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Pearce, Lujan Grisham clash in final TV debate

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Steve Pearce and Michelle Lujan Grisham debate each other Wednesday in an event sponsored by KOAT-TV and the Albuquerque Journal. (Jim Thompson/Journal)

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham and Republican Steve Pearce each delivered a closing argument of sorts late Wednesday in the final televised debate of the gubernatorial campaign – trading accusations and contrasting their visions for New Mexico.

For 60 minutes on KOAT-TV, they clashed on marijuana legalization, the state budget, minimum wage and a host of other issues. The debate was jointly sponsored by the Albuquerque Journal.

Pearce, a member of Congress, cast himself as a businessman who rose out of poverty and would bring a fresh perspective to state government.

“My opponent has been the ultimate insider,” Pearce said, “like, she says, working for different governors. I’m the ultimate outsider. I will fight for everyday people.”

Lujan Grisham, also a member of Congress and a former state cabinet secretary, said her experience in government is an asset, and she compared Pearce to Donald Trump, whom she called another “ultimate outsider.”

“I was asked to serve New Mexico by three different governors,” Lujan Grisham said. “I have a real record of getting things done.”

The debate came as the race has turned increasingly negative as Election Day approaches.

Pearce linked Lujan Grisham to corruption. She denied that accusation, saying “Steve, shame on you” at one point and arguing that Pearce had embraced “Donald Trump’s toxic style of politics, of lies.”

Lujan Grisham, in turn, accused Pearce of using his congressional seat to enrich himself. He said he had fully complied with all disclosure rules and that the U.S. House Ethics Committee verified that he’d handled things correctly.

The candidates also sparred on the issues, taking questions from Journal Senior Editor Kent Walz and KOAT anchor Shelly Ribando. Doug Fernandez of KOAT served as the moderator.

The winner of the Nov. 6 election will succeed Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

Here’s a look at some of the issues Pearce and Lujan Grisham debated:

Minimum wage

Pearce said wage increases would hurt low-income workers because employers would start limiting their hours. There are more effective ways to help people, he said.

“You’re simply going to kill jobs” with an increased wage mandate, he said. “You’re going to kill opportunities.”

Lujan Grisham said she would support raising New Mexico’s $7.50 minimum wage to $10 at first, then $12, with inflation adjustments afterward. Many people, including educators, are having to work two or three jobs, she said.

“My multimillionaire opponent is completely out of touch with everyday New Mexicans,” she said.

Guns, protecting schools

Neither candidate expressed support for arming teachers who want to carry a gun and are trained to do so.

Lujan Grisham said students want universal background checks for people buying guns, and the state should allow “extreme risk protection orders” – a system that permits family members or police officers to seek a court order to take guns from someone they believe is an immediate threat.

Pearce said schools need more-secure entrances, sensors to help pinpoint the location if there’s gunfire and trained law enforcement officers to provide security.

Budget

An oil boom in southeastern New Mexico could provide the state government with about $1.2 billion in “new” money next year, or revenue beyond this year’s spending levels.

Pearce said the money should be invested in one-time expenses, not growing government with ongoing costs, such as salaries for new employees. The state’s revenue is incredibly volatile, he said, so the money should go toward roads, broadband and water infrastructure that would support future business growth.

“Those are the elements in which we will build a future economy,” Pearce said. “Right now the state couldn’t exactly grow a lot because we simply don’t have the infrastructure.”

Lujan Grisham, in turn, said that some of the extra money should be set aside to help cushion the state against future downturns in revenue. Some money should also go toward infrastructure, including expanding broadband, she said, but the state has room to add some recurring expenses in education and elsewhere.

“If you don’t put social workers back into the Children, Youth and Families Department,” she said, “you are not serious about keeping our families and children safe in New Mexico.”

Marijuana

Both candidates say they support New Mexico’s medical marijuana program, but they disagreed over legalizing recreational use for adults.

Pearce said that allowing recreational marijuana could increase use among young people and students and make it harder for parents to keep drugs away from their kids.

“I don’t understand exactly what we’re going to say to those parents – a single mom who’s trying to keep one or two kids out of trouble, from hanging out with the wrong people,” he said.

And the state, Pearce said, is already wrestling with how to address alcohol abuse and DWI.

Lujan Grisham said she helped bring medical cannabis to New Mexico and that she would support legalizing recreational use, under certain circumstances. The regulations would have to address driving under the influence and workplace intoxication, underage use and the handling of “edibles,” in addition to protecting the existing medical marijuana program.

“If we invest productively and regulate productively,” she said, “we can have a successful recreational cannabis program.”

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