still have catch and release,” Ronchetti said, promising a new approach to judicial appointments. “If you think the system is broken, she is the head of the system.”
The Republican candidate also pledged to deploy soldiers and police officers to the remote international border with Mexico to combat illegal migration and drug and human trafficking, in a plan that echoes National Guard deployments by governors. Republicans in Arizona and Texas.
Lujan Grisham, also a critic of the state’s bail system, signed legislation this year that increases the retainer pay for municipal police and sheriff’s deputies, provides millions of dollars in death benefits for the families of police officers killed in the line of duty and expand intervention programs to control weapons. violence.
“We are giving our officers the raises and dignity they deserve, the professional development training, the tools to keep them safe, the equipment and the vehicles, a new crime lab,” Lujan Grisham said.
Libertarian Party gubernatorial candidate Karen Bedonie was not included in the debate.
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