Candidates for New Mexico governor clash during debate
By MORGAN LEE, Associated Press
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Democratic gubernatorial contender Michelle Lujan Grisham sought to tie her Republican rival to Trump’s policies, while Congressman Steve Pearce warned against a return to Democratic “corruption and cronyism” of the past.
Reps. Lujan Grisham and Pearce faced off Tuesday night in a rancorous town-hall style debate — the first since early voting started Oct. 9. They are competing to succeed term-limited Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.
Pearce warned that his Democratic opponent would take New Mexico back to the excesses of the Richardson administration that ended in 2010 with Martinez’s election.
“I think we have all suffered enough embarrassment,” Pearce said, alluding to a pay-to-play scandal that surfaced during Bill Richardson’s second term.
Lujan Grisham noted that she ran state health agencies under three prior governors that included Richardson and Gary Johnson when he was a Republican.
She called the attacks on her nonsense, while accusing Pearce of starving crucial government programs of federal funding in cooperation with President Donald Trump and a Republican-led Congress.
“He’s working desperately to win this election by lobbing these outrageous allegations,” Lujan Grisham said. “He doesn’t want you to know that Republicans in Congress and Republicans in leadership positions right here in New Mexico have failed every New Mexico family by trying to starve out every institution.”
The hour-long debate, which was sponsored by KOB-TV and the nonprofit group New Mexico First, touched on a wide range of concerns about New Mexico’s economy, crumbling rural highways, dwindling fresh water supplies and marijuana.
Pearce said his opposition to recreational marijuana is emblematic of differences in the campaign, saying legalization pot would add one more obstacle in the state’s struggle against drug addiction and poverty. New Mexico has a medical marijuana program but penalizes recreational use.
Lujan Grisham supports legalizing recreational use with safeguards against impaired driving and underage marijuana use, and mentioned Tuesday her support for allowing medical cannabis prescription to treat opioid addiction.
On questions of immigration, Pearce said he was totally opposed to local so-called “sanctuary” policies that limit local law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration officials.
“If you can choose to enforce one law and not another law, then who’s to say when we stop?” he said.
Veering from the question, Lujan Grisham instead talked about her leadership role among Democrats in Congress in holding the Trump administration accountable for policies that separate immigrant children and parents who attempt to cross the border illegally.
Describing his approach to addressing child abuse and law enforcement, Pearce brought up the case of a 3-year-old boy named Abdul-ghani Wahhaj who was found dead in August at a squalid family compound in northern New Mexico.
Pearce has said a Democratic district attorney should resign from office for missing court deadlines in the prosecution of the father and other adults at the compound, who are now being held on federal weapons charges and maintain their innocence.
“I called for him to step down, and she kind of looked the other way,” Pearce said of Lujan Grisham.
Lujan Grisham said prosecutors need to be held accountable — and also receive sufficient funding.
In the run-up to the election, Pearce has described himself as an experienced businessman who can invigorate the New Mexico economy and improve public education by giving teachers greater autonomy in the classroom and providing more vocational training for people who don’t attend college.
Lujan Grisham has tied her own economic plan to the renewable energy economy and has won over major teacher unions with pledges to boost spending on public schools and provide universal access to pre-school.