Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – New Mexico’s 2022 gubernatorial election is still more than a year away, but there are already legal rumblings about candidate fairness issues.
The Democratic Governors Association, a deep-pocketed national group, recently sent a letter to KRQE-TV warning that Mark Ronchetti’s on-air presence as a meteorologist could subject the station to equal treatment provisions under federal communications law if Ronchetti were to run for governor next year.
Ronchetti, who was the GOP nominee for an open U.S. Senate seat in 2020, returned to KRQE-TV after losing the election to Democrat Ben Ray Luján.
He has not indicated whether he plans to run for governor, but he has been mentioned as a possible candidate.
On Tuesday, Ronchetti accused Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is the DGA’s chairwoman, of using her position to harass him and his family, and to try to get him fired from his television job.
“The governor’s thinly veiled efforts at intimidation are completely out of line,” Ronchetti told the Journal.
“I have not commented on political issues or done anything of a political nature since the end of the Senate campaign.”
Bill Anderson, KRQE-TV’s vice president and general manager, said he understands the Federal Communications Commission rules regarding candidate advertising and said the station was “fully compliant.”
The letter sent by DGA attorneys to Anderson – a similar letter was sent earlier this year – says that if Ronchetti were to file candidate paperwork to run for governor, any subsequent on-air appearances by him would qualify as free “use” of broadcast facilities.
Under federal communications law, radio and television stations must provide equal broadcast time to opposing political candidates, with certain allowable exceptions.
“If your station does not take the appropriate steps to ensure equal opportunities for Mr. Ronchetti’s opponents, we anticipate that his opponents will be ready to explore all remedies available to them under the law to ensure their fair treatment by your station,” the letter says.
The letter does not mention Lujan Grisham by name, although the governor was elected in December 2020 as the DGA’s chairwoman, a prominent post for fundraising and supporting Democratic governor candidates.
Christina Amestoy, the DGA’s senior communications adviser, suggested in a statement that a Ronchetti campaign was in the works, even though he has not said whether he plans to run next year or filed any candidate paperwork.
“If Ronchetti believes a request to follow the law is a form of intimidation, New Mexico voters should fear just how far he’ll be willing to bend the rules in his bid for governor,” Amestoy said.
Seven other Republican candidates have announced gubernatorial campaigns, with whoever wins the GOP nomination likely to run against Lujan Grisham in the November 2022 general election.