The second and final debate of the 2022 Governor’s race between Democrat Governor Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and Republican TV weatherman Mark Ronchetti is now in the history books. It will likely be forgotten after a one-day news cycle but if it is remembered, it will be for the personal insults and harsh jabs. Ronchetti accused the governor of being a “hypocrite” and making “a blizzard of excuses” for her failed policies. Lujan Grisham cast the former television weatherman as an inexperienced “TV personality” whose only real plan is to ban abortion in New Mexico. Lujan Grisham addressed Ronchetti’s accusations head-on and said “He talks about a blizzard. This is a blizzard of nonsense.”
The final debate occurred on October 12 on KOAT TV 7, lasted 60 minutes, it was sponsored by the KOAT, TV, the Albuquerque Journal and KKOB Radio. It was moderated by KOAT anchors Shelly Ribando and Doug Fernandez with a few questions asked by Journal Capitol Bureau chief Dan Boyd and Bob Clark of KKOB Radio. The candidates were also allowed to ask each other one question. As was the case with the Channel 4 debate, Libertarian candidate Karen Bedonie was not invited to participate.
The link to view the final debate is here:
Following is a summary of the highlights of the debate.
Ronchetti was the first to speak and said in part:
“The cops know that this governor doesn’t back them up. She catches criminals and releases them. She appoints judges that catch and release them. She regularly appoints people to the parole board that catch and release them.”
Ronchetti pledged New Mexico can do better regarding crime and education by choosing “a different path.” Ronchetti severely criticized the Governor for New Mexico’s high violent crime rates and poor academic outcomes, arguing it’s time for new leadership at the Capitol. Ronchetti said spending isn’t making a meaningful difference in the lives of ordinary New Mexicans and said in part:
“The government in Santa Fe has never been bigger, never been richer.”
The Governor for her part highlighted her accomplishment while in office and mentioned recent job growth, job creation as well as expanding education opportunities like Pre-K. She also mentioned the power of the state government to fix some local problems plaguing cities. Lujan Grisham also reassured abortion rights to remain in place if reelected and said abortion is still legal in New Mexico because of her. Lujan Grisham acknowledged challenging times including the pandemic and the largest wildfire in state history, but she said New Mexico is recovering. The unemployment rate, she said, had fallen to its lowest level in 14 years and she said:
“I inherited a government that had 425 less officers in Albuquerque, let alone the hundreds of officers lost because of Republican budget cuts in New Mexico statewide. … Progress isn’t promised. … The threat of going backward is real.”
ABORTION AND WOMAN’S REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS
Not at all surprising, abortion was a big topic of discussion with the historic Supreme Court decision to reverse Roe v. Wade.
Lujan Grisham highlighted her signing of a bill that repealed New Mexico’s 1969 criminal abortion law outlawing abortions and she said:
“Women have a choice in New Mexico today because I’m governor”.
The Governor made it clear that she continued to stand and support the medical procedure and women having a choice. She also pointed out how Rochetti in private confessed to his pastor Steve Smothermon that his intent was to ban all abortions. Lujan Grishman made it clear that there was no need for a public vote on abortion and it was already decided.
Ronchetti for his part was clearly on the defensive. Ronchetti regurgitated his TV ads to say it was a very personal topic and that a state amendment would let the voters choose. He said he does not want to ban all abortion but late term abortions but says he is pro-life. Ronchetti described himself as “pro-life” but said voters should decide the issue through a constitutional amendment and said:
“The values of the people in the state of New Mexico have to be taken into account.”
RISING CRIME RATES
On the topic of rising crime in New Mexico, Ronchetti brought up the “soft on crime” approach the state has taken with violent offenders. He asserted that there are “10% less” state police officers than when Lujan Grisham entered office 4 years ago and that the population of criminals in prison is 20% less that when Lujan Grisham took office. Ronchetti said the FBI seizure of over 1 million fentanyl pills was proof that that criminals are here due to the laxed policing. Rochetti ignored the fact that the seizure occurred under Lujan Grisham’s watch with local authorities in fact assisting the FBI.
Lujan Grisham for her part cited millions invested in police departments across the state and other resources provided to them under her leadership. The governor also brought up GOP actions that cut the state budget affecting law enforcement. Governor Lujan Grisham also pinning a significant amount of blame for the state’s rising crime rates on former GOP Governor Susana Martinez who she called Ronchetti’s “mentor”. She noted that it was Martinez who “destroyed” the state’s behavioral health system and which in turn led to more drug abuse and crime. Lujan Grisham said this:
“The Governor Martinez administration, my opponent’s mentor and campaign supporter illegally eradicated all mental health services in the state of New Mexico. And it has had catastrophic impacts right here in Albuquerque.”
She also noted failed prosecutions of high-profile cases by Republican District Attorneys.
The candidates were asked about New Mexico’s Public Education system.
Ronchetti asserted that his plan focuses on public education rather than private like Lujan Grisham has asserted. He cited the state’s low proficiency numbers and stated that there are several problems plaguing the state’s youth in education that must be addressed. Ronchetti said he wants to get back to the basics in education of math, reading, science.
Governor Luan Grisham responded by reminding the public of the landmark public education decision of Yazzie v. State of New Mexico that ruled under the prior Republican Governor, the state of New Mexico violated the constitutional rights of at-risk students by failing to provide them with an education. Govern Lujan Grisham undertook to fully fund the state’s efforts to reform the State’s public education system and she was highly successful by securing over $1 Billion dollars for the state’s public education system raised the base pay for teachers by upwards of 20%.
Lujan Grisham said she’s happy that the rate for unemployment is lower than it has been in 14 years. She also stated we are the 12th ranked economy in the nation.
Ronchetti says she never gave anyone a raise in the state and that ranking does not apply to all New Mexicans. Also stated the governor has been hard on small businesses.
The Power New Mexico shut down of the San Juan Generating Station was asked in terms that the state may not have enough energy in the coming years.
Rather than addressing the energy question, Ronchetti used the opportunity to simply attacked Lujan Grisham for paying PNM $300 million to shut down the San Juan generating station.
Lujan Grisham for her part said Ronchetti did not understand the Energy Transition Act. She then argued that New Mexico is becoming one of the highest producers in hydrogen energy and doing well in solar energy costs.
The border and the crime caused was another hot topic.
Ronchetti renewed his call for the New Mexico National Guard to be placed at the border to interrupt the flow of illicit drugs and ensure a secure border that is safe for local residents.
Lujan Grisham called his statements “political theatre” and said she spoke with those guards who worked the border during President Trump’s order and they told her their job duties were not border security. The Governor also said the national guard has no power to enforce immigration law and such a posting would leave the state without them if they were needed to assist with fires or floods.
HOMELESSNESS IN NEW MEXICO
The rising homeless population in Albuquerque was also a topic of questions.
Lujan Grisham said there is a need to have affordable housing to address the problem and that has been done under leadership. Lujan Grisham has said previously that her administration is working to address the affordable housing shortage in the state and plans are underway to build 6,000 new houses around New Mexico.
Ronchetti said the population for homeless has grown and is now out of control, especially because of the policies of Mayor Tim Keller and that mental health resources need to be utilized for them. He went on to call for a ban on tent cities in Albuquerque and would commit to signing a bill supporting it.
Health care services in New Mexico were also bought up in the debate.
Ronchetti said that the governor has put more of an emphasis on lawyers than doctors leading to more lawyers and less doctors for the state.
Lujan Grisham responded by deflecting the accusation citing price decreases for several procedures, as well as supporting the Inflation Reduction Act that allows negotiating prescription costs directly. Ronchetti opposed the Inflation Reduction Act.
When asked about reinstating the state’s food tax, Lujan Grisham pointed out a food tax is the most regressive tax there is affecting the poor the hardest and said she would “absolutely not” support it if it wound up on her office desk to sign.
Ronchetti also opposed any more taxes going to the government. He stated if you make less than six-figures, you’d see tax cuts under his tax plan.
Climate change and wildfires that have plagued the state and continue to affect wildfire victims were brought up.
Lujan Grisham said she believe in climate change and pointed out that Ronchetti does not. She said the state will have enough renewable energy to power all of New Mexico.
Ronchetti said the best way to avoid wildfire threats is by having quality procedures to prevent them. He also brought up non-updated logging that worsened the wildfire situation this year.
CANDIDATES QUESTION EACH OTHER
The candidates were allowed to asked each other a question.
Rochetti asked the Governor about the $150,000 settlement with a former campaign spokesman who had alleged she grabbed his crotch while laughing in a 2018 campaign meeting. He accused Lujan Grisham of hypocrisy for saying she supports and believes the victims of sexual harassment and said:
“You’ve never come clean. … You are a hypocrite.”
The governor did not answer the question directly but said her campaign has been transparent about the issue. The governor’s campaign has contended the allegations are false and at one point characterizing that they were bizzare, and that the case was settled to avoid the expense and distraction of a lawsuit.
The Governor in response called the accusation a “false attack” and said her campaign disclosed the settlement publicly. She said the settlement was reached to avoid the cost and distraction of litigation at the apex of the pandemic. The Governor pivoted and said:
“You have spent your entire campaign attacking my character and my integrity.. They’re baseless attacks. … You’re a TV personality with no experience.”
When the Governor asked her question of Ronchetti, she asked him “What is misoprostol?” Misoprostol is used for elective medical abortion, and the question was obviously asked to test Roncheiit’s knowledge of a woman’s reproductive rights. He lashed out with a smart-ass response and said:
“This is what 25 years in government gets you. . . a Governor who wants to play Jeopardy. … People have had enough of the political games. It’s garbage at this point.”
In a rebuttal response to Ronchetti, the Governor said this:
“Let me tell you what misoprostol is. … It is a lifesaving drug for women often required for medical abortions that now women can get to treat cancer. If you don’t know what that is and … you don’t know the importance of providing comprehensive health care access, you don’t deserve to be governor.”
In the summer, Albuquerque Mega Legacy Church pastor Steve Smothermon told his Sunday congregation that after talking to Ronchetti for hours, Ronchetti said he was committed to doing away with all abortions, and Ronchetti could not say so publicly because it would damage his election chances.
During the debate, Ronchetti was asked about the comments made by Smothermon and he reponded “You’ll have to ask the pastor about that” declining to say if Pastor Steve Smothermon lied about what Ronchetti said to him in private.
Links to quoted news sources are here:
OPINION POLLS RECALLED
As of October 13, there have now been a total of 5 polls conducted by the news media in the 2022 race for New Mexico Governor. All 5 polls have Democrat Governor Lujan Grisham leading Republican Mark Ronchetti by as low of only 3% and as high as 16%.
October 9, KOB 4 Survey USA poll:
Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: 53%
Republican Mark Ronchetti: 37%
Libertarian Karen Bedonie: 3%
On October 9 NM Political Report “Public Policy Polling” poll:
Democrat Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: 48%
Republican Mark Ronchetti: 40%
Libertarian Karen Bedonie: 7%
September 15, KRQE NEWS 13 Emerson College Poll:
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham 48%
Republican Mark Ronchetti: 43%
September 14, KOB “4 Investigates Poll” Survey USA poll:
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: 48%
Republican Mark Ronchetti: 36%
Libertarian Karen Bedonie: 5%
August 28, the Albuquerque Journal poll:
Democrat Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham: 47%
Republican Mark Ronchetti: 40%
Libertarian Karen Bedoni: 5%
Averaging out all 5 of the polls reflects that Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham polling average is 48.8% compared to Ronchetti’s 39.2%. Ronchetti has yet to surpass 40% to 43% in any of the polling which is essentially the Republican base in New Mexico. Lujan Grisham has busted the magic 50% plus one in only 1 poll but that will likely change during the last month of the campaign in that Ronchetti has stalled and the momentum is clearly on the Governor’s side. The Albuquerque Journal is scheduled for release on October 30 its final poll and it will likely predict Governor Lujan Grisham winning with the margin being the only mystery.
MOST EXPENSIVE RACE FOR GOVERNOR IN STATE HISTORY
On October 11, it was reported Republican Mark Ronchetti outraised Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham during the latest four-week reporting period, leaving him with a heftier campaign war chest to continue his negative attacks on Governor Lujan Grisham. The campaign finance reports filed with the Secretary of State on October 11 reflect that for the four-week period that ended October 3, Ronchetti reported nearly $1.5 million in contributions compared to roughly $1.1 million for the governor.
The reports filed Tuesday by both candidates reveal this year’s race for governor will be the most expensive in state history with Ronchetti having raised more than $7.8 million for his campaign while Lujan Grisham has raised in excess of $11.1 million.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
The second and last debate on Channel 7 was clearly better than the first debate on Channel 4. A redeeming quality of the debate was that is covered a plethora of issues including abortion, crime, homelessness, health care, education, taxation, energy, climate change, and gun control. The candidates dedicated their time to contrasting their policy ideas and plans with personal and negative attacks for good measure to make a point. Ultimately, there were no major gaffs by either candidate and the debate did not produce a clear winner.
On a personal note, Ronchetti’s open mouth, clenched white teeth and rapid delivery of rhetoric was annoying and downright exhausting to watch. Ronchetti refrained from his childish, weird facial gestures and grimacing he used to react to the Governor’s answers in the first live TV debate.
Governor Lujan Grisham for her part was noted to be sitting during the debate, and not standing like Ronchetti. The likely reason for the Governor sitting is that she is nursing an injury to her left knee and is wearing a brace in public. The Governor appeared annoyed and impatient at times during the debate, but still managed to appear poised and professional.
Given the amount of campaign funding still available to both candidates, voters can expect the campaign ads to become even more negative over the next remaining weeks. Given the 5 polls, Governor Lujan Grisham is on her way to winning a second term as Governor.
Early voting has already begun, and the election is November 8. Please vote.