Editorial: Journal endorses Ronchetti to represent NM in US Senate

New Mexicans face a clear choice in deciding who will succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M.

Democrat Ben Ray Luján is a six-term congressman and one of the top members of his party’s power structure in the U.S. House of Representatives, serving as assistant speaker to Nancy Pelosi. Republican Mark Ronchetti is a former television meteorologist and a new face in the world of politics who says he would bring a moderate brand of conservatism and a work-across-party-lines approach to Washington, D.C.

Given the challenges facing the nation and our state, the Journal endorses Ronchetti.

Luján also has strengths. He has deep New Mexico roots, years of varied government experience and – a quality not to be dismissed lightly in today’s toxic political world – he’s a genuninely nice guy who cares about the state.

But in seeking to fill the Senate seat that Republican Pete Domenici held for 36 years, more should be required. There is too much party intransigence on both sides in Washington. Ronchetti says he would work to end it; Luján, as the consummate party insider, is steeped in it.

The last time New Mexico had bipartisan representation from its senators was when Domenici and Sen. Jeff Bingaman held the seats. They often disagreed, but they worked together on behalf of their home state. The election of Ronchetti is a chance to bring back that bipartisan team.

And Ronchetti, who exudes energy, comes down on the correct side of a wide range of issues. He fundamentally understands it must be the private sector – not government – that re-energizes the economy and creates wealth as the nation moves through and past the COVID pandemic. He understands we must find ways to live with the virus and mitigate its risks without shutting down the economy.

He says we need to replace the Affordable Care Act – what good is insurance if you can’t afford the out-of-pocket deductibles and co-pays? – but adamantly opposes getting rid of it and its protections for pre-existing conditions until we have something better. That would include getting rid of surprise billing and lowering the cost of prescription drugs. He points out he is on the ACA and his daughter has a pre-existing condition. He opposes “Medicare for All” as a budget buster and a move toward government takeover of health care that would eliminate private health insurance and choice.

His tough-on-crime approach is exactly what’s needed, which is why he has been endorsed by the associations that represent both Albuquerque police officers and Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputies. He would welcome help from federal authorities in battling violent crime here. He opposes getting rid of qualified immunity for police officers. He opposes blanket sanctuary policies like the one that allowed the release of one of the men authorities say was involved in the shooting death of Jacqueline Vigil. Jail officials here aren’t even allowed to talk to federal immigration authorities.

When it comes to education, Ronchetti understands that our schools need to focus not only on college degrees but on training for tech and vocational careers.

On immigration, he correctly says border security must come first – whether it’s in the form of more agents, a wall or technology. Without borders, you can’t have a country. But he argues for comprehensive immigration reform, including a resolution for DACA kids and a streamlined path for citizenship. His basic position: immigration should be legal and easier than it is now. He has softened on what some might call amnesty, saying we need to find a legal remedy going forward for families who are here and working hard.

Ronchetti recognizes climate change but opposes the Democrats’ Green New Deal as unrealistic and a recipe for economic devastation – particularly for a state like New Mexico that is rich in oil and natural gas. We need a balanced approach.

Pete Domenici helped secure the nation’s last balanced budget, a sweeping energy act and is credited with sponsoring 77 pieces of legislation that became law. Luján’s record on signature legislation signed into law is sparse.

And he hasn’t used his bully pulpit as assistant speaker to urge his party to come to the table with a pared-down COVID-relief bill the Senate would accept or a crime bill along the lines of the measure sponsored by Sen. Tim Scott, R-South Carolina. The African American senator proposes a ban on chokeholds, no-knock warrants and other reforms most people agree are needed.

On two other issues of importance, packing the Supreme Court and getting rid of the Senate’s long-standing 60-vote filibuster rule, the candidate differences are stark. Ronchetti says he opposes both; Luján is “open” to both. There is plenty of blame to go around for both parties in Washington, but if a candidate – particularly one with Luján’s powerful position in the Democratic Party – wanted to stand up and put on the mantle of statesmanship, this would be a way to do it. Instead, the fact Luján is willing to consider getting rid of checks and balances fundamental to our system of democratic government is especially troubling.

Ronchetti has been in New Mexico since 1998 and is known throughout the state. He has a science bent and an analytical approach to issues. He digs in to questions and does the research. Coupled with a moderate view and a commitment to work for beneficial legislation even if that means breaking ranks with his party, it is a skill set that would serve New Mexicans well if they decide he should represent them in the United States Senate.

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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