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With the stage to himself, Republican Mark Ronchetti stood before hundreds of business leaders Monday and vowed to be their ally if elected governor by pursuing tax cuts and new limits on unemployment insurance.
Ronchetti also accused policymakers at the Roundhouse – including Democratic legislators present for his speech – of doing too little to reduce crime.
“We have to create an environment here that makes it easier to do business,” Ronchetti said.
He delivered his remarks to a ballroom filled with business people gathered for a luncheon hosted by NAIOP, the commercial real estate development association.
Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who’s seeking reelection, wasn’t present. NAIOP leaders said they proposed two dates – one of which was shared with the campaign a year ago – but the governor declined an invitation to participate.
A spokeswoman for Lujan Grisham said the campaign negotiated in good faith with NAIOP on a date but couldn’t come to an agreement.
As the forum began, Ronchetti’s campaign briefly put a large picture of the governor up on stage, but NAIOP staff removed it immediately.
With no other candidate to share time with, Ronchetti took questions from a moderator, Dan Boyd, the Albuquerque Journal’s Capitol Bureau chief.
Ronchetti said he would support limiting unemployment benefits to just 16 weeks rather 26, propose income tax cuts for anyone making under $200,000 and authorize annual tax rebates funded by the oil boom.
“The money has to go back into the pockets of New Mexicans who are struggling to get through each month,” Ronchetti said.
He added that he would pursue “tort reform” intended to make it easier for doctors to afford medical malpractice insurance. Lawmakers recently approved a medical malpractice law negotiated by a group of hospitals and lawyers.
Delaney Corcoran, a spokeswoman for the Lujan Grisham campaign, said the governor looks forward to debating Ronchetti this fall.
“The governor’s record delivering economic growth speaks for itself: just this month we reached a 14-year low in unemployment and saw record state revenue projections, including a $2.45 billion windfall for the state,” Corcoran said.
New Mexico’s unemployment rate in July was 4.5%, a steep drop from a year ago but still higher than any state but Alaska.
Ronchetti on Monday also took aim at New Mexico’s high violent crime rate, calling it “embarrassing” that a proposal to overhaul the pretrial detention system failed in this year’s legislative session. The measure – backed by Lujan Grisham and a bipartisan group of lawmakers – called for making it easier to hold certain defendants in jail while they await trial.
“Catch and release – it is destroying the state of New Mexico,” Ronchetti said, “and we have legislators in this room who have failed to address it.”
Opponents of the measure contend it would have violated the Constitution. A report by the Legislative Finance Committee also concluded the pretrial proposal wasn’t likely to have much effect on crime rates and could result in the unnecessary detention of 2,400 defendants in a four-year period.
Ronchetti said Lujan Grisham should have made its passage a priority the way she did for renewable energy legislation and marijuana legalization. “This shouldn’t be partisan,” he said.
Libertarian Karen Bedonie, who wasn’t invited Monday, is also on the Nov. 8 ballot for governor.