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New Mexico governor pins reelection to support for abortion

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham smiles after delivering the State of the State address Jan. 18 in Santa Fe. Grisham is promoting her management of the economy and health care during the COVID-19 pandemic, support for abortion access and expanded social programs, including tuition-free college for New Mexico residents and expanded access to preschool and no-pay child care. (Jim Weber/Santa Fe New Mexican via AP, Pool, File)

SANTA FE – New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham hitched her reelection campaign squarely to support for abortion access in the second head-to-head debate of the campaign season with Republican nominee Mark Ronchetti on Wednesday night.

Lujan Grisham returned repeatedly to her advocacy for legal access to abortion procedures, also touching on her support for age-appropriate sex education linked to lower rates of teen pregnancies.

“I want to make clear what the stakes are in this election,” said Lujan Grisham. “A woman’s equality and right to make deeply personal health care decisions is on the ballot in New Mexico.”

Ronchetti, a former television meteorologist, has voiced support for a ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy with limited exceptions, while advocating for a statewide referendum on whether to impose new restrictions.

In Wednesday's debate he condemned the governor's plans to spend $10 million on a clinic likely to provide abortion services to patients from Texas, where an abortion ban took effect last year.

In 2021, Lujan Grisham helped legislators repeal a dormant 1969 statute that had outlawed most abortion procedures as felonies – effectively ensuring access to abortion in New Mexico after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned guarantees to nationwide access.

Candidates also delved into their approaches to taxes and spending, border security and gun control at the debate from KOAT-TV and the Albuquerque Journal that was punctuated by terse political attacks.

Ronchetti denounced a state government that “has never been bigger and never been richer,” pitching proposals to cut taxes on income and sales with financial incentives for physicians who move to New Mexico and a universal annual payment linked to state government income from oil field production.

Republican Mark Ronchetti addresses the crowd with his wife and two daughters after winning the Republican primary for governor of New Mexico, during an election party in northeast Albuquerque on June 7. Ronchetti is campaigning on a law-and-order platform with proposals for annual tax rebates tied to oil field production and a referendum that could ban abortion with limited exceptions. (Chancey Bush/The Albuquerque Journal via AP, File)

“We don’t even have to cut to help you and your family here,” Ronchetti said.

Lujan Grisham warned that Ronchetti was bound to cut public programs based on Republican ideologies and urged voters to stay the course on public investments in education, health care and policing under her administration.

Ronchetti outlined plans to align New Mexico border security priorities with the Republican governors of Texas and Arizona by deploying hundreds of National Guard soldiers and 150 state police agents to the U.S. border with Mexico to slow the trafficking of people and fentanyl.

Ronchetti also promised to roll back immigration “sanctuary” policies that limit the exchange of information about an individual's immigration status between local law enforcement and U.S. immigration authorities.

Lujan Grisham said New Mexico is better equipped to provide investigative support for intercepting drugs and suggested Ronchetti's plan might draw away state police from crime hot spots in Albuquerque.

Ronchetti said new gun control measures aren’t the best answer to crime, while Lujan Grisham said the state probably needs legislation related to safe storage of firearms and greater accountability for law enforcement agencies that don’t enforce current gun restrictions.

Ronchetti accused the governor of missed opportunities to expand classroom learning time as students lag far behind national averages in reading and math proficiency, noting his proposal to underwrite tutoring in first through third grades. Lujan Grisham said public schools have made strides after she inherited a severely underfunded public education system from a Republican predecessor.

The debate also delved into concerns about the modernization of the electrical grid and responses to climate change and recent runaway wildfires.