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GOP legislators push for quicker reopening

The state Capitol in Santa Fe (Eddie Moore/Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Republican legislators in the state House on Tuesday evoked the possibility of civil unrest and “social chaos” as they called on Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to accelerate the reopening of New Mexico’s economy.

In a conference call with reporters, House Minority Whip Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, said the state needs to avoid a “Kent State situation” – a reference to the Ohio National Guard’s shooting of protesters in 1970 – as State Police enforce public health orders closing nonessential businesses.

“It’s just unpredictable as to what could happen,” Montoya said.

His comments come after Grants Mayor Martin Hicks, a Democrat, encouraged businesses in his city to defy the governor’s orders and reopen to the public.

Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswoman for Lujan Grisham, called Montoya’s reference to the Kent State massacre “appalling.” Decisions on how to move forward, she said, won’t be based on politics.

“Evidence-based decisions and protecting public health have been and will remain the foremost priorities,” Sackett said in a written statement. “The state is immensely grateful to the local community officials and stakeholders from all across New Mexico who recognize the importance of safeguarding public health and upholding the measures we all must undertake to minimize transmission of this virus and ensure New Mexicans are as safe and healthy as they can be.”

As of last week, State Police had issued 124 cease-and-desist orders to first-time violators and three citations on second offenses. Two individuals were referred to the Department of Health for repeated noncompliance and could face civil penalties.

Pressure to allow more businesses to reopen has grown across the country in recent weeks. Texas and Colorado, for example, are preparing to begin a slow reopening.

Lujan Grisham has said that it’s time for New Mexico to consider slowly relaxing its restrictions, too, but that she expects to extend the current public health orders through May 15, perhaps with some modifications.

The governor also has appointed an economic recovery council to help plan for the reopening.

Republican legislators in the House – where Democrats hold a 46-24 edge – urged the governor in a letter Tuesday to accelerate the lifting of restrictions, arguing that many businesses won’t survive if restrictions last through mid-May.

New Mexicans, they said, are growing restless and may take matters into their own hands. Little time remains, the lawmakers wrote, “to keep the situation from devolving into social chaos.”

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