Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
RIO RANCHO – Sandoval County Commissioner Jay Block jumped into the 2022 race for governor Saturday, becoming the first Republican to seek the nomination to challenge Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
Block, an Air Force veteran from Rio Rancho, pitched himself as a strong new candidate who could successfully take on Lujan Grisham, in contrast to others who have repeatedly lost statewide races.
“I intend to be a governor that New Mexico can finally be proud of,” Block said during an event at Rio Rancho Veterans Memorial Park.
Block, 50, is a retired lieutenant colonel who worked as a nuclear weapons officer and served in Afghanistan. He is now a nuclear operations consultant.
He made military service a theme of Saturday’s event.
Jose Garcia, who served with Block in the Netherlands, addressed the crowd of about 125 people, describing Block as the kind of commander who stood up for rank-and-file airmen and personally intervened at one point to help train someone struggling to pass a physical fitness test.
Block, for his part, said he would be a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, veto any tax increases passed by the Legislature and cut business regulations.
“Bigger government is not the answer and does not provide prosperity,” he said.
Block slammed Lujan Grisham’s performance as governor, harshly criticizing the public health orders that have restricted business activity during the COVID-19 pandemic and pledging to forgive any fines levied on small businesses upon taking office.
“We want our freedoms back,” he said.
Block’s entry into the race drew a rebuke from the executive director of the Democratic Governors Association, Noam Lee, who said a Block administration would be “anti-environment, anti-working families, and anti-science.”
“Lujan Grisham has shown strong and effective leadership throughout her time in office,” Lee said. “We look forward to helping elect her to a second term.”
Block’s rivals for the Republican nomination aren’t yet clear.
Asked on Friday whether state Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce might run for governor, a spokesman said Pearce’s “priority now is to run the Republican Party. The party is working hard to field strong candidates.”
Pearce, a former congressman, lost the governor’s race to Lujan Grisham by 14 percentage points in 2018, a year in which Democrats swept statewide offices.
State Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences, said last week that she is evaluating whether to seek a statewide office next year. She is chair of the House Republican caucus.
New Mexico’s primary election is almost 14 months away, leaving plenty of time for candidates to emerge.
Block was elected to the Sandoval County Commission in 2016 and represents a district that covers Corrales and part of Rio Rancho.
He was a co-sponsor of a 2018 measure establishing a “right-to-work” law in Sandoval County. A state law was later passed that prohibits enforcing such a law at the local level.
Among those in the audience at Block’s campaign announcement Saturday were Republican state Reps. Joshua Hernandez of Rio Rancho and Stefani Lord of Sandia Park.