New Mexico gubernatorial candidates view border through law enforcement lens

Republican primary voters in New Mexico who did not vote early or absentee can cast their ballot on June 7 to select the candidate they hope to make Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham a one-term governor.

This candidate will also compete with Karen Bedonie of the Libertarian Party, which has major party status in the state.

Although a recent Albuquerque Journal poll shows GOP candidate Mark Ronchetti with a daunting lead over his four rivals for the nomination Based on a sample of 560 likely voters, a small percentage of the poll’s sample had already finished their ballots.

The only televised debate between the five Republican candidates aired May 20 on KOAT-TV. The debate took place via Zoom, co-anchor Doug Fernandez announced, because visitors to KOAT’s studio must be vaccinated against COVID-19, implying that at least one of the contestants was unvaccinated or n haven’t checked his status.

As the primary is hotly contested among the five candidates running for New Mexico’s next governorship, they share a consensus that the southern border is an urgent priority, though they tend to address primarily as a security issue.

For example, Rebecca Dow, a state representative for Truth or Consequences, opened the KOAT debate by stating that Lujan Grisham “opened our border to the criminal elements of the cartel. They traffic in people, drug trafficking and they are responsible for the abuse of countless women and children. And that’s why Republicans are choosing the next governor on June 7.”

New Mexico’s border with Chihuahua, Mexico presents a dynamic mix of security, humanitarian and economic development issues.

For example, the Lujan Grisham administration recently highlighted work with its Mexican counterparts to improve adjacent ports of entry in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, and San Jerónimo, Chihuahua, and facilitate international trade through a task force. joint on infrastructure.

At the same time, federal agencies are dealing with record volumes of migration from Central and South America. In the Border Patrol’s El Paso sector alone, which includes all of New Mexico, 143,124 encounters have been reported so far this fiscal year, an increase of 56.2% from this point last year. latest, according to Customs and Border Protection data. Reported encounters in the South West are up 67.7% over the same period, with more than 1.2 million encounters so far this fiscal year.

When asked an open-ended question about how they would approach the border during the debate, GOP candidates’ responses looked at the region exclusively from a crime and law enforcement perspective, linking to messages about domestic crime in New Mexico and support for the police.

Some, like Ronchetti, have also called it a humanitarian crisis, citing hopeful immigrants being exploited by smugglers. They have been largely silent on international causes of migration or federal policy except in favor of a Trump-era policy requiring migrants, including legitimate political asylum seekers, to wait outside states. United for their auditions.

U.S. Border Patrol agents Carlos A. Rivera, left, and Joel Freeland watch the border near Sunland Park, New Mexico, Dec. 29, 2021. The two remarked on how heavy traffic d human beings competes with illegal drugs as part of the cartel.

For voters weighing alternatives to Lujan Grisham’s leadership on border issues, particularly in the logistically crucial region of the Doña Ana County and El Paso ports of entry, here is a brief primer on how the candidates approach the border at the closing of the primary.

The Republican candidates are listed in alphabetical order, followed by Bedonie, a former Republican turned Libertarian.

Jay Block

Sandoval County Commissioner and a U.S. Air Force veteran who served in Afghanistan, Block denounced the Biden administration’s halt in building the border wall and vowed to redeploy National Guard personnel to the border , recalling President Donald Trump’s mobilization of the Guard in 2018 with consent. of the governor at the time. Susana Martinez, another Republican.

Additionally, he proposed creating a new border-focused law enforcement agency, though few details about its function or its interactions with other agencies were presented.

Block cited a “humanitarian crisis” at the border in the televised debate, which focused on sex trafficking as well as drug and human trafficking.

“The southern border affects every state in the country,” he said. “Every state is a border state because what goes through New Mexico goes all over the country.”

Rebecca Dow

Dow has served in the New Mexico House of Representatives since 2017 and gave up his seat to challenge Lujan Grisham.

A campaign ad this spring featured Dow on horseback, riding along steel border fences with sheriffs who had endorsed his campaign.

They included Sheriff Glenn Hamilton of his home county, Sierra; Sheriff Warren Walter of Hidalgo County, encompassing the Booteel area of ​​New Mexico and one of the busiest law enforcement areas for the El Paso sector of the US Border Patrol; and a Democrat, Luna County Sheriff Kelly Gannaway.

Dow has strongly supported Trump’s approach to the border, including a vow to advocate for the completion of the border wall as well as Border Patrol requests for technology and infrastructure to facilitate its operations along the border as well. than a renewed deployment of the National Guard.

She has also repeatedly complained about an “open border” policy backed by Democrats Lujan Grisham and President Joe Biden, despite federal policies limiting immigration and refugee admissions, deportations and the controversial Title 42 policy forcing many asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their cases are pending.

While Dow was far behind Ronchetti in the Log poll (9 percent to her 45 percent), she seemed to be the leading alternative in the GOP field.

Ethel Maharg

The former mayor of Cuba, New Mexico praised efforts in neighboring states of Arizona and Texas to complete the border wall independently of the federal government during the May 20 debate.

While Maharg, the executive director of the New Mexico Right to Life Committee, has made opposition to abortion central to her campaign, she cited her own Hispanic immigrant ancestry in calling for strong enforcement of the laws. and immigration protocols and expressed concern over costs. mitigate the harms of fentanyl and narcotics.

“My grandfather came here legally,” she said during the debate, “and I say, if you sneak across the border, sorry, but… we’ll hand you over, no arguing, period. .”

Maharg is the underdog in the contest, having last voted at the state’s GOP pre-primary convention and trailing in name recognition and fundraising. The Log polling found her with just one percentage point among sampled voters.

Marc Ronchetti

The former KRQE-TV weatherman, meanwhile, had the support of 45 percent of respondents to the Log poll, enjoying wide name recognition from his weather reports as well as his 2020 bid for an open U.S. Senate seat.

Ronchetti returned to his television job after losing the election to Democrat Ben Ray Luján, only to resign to pursue the governorship.

Ronchetti, like his rivals, has hammered Lujan Grisham and Biden for a “porous” border policy that he says does not meet the needs of federal border enforcement agencies, including adequate personnel.

He also linked the international narcotics trade to domestic crime across New Mexico to argue that tougher border policies were essential to domestic peace.

His campaign website as well as campaign ads include pledges to redeploy the National Guard to the region and introduce a 150-officer “Border Strike Force” under the state Department of Public Safety, meant to target narcotic activity in the area.

Greg Zanetti

Zanetti, a retired Army National Guard brigadier general from Albuquerque and one of two primary military veterans (the other being Block), kindly scoffed at promises of a redeployment of the Border Guard.

“What’s the chain of command? How are you going to fit in with Border Patrol, ICE, all the ABC agencies there? What are the lines of communication? How are you going to fit in with Texas and the arizona?”

Zanetti also asked how the mission would be funded, assuming the Biden administration wouldn’t pay for it and leave New Mexico on the hook.

Nevertheless, he too spoke of the border exclusively in terms of national security and law enforcement.

Zanetti placed third in the Log poll, just behind Dow.

Libertarian Karen Bedonie

Bedonie, a member of the Navajo Nation who lives in McKinley County, initially announced her candidacy for governor as a Republican, only to later seek the Libertarian nomination instead.

Her only rival is write-in candidate Ginger Grider, who said Bedonie was “not libertarian at all”.

The former Republican’s views on several important issues match those of Republicans. This includes approving the completion of the border wall and strengthening law enforcement in the region.

“As a Native American,” Bedonie says on her campaign website, “I believe in a very respectful boundary that will create a safe and well-organized process for everyone involved.”

Algernon D’Ammassa can be reached at 575-541-5451, or @AlgernonWrites on Twitter.

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