Editorial: Ronchetti for governor - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: Ronchetti for governor

Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham and Republican Mark Ronchetti. (Images courtesy of the candidates)

New Mexico is at a crossroads.

Violent crime is harming, traumatizing and quite literally killing too many New Mexicans. Property crime, paired with the national economic downturn and pandemic closures, continues to hurt residents and business owners financially. Not enough of the record billion-dollar revenues from oil and gas has been invested in lasting infrastructure that will improve lives for decades to come. And four years into her administration, our governor’s promised “education moonshot” has yet to launch as our children, especially our minority and low-income children, fall further and further behind.

We simply cannot afford four more years of the same.

And so in this gubernatorial campaign the Journal is endorsing Mark Ronchetti, a Republican political neophyte with zero management experience, rather than Democratic incumbent Michelle Lujan Grisham, who has — along with progressive lawmakers — aggressively increased the state’s spending with little accountability. (Libertarian Karen Bedonie has little name recognition, little funding and is not a viable candidate.)

We could not do this if Ronchetti agreed with or even waffled over whether the 2020 election was stolen; unlike most Republicans in the 2022 general election, he answered a straight up “no” when asked if he believed former President Trump’s Big Lie.

Ronchetti is a meteorologist and television weatherman who, unlike Lujan Grisham, has not served on a county commission, in a state Cabinet post, in Congress or governed from the fourth floor of the state Capitol. But we have to look at what all her experience has actually delivered.

First on too many of the bad lists. Last on too many of the good ones.

And the storm clouds show no sign of clearing. While her campaign — and to be fair, Ronchetti’s to an extent as well — focuses on abortion (which is a debate firmly in the hands of the Legislature, not the governor, no matter what either camp claims), here are key areas the governor has actual control over:

Education

Our state’s public education system was abysmal before the pandemic (the majority of our students could not read at grade level or do grade-appropriate math) and the inevitable learning loss that came with prolonged remote learning made a bad situation worse. But coming out of the pandemic, the plans to catch our students up are sketchy. And her Public Education Department’s key programs of extending learning time could only muster legislative support for voluntary participation, with too few taking advantage of them. The governor should have used the full force of her bully pulpit to get a mandate for extra class time passed.

Lujan Grisham is now on her third education secretary in four years. The first complete student test results since 2019 show just over a third of our public school students are proficient in language arts and barely a quarter are proficient in math. And while the governor correctly championed better pay for our teachers, many who did yeoman’s work through the pandemic, history has shown higher pay alone does not translate into better student academic outcomes. PED recently delivered a list of goals to comply with the 2018 Yazzie-Martinez decision that said we do not provide our students with the education guaranteed by the state Constitution. Unfortunately, there are no specific plans to achieve them.

Meanwhile, Ronchetti has proposed summer academies, strategic tutoring including for those who are habitually truant, transparency in test results to aid interventions, an emphasis on turning our great teachers and principals into mentors, treating and paying our principals like CEOs, and ensuring more funding goes to classrooms and not administrations.

Public safety

Under this gubernatorial administration, homicides, suicides, retail theft and homelessness have skyrocketed. There has been an increase in crime nationwide, but New Mexico’s outstrips most other states. Efforts to address these issues have not been comprehensive and have been late in coming — a few State Police officers to help, an offer to buy Coronado Park, an 11th-hour invitation to the FBI to come help us.

Ronchetti says his first priorities as governor would be passing a “Citizen’s Bill of Rights” aimed at stiffening criminal penalties, changing the state’s pretrial detention system for those accused of violent crimes and repealing the 2021 Civil Rights Act that barred the use of qualified immunity as a legal defense in cases involving law enforcement officers. And he is more open to partnering with federal agencies from the outset of his administration.

CYFD

The state’s Department of Children, Youth & Families remains a dysfunctional morass — crushing caseloads, poor employee morale and an outsized emphasis on preserving family units at all costs when history has shown too many children who are seen by CYFD are seen by them again, with tragic, even fatal, results.

Ronchetti would put child safety above family reunification, create an independent child protection division to work with law enforcement, strengthen child-abuse laws and better support foster parents.

Emergency powers

We agree the state needed strong, nimble leadership in the first weeks of the pandemic, and that Lujan Grisham did an admirable job obtaining, organizing and dispensing COVID-19 vaccines. That unified effort to get shots into arms is an example of government at its best.

Unfortunately, weeks of emergency rule turned into months, then years under Lujan Grisham, who seems to have forgotten we are a representational democracy with a legislative branch. She most recently renewed her emergency orders in September. Ronchetti says he would limit emergency powers to 60 days and then seek legislative input.

The border

Lujan Grisham has been an absentee landlord on our border with Mexico, saying in 2019 “I reject the federal contention that there exists an overwhelming national security crisis at the Southern border.” She has yet to address the streaming scourge of fentanyl, and only as Election Day approaches has she embraced working with federal agents on crime.

Ronchetti would redeploy the National Guard in a support role to the border patrol and partner with Texas, Arizona and the feds to better secure the border against drug and human trafficking.

Divisiveness

It will be essential for Ronchetti to build bridges, quickly, if he is to help turn our state around.

Lujan Grisham has contributed to the toxicity of our politics by name-calling those who have disagreed with her policies. In four State of the State speeches, she has never mentioned the contributions of the oil and gas industry or acknowledged its 42,000 direct and 134,000 indirect workers in New Mexico. Ronchetti can not make the same mistake for the hundreds of thousands of hard-working New Mexicans in our education, renewable energy, film and other industries that have been legitimate priorities of Lujan Grisham. He will need to work with lawmakers in our many areas of need, schools to tax reform, public safety to infrastructure.

Checks and balances

Finally, New Mexico has been under one-party rule for the past four years. We need checks and balances.

In what has become an increasingly blue state, Lujan Grisham has the clear advantage in this election. Recently she spoke of common-sense strategies that have not been in her repertoire — pushing for a statewide panhandling law, doubling down on supporting rebuttable presumption to keep the most dangerous defendants behind bars while awaiting trial, and mandating the school year be extended. If elected, we hope she follows through on these potential game changers.

If these had occurred during her first term, this endorsement might look very different. But they didn’t. And so we ask: Are we better off than we were four years ago? Do we want four more years of the same?

We are not and do not. The Journal endorses Republican Mark Ronchetti for governor.

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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