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Commission to challenge gov’s shutdown

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Lea County Commissioner, and owner of Dean’s Boot Shop, Dean Jackson is ready for mom-and-pop shops to reopen and New Mexicans to be able to go back to work.

“It seems like … small businesses are being targeted for failure,” Jackson said.

It’s a sentiment many share.

“We need to reopen now! This has gone on long enough and people want to get back to work! I stand with you!,” Lea County Sheriff Corey Helton posted on social media, accompanied by an illustration of a N.M. state flag with the words, “Reopen New Mexico” Wednesday evening. The same post was put up by Fifth Judicial District Attorney Dianna Luce. County commissioner Jonathan Sena also posted a similar sentiment.

Jackson and other county commissioners have been working on a resolution that will be presented at the commission meeting on Apr. 23 in Lovington.

“We have been working on this resolution for a little over a week now, trying to get all the I’s dotted and the T’s crossed, and deciding on what we want to say to the governor,” Jackson told the News-Sun. “It’s respectful, but at the same time tells her that small businesses need to open back up and Lea County needs to get back to business.”

Late Wednesday evening, Jackson let constituents know the resolution is going forward by posting to his political social media page.

“On April 23 I will be presenting a resolution of getting Lea County businesses open again that we will be sending to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. Chair (Rebecca) Long myself and County attorney John Caldwell worked on putting this resolution together. We will be sending this to other county commissioner’s across New Mexico. It simply states that we will go back to work on May 1 while being vigilant to prevent COVID-19 from spreading further. I want to thank county attorney John Caldwell and Chairwoman Rebecca Long for helping me in this endeavor. Lea County strong.

“Together we will save our small businesses from having to shut their doors permanently,” he posted.

Jackson said he and other elected officials have started to circulate the resolution to other counties and other elected officials in the state to get their take, and get them onboard with the growing number of voices of New Mexicans calling on the governor to safely rescind her executive orders preventing small businesses from opening.

“There are so many independent businesses … they’re all home-owned businesses. They are hurting. Without small businesses this nation suffers. And, it seems like the governor has been catering to the big box stores, the big corporations. It’s time to stop,” Jackson said, referring to when Lujan Grisham stated she has a partnership with Walmart during her press conference on Wednesday.

“I stand with that,” Helton said about the proposed resolution.

With more than five million new unemployment claims this past week, bringing the nationwide total to more than 22 million people unemployed, New Mexicans are starting to voice they are ready to open the state, albeit with safety precautions, and let people go back to work.

Lovington small business owner Dee Ann Kimbro agrees with commissioners.

“I fully support everything they’re doing,” said Kimbro, who owns a quilt and sewing shop. “I am in 100% support. I appreciate their efforts, on behalf of Lea County business owners, on trying to get us opened back up.”

“I guess what angers me the most, is when I watch the news from Albuquerque, that now we’re looking at social distancing until 2022. Is this the country we grew up in? We’ve blown this thing out of proportion to the point where we are affecting everybody,” Sheriff Helton told the News-Sun. “(The governor has) closed down every mom-and-pop shop, but we’ve left every big store open for people to congregate in. People are realistically facing utter financial ruin over a threat of a ticket or going to jail.”

District Attorney Luce agreed small businesses seem to be what is getting hurt the most by Lujan Grisham’s policies, and that small businesses are the lifeblood of smaller New Mexico communities.

“Small businesses are what we are seeing that seem to be getting hurt the most by the way the state is shut down,” Luce said. “You see grocery stores operating, Walmart operating, convenience stores operating … ultimately this going to probably do real harm to our economy and to our communities.”

Pushback on the governor’s orders already appears to be getting noticed by officials in Santa Fe.

Such was the case with Gov. Lujan Grisham spokesperson Tripp Stelnicki Thursday morning when he took to social media to criticize anyone not in lock step with the governor’s positions.

“You don’t have to ask the deathcult their opinion or publish their quotes. False equivalence now is actually life or death. There is no ‘both sides’ to this. There is on group preaching accelerated illness & death because they ‘love’ ‘business’ & if you can’t see through that?” Stelnicki tweeted.

Rep. David Gallegos, R-Eunice, responded to the governor’s communication director, and posted, “From the Governor’s spokesperson. The party of abortion has no right to accuse law-abiding businesses in this state of being part of a ‘death cult.’ The Governor should realize she works for the people. It’s her job to listen to you, whether she likes it or not.”

The Republican Party of New Mexico immediately sent out a press release calling for an apology from the governor’s office, which, by press time Thursday evening, had not been responded to.

Officials in other parts of the state agree it’s time to get back to work, with lifting closure orders and implementing the same restrictions that are in place with big box stores Lujan Grisham said she has a partnership with. On Wednesday, Farmington Mayor Nate Duckett issued a declaration calling on Gov. Lujan Grisham to consider modifying the public health orders to permit all businesses to immediately re-open at 20% of maximum capacity while also adhering to social distancing guidelines.

Kathy Diaz, the owner of Monroe’s New Mexican Restaurant in Albuquerque, said she had to lay off about 50 employees because of the governor’s orders.

“It trickles down to vendors and suppliers,” Diaz said. “It’s not their job they are losing. It’s the pride of working.”

Carlsbad Mayor Dale Janway issued a statement Thursday calling to “immediately allow all businesses to reopen at a limited and reasonable capacity.”

Shortly after Helton’s post, Eddy County Sheriff Mark Cage posted the same image as Helton, on his social media page, and said, “Our small businesses are dying. Some will never reopen. Why can’t small businesses reopen under some type of safety guidelines like the others that are considered essential? We need to get back to living and quit just trying to avoid dying.”

Back in Lea County, local business owners and officials believe small businesses are in a better position to protect customers than mass retailers are.

“I believe that I can open my business safely, and I believe my customers will be safer shopping with me for fabrics for masks and sewing machines and things like that, than going to Walmart and buying it,” Kimbro said. “I believe my customers are safer.”

“It seems there could be a plan put into place to allow small businesses to open, and let the counties operate that,” Luce said. “They can look at what’s going on in their communities. No one wants this virus to spread, but it does seem there could be some measures put into place to allow businesses to survive, and that’s what we’re talking about.”

If Lea County businesses do re-open, after the county passes the resolution, which would go into effect as the governor’s current orders expire at the end of the month, the only challenge could come from the N.M. Attorney General and N.M. State Police — both under control of the governor.

“I’m not obligated to enforce these executive orders,” Lea County Sheriff Helton said. “An executive order is not a law. What I tell people is, if they want to go back to work, make an informed decision. But, that’s your choice to make, and the Lea County Sheriff’s Office does not enforce these executive orders.”

Helton said whatever informed decision business owners make regarding whether or not they are essential, or whether or not they safely open their doors for business, he will stand with them.

“I’ve got to stand with the people of this county, and they are hurting,” Helton said. “Somebody has got to say, ‘no.’”

Other elected officials are ready for the challenge too.

“She can send as many state police down as she wants,” Jackson said. “She can’t stop us all.”

Blake Ovard may be reached at managingeditor@ hobbsnews.com.

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