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Too many local officials ignoring health crisis

The state of New Mexico has done everything it can do to protect New Mexicans every day, every hour, of this pandemic. Every decision we have made, no matter how difficult or how popular, has been made with the health and safety and well-being of New Mexicans front of mind. There’s more we can yet do, and rest assured we will do it – whatever’s needed, whenever it can do the most good.

We didn’t ask for this virus, but we’ve got it. And we’ve got to keep fighting it with every bit of strength we have. All of us. And I mean all of us.

I’m proud of our state’s response to this crisis. I’m especially proud of the countless New Mexicans who have sacrificed so much, who have made enormous and difficult adjustments in their personal and professional lives to protect themselves, their families, their communities and our beloved state. Point blank: It is compassionate to stay home; it is a show of strength to wear a mask. So many have gone above and beyond even that. There will never be enough time to sufficiently thank New Mexicans who have responded to this harrowing pandemic with compassion and strength.

And yet I must acknowledge that words fail my disappointment in those New Mexico officials who have bucked their responsibility, who have betrayed their constituents and neighbors with cavalier and dangerous behavior amid this unprecedented public health crisis. I know many New Mexicans, like me, are consistently appalled by the regular reports about elected officials at the local level in our state who willfully disregard and even blatantly violate state and national public health requirements and best practices.

I am sure there is a perception among many New Mexicans that the state has taken an outsized role in establishing and enforcing public health requirements designed to keep our state healthy and safe – whether it is the requirement that we wear face-coverings, that we keep physical distance, that we not gather in groups. That’s not by design. We have sought partners at every opportunity – and received a few, to be sure, and those mayors have my thanks. Unfortunately, far too often, local governments and local public safety agencies have passed the buck, overtly rejecting the mere idea of being responsive in a crisis, of being a helping hand, of upholding their oaths to protect and serve New Mexico families, workers and seniors. There is a galling vacuum of accountability across New Mexico at the local level. Many New Mexicans have asked: Where is my county commissioner? Where is my sheriff? Where is my local police chief? Too often throughout this crisis they have been absent or, worse, actively working against public health by flaunting unsafe behavior. Emergency public health orders carry the force of law; laws are not optional; enforcement is definitionally not a selective game that local police and sheriffs can play. We all have a role. Too many officials have ignored their duty to their fellow New Mexicans.

After this Fourth of July weekend, I am especially mindful of and grateful for those who answer the call, always, to protect us and keep us safe, from viruses or other violence or acts of God. I would ask New Mexicans to similarly reflect on those women and men who never say no, who show up, who set aside their personal opinions and simply do the work. The New Mexico State Police, as one example, have been an exemplar during this crisis.

State officers have the unenviable task of helping to enforce the requirements the state has established to save lives. Every day they answer the call. Fairly, respectfully, effectively. Every day they assist local governments and communities across the state with countless public safety and welfare tasks large and small. Amid this pandemic, however, our state officers have waged a lonely fight to help protect New Mexicans and save lives.

No one, least of all me, wakes up in the morning wanting to come down hard on those who violate the emergency public health requirements New Mexico has established for this pandemic. But I am obligated to use the full force of my administration to keep New Mexicans safe and alive during this pandemic. Indeed every elected official is so obligated. But if the actions – or lack thereof – from local governments and public safety agencies during this crisis are any indication, the message they have sent New Mexicans is clear: Protecting our constituents is simply not our job.

I am happy to work every hour of every day to protect my constituents, who are also their constituents, and indeed all New Mexicans. And I am happy to take on the responsibility shunned by sheriffs and other local leaders. Until we see this crisis through to the other side, the state of New Mexico will continue to lead in establishing and enforcing protections against this heinous virus. And when we reach the other side my administration will take a long hard look at how the state can ensure that those local officials who have decided they will not protect their constituents amid an unprecedented crisis no longer have the opportunity to fail them.

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