Gubernatorial debate turns into verbal slugfest

Michelle Lujan Grisham and Steve Pearce

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It was rough.

In a televised debate late Tuesday, New Mexico’s two gubernatorial candidates accused each other of distortions, questioned each other’s honesty and slammed each other’s record in office.

Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham linked her Republican opponent, Steve Pearce, to Donald Trump and “failed Republican leadership” at the federal, state and local level.

Pearce, in turn, said Lujan Grisham would return New Mexico to the “cronyism” of former Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat who served from 2003 to 2010.

It was the second televised debate between the two candidates — aired live by KOB, with questions prepared in town hall meetings organized by a nonpartisan group, New Mexico First. Both candidates are giving up seats in the U.S. House to run for governor this year.

The tone Tuesday was far more harsh than in previous debates and forums featuring both candidates.

In her closing statement, Lujan Grisham accused Pearce of misleading voters about her record and his. She said Pearce’s voting history in Congress shows he is much more conservative than he presents himself on the campaign trail.

“Tonight, my opponent misled viewers about his lifelong record,” Lujan Grisham said.

Pearce said Lujan Grisham is the one concealing her record. He cited her tenure as the state Health Department secretary, a job from which she resigned in 2007.

“If she can’t run a department,” Pearce asked, “how in the world can she run the state?”

Lujan Grisham said she was proud of her tenure as a Cabinet secretary, and she noted that she had served under both Democratic and Republican governors for 18 years — a sign of her strength as an administrator.

“He spent his entire campaign and the debate tonight attacking me,” Lujan Grisham said. “These false allegations and debunked theories are just nonsense.”

But she was on the offensive, too. In her opening statement, she said Pearce’s ideas for the state were “straight out of Donald Trump’s failed playbook.”

Pearce, in his first statements, said the state faces a choice that could lead it “back to the Richardson era of corruption and cronyism.”

In 2009, Richardson withdrew his nomination for U.S. commerce secretary amid a grand jury investigation that didn’t result in indictments.

The two gubernatorial candidates clashed on the issues, too, on Tuesday, including how to address economic development, immigration and proposals to legalize marijuana.

Lujan Grisham said that she supports legalizing the recreational use of marijuana for adults, but that it must be done in a way that addresses workplace intoxication and driving under the influence, keeps it away from children and meets other requirements.

Legalization could help raise $200 million a year in tax revenue, she said.

“That would be a place to jump-start our behavioral health system,” Lujan Grisham said.

Pearce argued that legalization would make it harder for parents to keep drugs away from their children and for addicts to get the help they need.

“How in the world are going to do that if we legalize one more drug?” Pearce asked.

Both candidates said they had supported immigration legislation in Congress.

Pearce said he is “totally opposed to the sanctuary policy” of some cities, but that he values the contributions of immigrants who come to the United States looking for a better life for themselves and their families.

Lujan Grisham said that she had supported bipartisan legislation in Congress to address immigration and that she had stood up to Trump to oppose the zero-tolerance policy separating children from their parents at the border.

They debated infrastructure, too.

Pearce floated the idea of toll roads for oil companies that need better access in southeastern New Mexico. It could raise money without costing New Mexicans, who could use parallel roads, he said.

Lujan Grisham opposed that idea but said her push as a Bernalillo County commissioner for local funding for the now-completed overhaul of the Paseo del Norte interchange at Intestate 25 was a sign of her willingness to prioritize road improvements.

On the economy, Pearce said New Mexico “is hostile to business,” with an onerous tax code and permitting process that drives companies away.

Lujan Grisham said she would push for expansion of high-speed internet to support business development and would champion the state’s potential, with tailored plans for individual sectors of the economy.

The candidates are campaigning to succeed Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who is wrapping up eight years in office and couldn’t run again because of term limits.

Lujan Grisham had a lead of 7 percentage points over Pearce in a Journal Poll conducted Sept. 7-13. The scientific survey was done by Research & Polling Inc.

Tuesday’s debate can be seen at Tessa Mentus and Steve Soliz of KOB served as moderators.

The candidates’ third televised debate is set for next Wednesday, sponsored by KOAT-TV and the Journal.

GOP offers ‘makeup’ insult

As Tuesday’s debate ended, the state Republican Party mocked Lujan Grisham’s physical appearance, asking on Twitter if she’d used “Richard Nixon’s makeup artist from the 1960 debate? She looked just like him!”

The message was sent from the party’s verified Twitter account and not signed by any staffer in particular.

Lujan Grisham’s makeup didn’t look unusual Tuesday.

Members of her campaign called the tweet “despicable” and sexist and said the Republican Party should apologize.

A spokesman for the party said the tweet was referring to Lujan Grisham’s debate performance.


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