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Republican Mark Ronchetti fires back at attacks

While much of the attention in New Mexico’s congressional races has been on the negative campaigning for the 2nd Congressional District seat, another race has been heating up as Tuesday’s primary approaches.

The campaigns of Republican candidates seeking to replace Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Udall have been taking shots at one another through advertisements and social media.

Much of the criticism by former New Mexico State University professor Gavin Clarkson and anti-abortion activist Elisa Martinez has focused on comments made by former television meteorologist Mark Ronchetti that seem to have been poking fun at President Donald Trump, leading both to label Ronchetti as a Never Trumper.

But Ronchetti’s campaign struck back in recent weeks, raising questions in ads about Clarkson’s brief tenure with the Trump administration, and Clarkson’s and Martinez’s personal financial dealings that were listed in the Journal’s candidate questionnaires.

New Mexico residents opened their mailboxes a couple of weekends ago to find a mailer saying, “Gavin Clarkson is trying to hide his shady record.” The mailer says Clarkson was forced out of his position as Bureau of Indian Affairs deputy secretary for policy and economic development. He served in the position for about six months before resigning in December 2017.

“Professor Clarkson has chosen to run a negative campaign, and voters deserve to know why he’s unable to run on his own record,” Ronchetti campaign spokesman Jeff Glassburner told the Journal. “Clarkson has a shady record of mishandling personal and taxpayer money.”

Glassburner also linked Clarkson’s bankruptcy in 2012 to a loan from the program Clarkson later oversaw that The Washington Post said was related to his resignation.

“It’s ironic for a candidate who claimed he left the Republican party because President Trump had stolen part of his soul to say he now supports the president while using the same discredited liberal media sources that concocted the Russia Hoax and the Impeachment Witch Hunt to attack me,” Clarkson said in a statement to the Journal.

He cited a photo taken of him with former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and current Interior Secretary David Bernhardt as proof he was not forced out of his position. He told the Journal in 2018 that he left his post to run for Congress.

According to the Post, Clarkson ran a program that guaranteed loans to tribal businesses. Its story said Clarkson served as a consultant to tribes that received loans from programs during the Obama administration, including a $22.5 million loan for the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe to help with the purchase of a brokerage firm that went under. The Interior Department was sued for its refusal to guarantee the remaining $20 million balance on the loan, the Post reported.

His resignation followed the bureau’s inspector general report critical of the program Clarkson ran, the Post reported.

“The Inspector General report frequently cited against me states on its first page that the period covered was 2010-2016, during the Obama administration,” Clarkson said. “I didn’t join the Trump administration until 2017 and was actually tasked with fixing the problems identified by the IG report.”

Clarkson contended the loan he helped secure was proper and believes former IRS executive Lois Lerner “blew up” the deal. Clarkson said he had “previously called out her IRS for their racist attacks on tribal sovereignty and economic development … and made her back down.”

The mailer also linked Clarkson to protesters opposing the Dakota Access pipeline.

He acknowledged being present, but he said he was there to help “an ex-girlfriend search for her cousin who had gone missing.”

Scott Turner: sturner@abqjournal.com

 

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