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The two Democrats vying to become the state’s top prosecutor clashed at every turn Monday night, attacking each other during a television debate that focused on which candidate had the experience and leadership needed to help combat New Mexico’s crime problem.
The contest for the Democratic nomination for state attorney general pits Raúl Torrez, two-term Bernalillo County district attorney, against state Auditor Brian Colón. Republican lawyer Jeremy Gay will face the winner of the June 7 primary election.
The one-hour debate on KRQE-TV on Monday devolved into a finger-pointing exercise in which Colón went on the offensive to call out Torrez for his “failed prosecution rates.”
“The numbers are abysmal,” Colón added.
Torrez faulted Colón as a “career politician” who lacks “experience in public safety.”
“One of the things that defines this race is whether you want a career prosecutor or a career politician,” Torrez added.
Torrez, a former federal prosecutor, defended his leadership in tackling an 8,000 case backlog in pending criminal cases when he took office in 2017, and accused Colón of “misrepresenting the facts.”
“He has not prosecuted a single case, not even a parking ticket,” Torrez said.
Colón, who has served as state auditor since winning a four-year-term in 2018, is the former head of the state Democratic Party. He noted his 20 years of public service and touted his knack for “coming up with solutions.”
“I have a lifetime of relationships. There’s a reason that when I walk in the Roundhouse we’re warmly embraced,” he said.
Torrez, along with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, unsuccessfully pushed legislation to reform pretrial detention of violent offenders earlier this year. On Tuesday, Torrez vowed to try again during next year’s 60-day session.
Colón said he believes in a multi-pronged effort to fighting crime, including pretrial detention reform, but said leadership he would provide is important to bringing key stakeholders together to consider solutions, adding, “you can’t hang your hat on one piece (of criminal justice reform).”
Torrez said he was “a little puzzled” that Colón would say he supported pretrial detention reform when Torrez “never heard him step out and support publicly” the proposed legislation aimed at keeping more violent criminals in jail pending trial.
“This is somebody who lives and dies by politics,” Torrez said. “It’s a difficult issue for the Democratic Party. We can’t have people who are guided by politics and who run away from difficult issues.”
Colón said Torrez talks about his big-name political support during the failed legislative fight for pretrial detention reform, but “if he had that support he should have been very embarrassed when he walked out of the Roundhouse (after the past session).”
“I would say I’ve got a failed prosecutor standing beside me,” said Colón, who repeatedly echoed what he said were New Mexicans’ fears about crime. “At the end of the day,” Colón added, “we’re not safe.”