Oct. 28–In the closing weeks of a competitive race, Michelle Lujan Grisham and Steve Pearce will shout it till they’re hoarse: My opponent would be a dreadful governor, and here’s why.
Much of the back-and-forth of the increasingly combative gubernatorial campaign has centered on the personal — particularly on ethical questions each has sought to raise.
Pearce has taken swipes at Lujan Grisham’s ties to former Gov. Bill Richardson and her former ownership stake in Delta Consulting, a firm that helped manage the state’s high-risk insurance pool; Lujan Grisham has responded by questioning Pearce’s financial dealings in the oil and gas industry, where he made his fortune, and accusing his campaign of endorsing sexist comments from the state Republican Party.
The negativity expressed by both camps as they seek to bury the other in the final stretch has arguably muddled the dividing lines between them.
“It does run the risk of clouding the candidates exploring the details of their policy stances,” said Albuquerque pollster Brian Sanderoff.
The third and final televised debate last week between U.S. Rep. Lujan Grisham, the Democrat, and U.S. Rep. Pearce, the Republican, amounted to a sharp-elbowed clash that often devolved into now-familiar lines of attack.
With those attacks taking up much of the talk, some inflammatory subject areas where the candidates differ have hardly come up.
During the most recent debate, for instance, the issue of gun control appeared in a brief back-and-forth, stemming from a question on school safety. The topic disappeared almost as quickly as it had surfaced.
That’s not to say guns don’t matter here. Lujan Grisham has a plan to get tough on lax gun protections, and the National Rifle Association has enthusiastically endorsed Pearce, warning Lujan Grisham would be “the most anti-gun governor in the history of New Mexico.”
There are also issues like abortion that have played little role at all in the campaign, despite the urging of the abortion rights advocacy group NARAL, which pleaded with newscasters to ask an abortion-specific question at one of the three televised debates — to no avail.
Pearce has been a staunch anti-abortion advocate in Congress, while Lujan Grisham touts the endorsement of Planned Parenthood and has pushed for reproductive freedom.
Seeking to set aside the late-stage campaign animus, The New Mexican has plucked certain areas where the two gubernatorial hopefuls wholeheartedly differ.
There are more than 10, and the sample chosen does not reflect the state’s most pressing concerns, but rather genuine separations in philosophy and approach that would guide how either would govern.
“For a voter who isn’t going to vote on the basis of partisanship, that might be the kind of thing that is important,” said Tim Krebs, chairman of the University of New Mexico’s political science department. “It can be so concrete. They may be saying, ‘Well, I don’t trust either of these candidates on personal things because I can’t distinguish what’s true from false in the television ads I see. But if I knew more about their position on a concrete issue, on the minimum wage, that might help me decide.’ “
“They clearly do have differences,” Sanderoff said. “It also comes back to their backgrounds. Steve Pearce is up there speaking as a conservative businessman, and that side of him influences his decision-making on marijuana, the budget surplus, minimum wage. She feels more comfortable coming from a liberal, social-services side, taking the risk and spending the money on more teachers, health care, social workers — even if it builds the budget base.”
Cut through the jungle of television advertisements and flyers, and a voter might find Lujan Grisham and Pearce actually agree on the heart of the matter. Both argue the state needs a better education system, a broader economy, an answer to persistent crime and child abuse.
Within those subjects, Lujan Grisham and Pearce disagree to varying degrees, and certainly so on the path forward. Both have tacked to the center in some ways, unsurprising for a general election, with Pearce seeking to shed his conservative culture warrior reputation and Lujan Grisham shrugging off some of the more popular left-wing ideas of the moment.
But on matters like the minimum wage, legalized recreational marijuana and what to do about a $1.2 billion-plus surplus — not to mention issues like human-caused global warming — the candidates are indeed something approaching polar opposites, and New Mexico voters have a choice Nov. 6.
WHERE THEY SPLIT
1. Minimum wage
Lujan Grisham: Has promised an “immediate” minimum wage increase to $10. She said her administration would hike the wage to $12 in four years and thereafter index the rate to inflation. Currently, the statewide minimum wage is $7.50, among the lowest in the country. “It’s adding to the loss of our young people,” she said in September. “I know what it takes as a single mom to raise a family. If you don’t have a sustainable wage, you can’t make the difference you need for your family.”
Pearce: Has said he is opposed to any increase in the minimum wage. Small businesses, like the oil field services company he founded, would be devastated, he has said. “Poverty used to be transitory in America,” he said. “We’ve put the wage so high, people can’t get on the ladder. We’ve made poverty static in this country. It’s caused by these intense government regulations.”
2. Climate change
Lujan Grisham: Has affirmed the well-established scientific consensus that human activity is causing an increase in global temperatures, acknowledging that the effects will harm New Mexico in the form of enhanced drought. She vows to progressively increase the state’s share of renewable energy production and implement methane mitigation rules. “These are philosophical, foundational attitudes a governor should have,” she said. Lujan Grisham’s energy plan would increase the state’s renewable energy portfolio standard to 80 percent by 2040.
Pearce: Has in the past expressed skepticism or outright denial of climate science. Last week, he said through a campaign spokesman that temperatures are rising “and human activity is likely contributing to it. There are real questions to the extent and how much.” He has proposed a broader energy approach, including wind and solar production. Pearce, his spokesman said, has “repeatedly taken steps and supported policies that would reduce carbon and pollution,” though the congressman did applaud when President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris climate accord, saying the agreement would have been a burden on New Mexico families and industry.
3. The expected budget surplus
Lujan Grisham: Has said the projected $1.2 billion-plus windfall the state can expect next year must be treated cautiously. She has said she will work with the Legislature in making infrastructure expenditures, saying they are a sound investment, but also has floated putting some of the new money toward restoring social workers and the state’s public education system. “If you don’t put social workers back in [the Children, Youth and Families Department], then you are not serious about keeping our families and children safe,” she said last week.
Pearce: Has said the expected surplus from the oil and gas sector of the economy should be prioritized toward infrastructure improvements statewide. Putting the surplus toward expenditures that would recur in budget cycles to come, he said, would represent larger government, something he does not want — though he has said the state can increase spending in certain areas like education. He has highlighted broadband internet, sewer, water and roadway improvements and expansions as key areas to fund from the surplus. “Those are the elements in which we will build our future economy,” Pearce said.
4. The permanent fund
Lujan Grisham: Has proposed drawing more money from the state’s $17 billion-plus Land Grant Permanent Fund to invest in early childhood education. Her proposal is more modest than what some Roundhouse advocates have called for, but Lujan Grisham says her “conservative approach” can get through the Legislature and get the ball rolling on an education rebound. The congresswoman also has proposed pulling from the nearly $5 billion Severance Tax Permanent Fund to invest in New Mexico businesses.
Pearce: Has struck a conservative tone surrounding the state endowment, calling proposals to pull from it “risky.” In September, he said the state could “look at expanding” its current early childhood education offerings once a “sustainable” budget was in place. “I’m very cautious about spending out of the future,” he said, adding he would prefer to “broaden” the tax base and fund new programs from there. Campaign manager Paul Smith in September called Lujan Grisham’s planned “raid” on the permanent fund “disturbing.”
Lujan Grisham: Has pledged to pass a statewide ban on semiautomatic weapons and high-capacity magazines in addition to strengthened background checks, restrictions for those convicted of domestic violence and safe storage laws. “I don’t propose violating the Second Amendment rights of any responsible gun owner in any context,” she said. “We have a constitutional right to be safe in our communities.” Still, the National Rifle Association has claimed she “would be the most anti-gun governor in the history of New Mexico if elected,” presumably a point in her favor with NRA critics.
Pearce: Is endorsed and A-rated by the National Rifle Association. In the wake of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting earlier this year, Pearce said he opposed banning semiautomatic weapons like the AR-15 used in that massacre, calling such a prospective restriction ineffective. “Pearce believes we have laws that are not being enforced,” his spokesman Kevin Sheridan said. “Enforce them.” In a televised debate last week, Pearce criticized Lujan Grisham’s proposed ban on so-called assault weapons. “I just don’t understand the idea of taking guns away from people following the law,” he said. A Politico analysis last fall determined Pearce, since 1990, had received the ninth-largest cumulative sum of donations from gun lobbyists of any member of Congress, at $129,250.
6. Medicaid work requirements
Lujan Grisham: Has said work requirements for Medicaid recipients are counterproductive and would “diminish the impact” of such an aid program. She added that a work requirement would make it more difficult for the state to tackle its opioid addiction epidemic and would grow the bureaucracy more than it would help train residents to work.
Pearce: Has promised to immediately require able-bodied Medicaid recipients to work as a condition of receiving benefits. Pearce, who grew up poor but later founded an oil field services company and became wealthy, said the requirements would restore the “dignity” of work.
7. Toll roads in the oil patch
Lujan Grisham: Has expressed opposition to the idea of tolling drivers on the increasingly dangerous roads in the state’s southeastern portion, where oil and gas productivity and thus traffic has surged. “Hardworking, average, middle-class New Mexicans would be asked to pay … for use of those roads,” she said.
Pearce: Has said he will ask large oil producers to build new roads on which producers, not residents, will be taxed. “My opponent makes fun of the toll road idea,” he said. “We will get money from Texas, and my opponent will leave that money in Texas.”
Lujan Grisham: Is an avowed supporter of abortion rights and has been endorsed by Planned Parenthood, which noted that a Gov. Lujan Grisham would make protections for reproductive choice a “top priority.” She has said she would support legislation to repeal the decades-old state law that makes abortion a felony. A spokesman said flatly she would not support any legislation intended to limit access to women’s health care services.
Pearce: Has been a consistent anti-abortion advocate, and his campaign has been endorsed by several anti-abortion organizations. Like Lujan Grisham, the issue has not been central in his campaign. Asked by The New Mexican earlier this year whether a Pearce administration would support abortion access restrictions, Pearce said only that he “would be more engaged in a public dialogue.”
9. Legalized recreational marijuana
Lujan Grisham: Specifying that she will insist on a “balanced, responsible” approach from the Legislature, including regulations for edible products and workplace intoxication, Lujan Grisham has said she will make New Mexico the 10th U.S. state to legalize recreational marijuana — the seventh in the West, alongside Alaska, California, Colorado, Oregon, Nevada and Washington.
Pearce: Has offered begrudging support for the state’s Medical Cannabis Program but opposes legalization for recreational purposes, calling it a roadblock for state residents already struggling with drug addiction and poverty. “I really think we should look at some of the downsides,” he said.
10. PARCC standardized tests
Lujan Grisham: Has committed to dropping the controversial math and reading tests, saying she wants to begin developing a transition to another testing mechanism that aligns with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act immediately. “PARCC has driven our educators right out of the state,” she said in September.
Pearce: Has been more circumspect about the tests, telling The New Mexican this fall he was hesitant to scrap them because he said students have grown accustomed to them. He added he wants to negotiate a quicker turnaround for test results.
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