By Andres Torres / NM News Port
With two weeks to go before New Mexico voters choose their next governor, Republican challenger Mark Ronchetti is letting loose some sharp attacks against Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, the incumbent Democrat.
One of Ronchetti’s latest ads is titled “The Truth about MLG.”
This ad focuses on a sexual harassment case filed by former campaign staffer James Hallinan, in which the staffer accuses the governor of pouring water on his crotch and grabbing him there during a meeting.
The 30-second ad features media reports about the harassment claim and explains how Grisham paid more than $150,000 in a settlement to keep the man quiet.
“Wouldn’t this get you fired?” the narrator asks at the end of the ad.
The ad dropped in mid-October, the same day as the second and final debate between Ronchetti and Lujan Grisham.
During the debate Ronchetti did not hesitate to ask Grisham about the sexual harassment claim, accusing Grisham of being hypocritical in how she touts her support of victims of sexual harassment but would pay $150,000 in a nondisclosure agreement settlement to hush up her accuser.
“Governor, I want to ask you about James Hallinan. He was one of your staffers in your last election, and you’re in a meeting with him and you grabbed his crotch and said, ‘is there anything down here?’”
“Governor, you then had him sign a nondisclosure agreement, so he kept his mouth shut.”
“You then, about two months later, signed a law in the state of New Mexico outlawing those agreements and that further allowed people who are victims of these type of events to talk. Why shouldn’t your victim be able to talk?” Ronchetti said.
In turn, Grisham accused Ronchetti of using this as a ploy to attack her character. While not addressing the question directly, Grisham turned her reply into an attack on how Ronchetti is inexperienced.
“Mark, again, you have spent your entire campaign attacking my character and my integrity,” Grisham said.
“They are baseless attacks. You do that, including now, to hide from the fact that you are a TV personality with no experience. You’ve never had an employee, you’ve never run a large organization.”
Gabriel Sanchez, a political science professor at UNM, said late campaign season attacks like this are not uncommon.
“Typically, the candidate who strikes first with personal attacks is running behind in the race,” Sanchez said.
This was not the only attack Ronchetti deployed.
He released another ad targeting Grisham’s so-called “catch-and-release” method of curbing crime and the dangers that come with it.
The ad titled “Monique’s Story” tells the story of Domonique Gonzales and how her boyfriend Christopher Beltran told her he would kill her if released from prison.
Beltran was released, and soon thereafter went to Gonzales’ apartment in Roswell and killed her.
He later pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 20 years, of which 10 to 12 years will be served in prison and the remainder will be on supervised probation.
The ad blames Grisham for allowing Beltran out of prison early, implying Gonzales’ death is on the governor’s hands.
But when Ronchetti brought this up in the debate, Grisham explained how local officials failed to prosecute Beltran correctly.
“The case he talks about, Mr. Beltran, in fact, should have been in jail longer,” Grisham said in the debate.
“But a republican DA and judge failed to prosecute him for felony gun charges, and having a gun is exactly what led him to this tragedy.”
Beltran and 700 inmates were released from prison under an executive order signed by the governor to limit the spread of COVID-19 in prisons.
However, it was after that release that Beltran was thrown back into prison under a parole violation. Only he was released early again, ending with Monique’s death.
Beltran, at first, was going to be charged with a felony gun charge which would have given him a longer sentence and made him ineligible for the early release.
But the charge was dismissed under Dianna Luce, a Republican prosecutor, because it was believed that the gun charge was unethical and would have violated Beltran’s constitutional right to bear arms.
Other Topics in the Debate
He used much of his talking time to explain to New Mexicans how Grisham was doing a lousy job and was leading New Mexico down a bad path.
Grisham repeated and countered by explaining that Ronchetti does not have enough experience to be governor and that he has no real plan for solving our issues.
“These are all desperate efforts to hide the fact that he has no plan; he has no experience. He’s a TV personality”, Grisham repeated.
Ronchetti plans to ban tent cities and said he would support affordable housing and better treatment for mental health disorders and substance abuse.
He made it clear that the homeless who do not want help do not deserve the right to camp in Albuquerque.
“For those who say, yeah, I’m good, I’m going to stay on the street. New Mexico is not your campground and people have to understand that,” Ronchetti said.
Ronchetti also bashed Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller’s support for tents and tent cities and Gov. Grishham’s continued support for Keller.
Gov. Lujan Grisham also said she would target affordable housing, mental health, and substance abuse to reduce homelessness.
She stated that during her current term as governor she raised $25 million to build more than 6000 houses for affordable housing.
And If re-elected, she intended to raise $100 million and will build more than 30,000 affordable homes.
She also targeted former New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez in saying that it was Martinez – “Ronchetti’s mentor” – who illegally eradicated all mental health services in New Mexico, which worsened the homeless population.
Ronchetti sounded another alarm being used by Republicans around the country, that the border is not being secured.
“This Governor. The first thing she did when she came into office four years ago was remove the National Guard from the border. That opened up the free flow of fentanyl into the state of New Mexico, which kills one New Mexican a day here in the state,” Ronchetti said.
He also stated that he wants to eliminate Grisham’s sanctuary state policy.
This policy does not allow local police officers to contact the feds to check the immigration status of people.
Republicans say this policy is designed to protect illegal immigrants, but Democrats say it prevents aggressive attempts at deportation by local law enforcement who have no jurisdiction over immigration.
Ronchetti said that this policy leads to the chaos seen around New Mexico.
He also said he would bring back the National Guard and create a border strike force.
His strike force would be made up of 150 agents from the Department of Public Safety and will target fentanyl and human trafficking across the border.
“His own primary opponent, a former brigadier general of the National Guard, said that his idea was laughable,” Grisham said.
“Because you have to have a mission at the border that is federalized and National Guard members cannot do that,” she said.
Grisham explained that she pulled those National Guard members because they weren’t doing anything on the border.
She said instead she got them involved in drug intelligence, surveillance, and drug enforcement, leading to the largest fentanyl bust in New Mexico’s history.
“A strike force isn’t what we need to stay the course, and by the way, that drug gets mailed in from China as well as at the border,” Grisham said.
Polls show Ronchetti trailing
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham leads the gubernatorial race with 48% of likely voters’ support, according to a poll conducted by Public Policy Polling for NM Political Report, released on Oct. 10.
Republican challenger Mark Ronchetti has 40% of voter support, Libertarian candidate Karen Bedonie has 7% of voter support, and 6% polled as undecided.
Early voting is well underway in New Mexico. Election Day is on Nov. 8.