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Editorial: Jewelry purchase fallout is testing governor’s mettle

News that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham made a purchase from an Albuquerque jewelry store at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic has left other jewelers and “nonessential” businesses asking why they couldn’t take phone orders and provide curbside pickup or home deliveries.

And it provided fodder for critics who believe her shutdown orders have been too severe and discriminatory against small businesses.

During her news conference Thursday, the governor dismissed the whole episode as an incorrect story, calling it nothing more than a political attack. It’s obvious she is not going to acknowledge those hypocrisy concerns. And that’s too bad.

Because purchasing the jewelry the way she did was clearly a lapse of judgment. But then she followed that up by refusing to acknowledge that, in hindsight, this was not the time, place or way to go about jewelry buying.

And as to the facts of the story?

Albuquerque TV station KRQE News 13 broke the story Tuesday night that the governor contacted a Lilly Barrack employee she knew to buy jewelry from the Albuquerque store a week before Easter. At that time, the governor was pleading with New Mexicans to stay home save for essential errands like doctor visits and food purchases. Retail stores other than those that sell food, medicine, home improvement items and gasoline had been deemed nonessential and shuttered, and places like jewelry stores were under strict orders to stay 100% closed except for online orders. No pickup services were allowed except for businesses deemed essential, such as restaurants.

A spokesman for Lujan Grisham said the governor called the store employee and requested the jewelry, and said the employee left it outside his or her home and someone picked it up for the governor.

That is coming straight from the Governor’s Office, so it’s difficult to see what part of that story is incorrect.

The Governor’s Office insists that did not violate the state orders, pointing out that the order requiring businesses and retail to close also says it “does not otherwise restrict the conduct of business operation through telecommuting or otherwise working from home in which an employee only interacts with clients or customers remotely.”

The definition of telecommuting is having employees not come into their central place of work – which is what this employee had to do to fill the governor’s purchase.

From a birds-eye view, it seems pretty minor. The governor asked a friend to help her buy jewelry from a shop where she worked, and care was taken to do this remotely and safely.

But this isn’t a question of public health. This is a question of making good decisions, of the importance of perception and strong leadership.

The governor used her influence to make a transaction other stores believed they were precluded from making. Shane Brummett, manager of Carefree Spas in Albuquerque, told KOAT 7 Action News he received a $100 citation for doing curbside business in April.

At the time, the orders precluded curbside pickup. So did the fact that the employee took the item to his or her home to be picked up rather than leaving it on the curb in front of the business make a difference?

This occurred when the state needs her leadership the most. The governor’s refusal to acknowledge any lapse of judgment here is almost more concerning than the original misstep.

Too late to mail ballots

Time is running out to submit absentee ballots, which are due by 7 p.m. Tuesday. To avoid having your ballot miss the deadline, residents should take theirs to any early voting location through Saturday, or to any in-person voting location on Tuesday. County clerks’ offices remain closed. On Election Day, June 2, polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.



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