Lu­jan Gr­isham’s stake in Delta re­mains a tar­get

Pri­mary chal­lengers called out her ties to com­pany; Pearce keeps up at­tacks

Santa Fe New Mexican - - FRONT PAGE - By Tripp Stel­nicki tstel­nicki@sfnewmex­i­

If op­po­nents of Michelle Lu­jan Gr­isham have iden­ti­fied a po­ten­tial weak­ness in the ar­mor of the front-run­ning Demo­cratic gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date, con­sis­tently aim­ing email blasts and neg­a­tive ad­ver­tise­ments at a seem­ingly juicy tar­get, it’s come in the form of three words: Delta Con­sult­ing Group.

That was true in May. It’s still true in Oc­to­ber.

State Repub­li­cans and the cam­paign of Steve Pearce, the GOP can­di­date for gov­er­nor, have sought to trim Pearce’s polling deficit by paint­ing Lu­jan Gr­isham as “cor­rupt” for her role in own­ing a com­pany that helps man­age a health in­surance pro­gram.

Lu­jan Gr­isham has dis­missed the al­le­ga­tions out of hand. Her cam­paign has vig­or­ously dis­puted the char­ac­ter­i­za­tion and sug­gested Pearce’s camp has grown des­per­ate in the home stretch, in­flat­ing an ar­gu­ment that orig­i­nated with her erst­while ri­vals in the Demo­cratic pri­mary race.

But the line of at­tack, likely to make up a sig­nif­i­cant part of Pearce’s clos­ing ar­gu­ment in the gu­ber­na­to­rial con­test, puts one part of Lu­jan Gr­isham’s ré­sumé un­der the gen­eral elec­tion mi­cro-

scope: Delta, a firm she co-founded in 2008 and left in mid-2017 six months af­ter she launched her bid to suc­ceed term-lim­ited Gov. Su­sana Martinez.

Delta, be­gin­ning in 2009, has helped to run the New Mex­ico Med­i­cal In­surance Pool, which pro­vides health in­surance cov­er­age to state res­i­dents who can­not buy in­surance else­where.

Pearce and other crit­ics have gen­er­ally al­leged Delta’s work with the pool stems from po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence — us­ing florid lan­guage to paint the pro­gram as ev­i­dence of “cor­rupt busi­ness prac­tices,” and Lu­jan Gr­isham as hav­ing em­ployed “shady self-deal­ing” to make “mil­lions of dol­lars over­charg­ing sick New Mex­i­cans.”

In turn, Lu­jan Gr­isham and oth­ers in­volved in the pro­gram have re­but­ted those claims as in­vented and grossly ex­ag­ger­ated, de­scrib­ing a much more pro­saic sit­u­a­tion in which Delta pro­vides of­fice man­age­ment and lead­er­ship ser­vices to an in­surance pro­gram that con­tin­ues to fill a role for those whose needs are not ad­dressed by the cur­rent health care frame­work.

In re­sponse to one par­tic­u­larly Delta-heavy at­tack, Lu­jan Gr­isham’s cam­paign man­ager, Do­minic Ga­bello, called the claims “hate­ful, dis­gust­ing” and said it was “in­ex­pli­ca­ble [that the ad] be al­lowed to reach New Mex­ico vot­ers with its lies about Michelle’s record of help­ing sick New Mex­i­cans like cancer pa­tients, he­mo­phil­iacs, AIDS pa­tients and those with end­stage re­nal dis­ease get ac­cess to health care.”

Whether the neg­a­tive claims will res­onate with the elec­torate or wash away like so much cam­paign mud re­mains to be seen. In ei­ther case, the Delta beach ball likely will be bat­ted back and forth over the fi­nal weeks as the gu­ber­na­to­rial hope­fuls square off in two more tele­vised de­bates and can­vass the state hunt­ing votes.

The high-risk pool first came un­der scru­tiny — in an in­di­vid­ual po­lit­i­cal con­text — in late May when the na­tional out­let Politico pub­lished a story high­light­ing that Lu­jan Gr­isham had earned in­come from Delta’s role with the pool de­spite many other states clos­ing down their pools with the ad­vent of the Af­ford­able Care Act, or “Oba­macare,” which en­sured cov­er­age for pa­tients with pre-ex­ist­ing con­di­tions.

Lu­jan Gr­isham at the time was poised to win the Demo­cratic gu­ber­na­to­rial pri­mary race. Her ri­vals in that race, par­tic­u­larly busi­ness­man Jeff Apo­daca, seized on the re­port as a po­lit­i­cal cud­gel, ar­gu­ing Lu­jan Gr­isham was at

Michelle Lu­jan Gr­isham

Steve Pearce

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