New Mexico just finished one of its dullest, yet nastiest primary seasons to date. Midterm elections are generally less exciting, and turnout in 2022 was so-so – a paltry 25.5% (2018 turnout was 27.6%).
The two biggest races – the Republican gubernatorial primary and the Democratic race for attorney general – quickly devolved into non-issue slugfests. The GOP governor’s contest became all about sending troops to the border and Trump loyalty.
Here’s where that is problematic. The NM National Guard has no role at the border. In its previous deployment, the men and women of the Guard left their families and jobs to do make-work jobs like hand out blankets and bottled water. Border security is a Federal issue, dear reader, and one that Congress has conveniently ignored for more than five decades. Let’s not waste millions of dollars and yank the Guard away from their regular jobs for a political show.
Where were the GOP candidates on issues of, you know, actual governance? Rebecca Dow has a stellar record in the Legislature on issues that matter to the state: early childhood programs, oversight for CYFD, independent redistricting, support for ranchers and farmers, pro-oil and gas, pro-business…where was that in her campaign ads?
Both the top statewide races were won by the more mediocre candidate who grabbed a compelling narrative more quickly. In the Democratic race for AG, Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez came out quickly with polished ads establishing himself as the experienced prosecutor. Problem is, he may be experienced, but he isn’t very good at it. If you don’t live in Bernalillo County (or with a criminal defense attorney) you wouldn’t know this.
Torrez’ opponent, State Auditor Brian Colón, like Dow, has an impressive record. He has taken on officials in both parties with an unclouded view. He, in other words, has done his job, and well.
Moreover, the Attorney General does a lot more than prosecute criminal cases. The AG is the chief counsel for the state on all legal matters. Water disputes; mineral rights; community land grants; intellectual property matters; environmental protection; the list of legal areas managed by the AG’s office goes on and on. Making it all about crime is disingenuous at best.
But it worked.
Republican gubernatorial nominee Mark Ronchetti and Democratic AG nominee Torrez shouted the loudest and attacked their opponents the most vociferously. Dow and Colón hit back in the same spirit and neither race wound up being about what anyone would actually do if elected. As primaries go, 2022 was a dumpster fire.
I think Ronchetti and Torrez are perfectly nice people and don’t wish ill for the state. But if they are elected, they won’t be excellent leaders.
And more than ever, New Mexico needs excellent leaders. Our current governor is also a perfectly nice person. But she is far more wrapped up in image and the next election than governance and leadership. I predict we will see similar outcomes should Ronchetti or Torrez be elected.
What does that look like? Look back at our last three governors, including our incumbent. Interviews are rare; one-way press conferences are common. Fundraising is constant. Major personnel appointments are rewards to major donors, political loyalists, or both (sorry CYFD, you’ll have to wait until 2026 for real reform). The tenure in office is a personality cult, not a legacy of leadership.
This will not propel our poor and corrupt state forward. It will enrich some political consultants.
In the meantime, some other local trends are interesting to watch. Grant County, the most registered county ever, finished in the middle of the pack with voter turnout, with roughly a third of registered voters casting a ballot. Voter turnout in rural areas was in general higher than in urban areas.
And of course, in Otero County, no one’s vote counts right now. The three-member county commission voted Monday to refuse to certify the election results because they “don’t trust” the Dominion voting machines. They also have voted to require a hand count of all ballots for the general election. The Republican county clerk has pointed out that she cannot do a full hand count by state law.
Wednesday, the state Supreme Court ordered the county commission to certify the election by the end of this week. It remains to be seen whether the commission will comply.
I would note that a hand count would not eliminate the type of fraud most likely to occur in, say, Grant County – chicanery with absentee ballots due to sloppy over-registration. After my May 20 column about Grant County’s swollen voter rolls, a high school friend shared with me that members of her family, including a deceased parent and siblings who moved out of state more than a decade ago, remain on the county voter registration list.
A person in her position obviously has all the information to request absentee ballots on their behalf. And a hand count could just as easily count those fraudulent votes.
We all want better things for New Mexico. I’m afraid 2022 may not be the year for it.