Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Several years ago, Albuquerque Isotopes fans left a game with a souvenir bobblehead doll.
The doll didn’t depict a player, but rather the energetic, bespectacled meteorologist seen on the KRQE-TV nightly news.
Mark Ronchetti – familiar to voters from his time at KRQE-TV and KOAT-TV, or perhaps the souvenir – is the Republican nominee for the open U.S. Senate seat for New Mexico.
So what qualifies a television meteorologist to become a senator?
“I’m not a politician, and I make no apologies for that,” he told the Journal. “And I think we have too many career politicians who fail us constantly.
“They are more interested in fighting the Washington political battles than actually solving people’s problems.”
Ronchetti, who won a three-way GOP primary in June, pledges to be different if he defeats Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján and Libertarian Bob Walsh in November.
“Our problem is we have people who go to Washington and turn it into a career,” he said. “And their No. 1 priority is to get reelected, and their No. 2 priority is to push their Washington agenda on New Mexico. How about we push New Mexico on Washington?”
Ronchetti is bringing some of the same enthusiasm to the campaign trail that he brought to his weather reports. As a meteorologist, he sometimes would lose the suit jacket and roll up his sleeves when reporting on nasty weather such as a monsoon storm or a winter storm pounding the mountains.
On Friday, he posted a video on Twitter showing him gulping a 24-ounce Monster energy drink while on the road in southeastern New Mexico on the campaign trail.
“I gotta be honest with you, that is a lot of energy drink for me to be taking down,” he said. “But you know, at this point in the campaign, when you get to the 24-ouncers, it’s getting serious.”
Ronchetti is taking on an established New Mexico politician in Luján, who has been representing most of northern New Mexico in Congress since being elected in 2008.
But Ronchetti may have a couple things going for him, said Michael Rocca, a political science professor at the University of New Mexico.
He’s a political outsider with name recognition.
“Particularly in today’s political climate, there are certain advantages to perhaps running for office without having held office previous to that election. There is a sentiment among the American public that being an outsider is a good thing,” Rocca said. “That’s an advantage that Mr. Ronchetti brings to the race and something a lot of Americans vote for. … And he has a brand. He has a level of name recognition that typically outsiders don’t have.”
That said, Ronchetti will have a lot to overcome, Rocca said. Luján has more than a decade of experience in Congress and has significantly out-raised Ronchetti, $6.3 million compared with nearly $1.4 million through June, according to the Federal Election Commission. And New Mexico has been leaning Democratic.
“You have to look at the political structure of the state. There is no doubt that it is right now blue and it is getting bluer over time,” Rocca said. “Whatever name recognition Mr. Ronchetti brings to the table and whatever advantages that brings for him, he’s still up against a really, really tough structural environment that advantages the Democratic candidate in a statewide race.”
Crime is top priority
If he can manage a victory, Ronchetti said, his top priority is addressing crime issues, which he feels are plaguing New Mexico.
“If we don’t get crime really under control, nothing else matters,” he said. “If you don’t feel you have a safe place to go with your family, then we’ve got a problem. That’s No. 1 in my book.”
While federal law enforcement agencies have been targeting crime for years, Ronchetti believes more federal help is necessary to stop the flow of drugs through the state and solve problems connected to drug cartels in Albuquerque.
He also criticized the reactions of some top New Mexico Democrats – including U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M. – to the Trump administration’s decision to send additional law enforcement officers to Albuquerque through Operation Legend.
The mission has led to dozens of defendants being arrested, primarily on weapons and drug-related charges.
“What was the response from our Washington delegation? Their response is, we don’t want storm troopers, we don’t want this help,” Ronchetti said. “I wonder what planet these people are living on. They’re surely not living in Albuquerque. It doesn’t matter what your political party is. We’ve got to come together and help fight crime here.”
A close second on Ronchetti’s list is improving education.
“We are No. 50 in the country in K-12 education,” he said. “That is absolutely unacceptable. … We need a much better partnership between the state and federal governments to put kids first.”
And part of putting kids first, he said, is allowing parents a choice of where their children attend school.
“That’s not fair,” he said of not giving parents in low-income communities a choice to send their children to a better-performing school. “We’ve got to stop holding kids back.”
Ronchetti said he would also focus on restoring an economy that has been ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There are so many small businesses that have been just decimated by this,” he said. But he said this economic crisis presents a different challenge from previous ones.
“The challenge that we didn’t have in 2008 is that we have to do it safely,” Ronchetti said. “We can’t do this in a way that puts people at risk.”
He said the federal government’s role at the beginning of the pandemic through legislation such as the CARES Act “was a stopgap to help, because this was an unknown situation.”
“Nobody knew what to expect,” Ronchetti said. “I think what was really important was to get some help in right away so that families who were struggling and out of work right away got some help initially.”
But he feels the role of the federal government in the next Congress will be to help people transition back into the workforce.
“I think the federal government has a real role in making sure we get people back to their jobs,” Ronchetti said.
The Luján campaign has targeted Ronchetti for his stance on climate change despite his background in meteorology.
Ronchetti, in response to a Journal questionnaire, said that while the atmosphere is warming and there are steps the country can take to protect the environment, he opposes the Green New Deal and “environmentalist extremism.” Ronchetti said such policies would crush the lower and middle classes.
Taken with NM
Ronchetti, who will turn 47 on Oct. 7, was born in Dallas and said his family moved around a lot while he was a child before settling in Vermont when he was in fifth grade. He lived in a community near Burlington, Vermont, where Bernie Sanders was mayor. Ronchetti said he started forming his political opinions during that time because his family often talked about politics around the dinner table.
A Washington State graduate, he began his career in broadcasting in Grand Junction, Colorado. He moved to Albuquerque when he accepted a job at KOAT-TV, which later sent him to school at Mississippi State to receive his meteorologist certification. The Ronchettis moved briefly to Portland, Oregon, but then returned because they missed New Mexico. He worked at KRQE-TV for 13 years after moving back.
“We love it here,” he said. “We’ve been here for basically 20 years.”
He and his wife have two daughters, Ava, 13, and Ella, 11, who have both made appearances in his television and social media campaign ads.
“We are a state of such great potential,” Ronchetti said. “I just think we’ve been held back by things for too long, things that never seem to get fixed, things like an education system which fails our kids, streets that aren’t safe enough and economic opportunity that doesn’t seem to be there like it should be.”