×

1st debate highlights stakes in New Mexico race for governor

FILE - Republican Mark Ronchetti addresses the crowd with his wife and two daughters after winning the Republican primary for governor of New Mexico, during an election party in northeast Albuquerque, N.M., June 7, 2022. Ronchetti is campaigning on a law-and-order platform with proposals for annual tax rebates tied to oilfield production and a referendum that could ban abortion with limited exceptions. (Chancey Bush/The Albuquerque Journal via AP, File)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A former television meteorologist is making his case to replace the Democratic governor of New Mexico, as the candidates prepare for a live-broadcast debate on Friday night.

Republican nominee for governor Mark Ronchetti is campaigning on a law-and-order platform with proposals for annual tax rebates tied to oilfield production and a referendum that could ban abortion with limited exceptions.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is promoting her management of the economy and health care during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as her support for abortion access and expanded social programs, including tuition-free college for New Mexico residents and expanded access to preschool and no-pay child care.

The televised debate from KOB 4 takes place ahead of the Nov. 8 general election. Early voting begins Oct. 11 by absentee ballots that can be mailed and turned in by hand.

New Mexico has alternated between Democratic and Republican governors since the early 1980s. An incumbent governor last lost reelection in 1994.

Recent Republican losses at the ballot box have locked the GOP out of all statewide elected offices and the state Supreme Court, as Democratic majorities lead in both chambers of the Legislature.

Still, the November election for governor will be a test of Democratic resolve as the state grapples with economic whiplash from the coronavirus pandemic and concerns about a violent crime surge in Albuquerque and beyond

Ronchetti, who lost a 2020 bid for U.S. Senate to Democrat Ben Ray Luján, is advocating for a ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy with exceptions for rape, incest and risk to the physical health of the mother, suggesting that the Legislature schedule a statewide referendum on abortion restrictions.

Lujan Grisham, the state’s third consecutive Hispanic governor, has cast herself as a staunch defender of access to abortion. In 2021, she helped legislators repealed a dormant 1969 statute that outlawed most abortion procedures as felonies. In August, the governor pledged $10 million to a clinic that would provide abortions and other pregnancy care.

On issues of criminal justice, Ronchetti has pledged to back police officers by restoring immunity from prosecution, while railing against the state’s pretrial release system. A voter-approved constitutional amendment in 2016 made it harder to deny bail while defendants await trial.

The GOP nominee also has pledged to deploy soldiers and police 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 Republican governors in Arizona and Texas.

Lujan Grisham — also critical of the state’s bail system — recently signed legislation to expand surveillance of criminal defendants as they await trial with 24-hour monitoring of ankle-bracelet tracking devices.

Lujan Grisham this year signed $500 million in tax rebates, reductions to taxation on sales and Social Security benefits, and a broad suite of crime-fighting initiatives.

Libertarian Party candidate for governor Karen Bedonie was not included in the debate.