Michelle’s the one

Lu­jan Gr­isham leads New Mex­ico Democrats to vic­tory on big night

The Taos News - - FRONT PAGE - By Tripp Stel­nicki tstel­nicki@sfnewmex­i­can.com

Plant a blue flag on the Capi­tol’s fourth floor. Al­bu­querque con­gress­woman Michelle Lu­jan Gr­isham will be the next gov­er­nor of New Mex­ico, seiz­ing the of­fice af­ter eight years of Repub­li­can oc­cu­pancy with a re­sound­ing vic­tory Tues­day night (Nov. 6) and vow­ing to lead a trans­for­ma­tional top-down turn­around in a state that showed its de­sire for change with a con­sid­er­able voter turnout.

Rid­ing a wave of Demo­cratic en­thu­si­asm that swept sev­eral Democrats into state­house seats, Lu­jan Gr­isham thumped Repub­li­can con­gress­man Steve Pearce, ac­cord­ing to un­of­fi­cial re­sults from the Sec­re­tary of State’s Of­fice.

Of­fer­ing a largely moder­ate mes­sage of en­hanced in­vest­ment in pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion and an em­pha­sis on clean en­ergy pro­duc­tion, Lu­jan Gr­isham, a 59-year-old Los Alamos na­tive with var­ied ex­pe­ri­ence as a state Cab­i­net sec­re­tary, made good on a nearly two-year cam­paign

to put the top job in Santa Fe back in the hands of the state’s ma­jor­ity party.

The gov­er­nor-elect, emerg­ing in an elec­tric blue suit into a packed ball­room at 10 p.m. to bois­ter­ous ex­tended cheers at Ho­tel Al­bu­querque at Old Town, sol­diered through an elec­tion night speech in which “tech­ni­cal dif­fi­cul­ties” left her with­out her pre­pared ma­te­rial on the teleprompters.

“This is what gov­er­nors do,” she said, laugh­ing. “I’m just gonna speak from the heart. Does that work for ev­ery­one here?”

The buoy­ant crowd of hun­dreds filled the brief mo­ments of dead air with chants of Lu­jan Gr­isham’s ini­tials. What else was there to say? “MLG.”

“Gone are the days where any­one talks about New Mex­ico not be­ing in first place,” Lu­jan Gr­isham said. “Gone!”

When the speech fi­nally ap­peared, 22 min­utes into Lu­jan Gr­isham’s ad-libbed re­marks about the econ­omy and ed­u­ca­tion, she urged the scrolling text on the screen to move faster. “I al­ready did this (part); I did this! I did it from mem­ory be­cause I know what I’m do­ing,” she laughed.

“Let’s get to work,” the gov­er­nor-elect con­cluded, over the open­ing strains of U2’s “Beau­ti­ful Day.”

The sec­ond Latina to be elected gov­er­nor in the U.S., and the first as a Demo­crat, she will en­ter of­fice with both leg­isla­tive cham­bers con­trolled by Democrats, the first time New Mex­ico has had a so-called tri­fecta of one-party con­trol since Barack Obama’s first term as pres­i­dent.

Pearce con­ceded shortly be­fore 9:30 p.m., con­grat­u­lat­ing Lu­jan Gr­isham in a phone call. “We could work to­gether for the fu­ture of the state,” he said, adding the con­gress­woman “ran a very good race.”

Ex­u­ber­ant Democrats framed the Lu­jan Gr­isham vic­tory – and those of many other prom­i­nent Democrats up and down the New Mex­ico bal­lot Tues­day – as a cathar­tic re­sponse to what they de­scribed as the chaotic pres­i­dency of Repub­li­can Don­ald Trump and the gov­er­nor­ship of two-term Repub­li­can Su­sana Martinez, who will leave of­fice with her pop­u­lar­ity di­min­ished.

“Su­sana Martinez was re­ally from Texas,” said Kathy Econ­omy, a for­mer fed­eral em­ployee in Al­bu­querque. “She wasn’t look­ing out for the ben­e­fit of New Mex­ico. Michelle is a New Mex­i­can who un­der­stands how to get New Mex­i­cans up from the third-to-last or last-place or what­ever it is in all the cat­e­gories.”

As of 10:15 p.m., statewide turnout of more than 600,000 was ap­proach­ing 50 per­cent of the to­tal reg­is­tered vot­ers and had sur­passed the vote to­tal in the 2014 and 2010 midterm elec­tions.

Lu­jan Gr­isham was rout­ing Pearce by more than 20 per­cent in Ber­nalillo County, the state’s most pop­u­lous county and her home turf as a three-term con­gress­woman, un­of­fi­cial re­sults showed. In heav­ily Demo­cratic Santa Fe County, Lu­jan Gr­isham was lap­ping Pearce by a 4-to-1 ra­tio. In Taos County, an­other Demo­cratic strong­hold, 81 per­cent of vot­ers who cast bal­lots chose Lu­jan Gr­isham.

An un­prece­dented boom in the state’s south­east­ern oil patch, and thus greater lee­way in the state bud­get, could make for Lu­jan Gr­isham’s first test as gov­er­nor, forc­ing her to dig in with leg­is­la­tors to strike a bal­ance be­tween new spend­ing and stash­ing away the fos­sil fuel rev­enue.

Amid ever-greater anx­i­ety over the state’s re­liance on oil and gas, the Demo­crat struck a moder­ate pose in her cam­paign by voic­ing sup­port for the state’s work­horse in­dus­try while also propos­ing meth­ane mit­i­ga­tion rules and com­mit­ting to clean en­ergy bench­marks, a boon to ad­vo­cates who ar­gue the state should lead on ini­tia­tives to counter global cli­mate change.

Lu­jan Gr­isham has vowed to sig­nif­i­cantly in­crease the state’s min­i­mum wage and ul­ti­mately in­dex it to in­fla­tion, part of her vi­sion of a New Mex­ico that can mea­sure up to re­gional ri­vals like Colorado and Ari­zona with their com­par­a­tively more ro­bust economies.

Un­der Lu­jan Gr­isham, New Mex­ico could be­come the next U.S. state to le­gal­ize recre­ational mar­i­juana. She has said she will sign into a law a “bal­anced, re­spon­si­ble” ap­proach to le­gal­iza­tion, call­ing on the Leg­is­la­ture to send her a bill that in­cludes work­place and road­way reg­u­la­tions and child­proof­ing pro­tec­tions for edi­ble prod­ucts.

Whether leg­is­la­tors, even with Demo­cratic ma­jori­ties in both cham­bers, can unify be­hind a le­gal­iza­tion plan re­mains to be seen.

The gov­er­nor-elect has ar­gued ve­he­mently the state is in po­si­tion to de­liver a “moon­shot” on ed­u­ca­tion, as­sert­ing she will push for greater in­vest­ment from the state’s $17 bil­lion Land Grant Per­ma­nent Fund.

Such a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment, which would re­quire voter ap­proval, has been stonewalled in re­cent leg­isla­tive ses­sions. Lu­jan Gr­isham’s vic­tory likely fore­shad­ows a pro­longed show­down with the pow­er­ful state Sen. John Arthur Smith, a con­ser­va­tive Demo­crat who chairs the Se­nate Fi­nance Com­mit­tee.

On the cam­paign trail, she also pro­posed pulling from the state’s other multi­bil­lion-dol­lar en­dow­ment, the Sev­er­ance Tax Per­ma­nent Fund, to fund ap­pren­tice­ships.

Her win bodes well for the state’s ma­jor­ity party as the 2020 U.S. Cen­sus ap­proaches. If siz­able Demo­cratic ma­jori­ties hold in both the state House and Se­nate, it would be the first time since 1980 that one party in New Mex­ico con­trolled both cham­bers and the gov­er­nor’s of­fice dur­ing a cen­sus and all-im­por­tant re­dis­trict­ing process.

“Our unity can over­come any chal­lenge,” Lu­jan Gr­isham said. “Our hard work can build a move­ment to change peo­ple’s lives for the bet­ter.”

The state’s first open gu­ber­na­to­rial cam­paign since 2010 was marked by nasty turns down the stretch. Pearce broad­cast an ad­ver­tise­ment sav­aging a man dy­ing of can­cer be­cause he ap­peared in a com­mer­cial prais­ing Lu­jan Gr­isham; the man died only weeks later.

The state Repub­li­can Party mocked Lu­jan Gr­isham’s makeup in a tele­vised fo­rum, liken­ing her ap­pear­ance to Richard Nixon’s in­fa­mously sweaty tele­vised de­bate per­for­mance in 1960. Lu­jan Gr­isham, in turn, tarred Pearce as a liar, ar­gu­ing his con­sis­tent at­tacks about her own­er­ship stake in a health care con­sult­ing firm amounted to base­less per­sonal smears.

For all that, both can­di­dates oc­cu­pied some of the same po­lit­i­cal turf. Lu­jan Gr­isham struck a cen­trist pos­ture from the start, call­ing for rel­a­tively mod­est in­creases in health care and ed­u­ca­tion spend­ing that could pass muster in the Leg­is­la­ture and spurn­ing left­ist en­thu­si­asm on other is­sues.

She said the U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment agency serves a valu­able role in na­tional se­cu­rity, for in­stance, and main­tained the pop­u­lar “Medi­care for All” health care re­form pro­posal is more lib­eral fan­tasy than achiev­able pol­icy.

At­ten­dees at the Demo­cratic elec­tion party said they were ea­ger for Lu­jan Gr­isham to fol­low through on the min­i­mum wage, the en­vi­ron­ment and ed­u­ca­tion.

“We’re all win­ners, in gen­eral, be­cause ev­ery step (Democrats) take, we take it for­ward, the state,” said Anita Rios, an early child­hood ed­u­ca­tor from Sil­ver City.

Lu­jan Gr­isham is sched­uled to be sworn in Jan. 1.

Staff writer Robert Nott con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Luis Sánchez Saturno/The New Mex­i­can

Gov.-elect Michelle Lu­jan Gr­isham shakes hands with sup­port­ers Tues­day af­ter ad­dress­ing the crowd at her vic­tory party at Ho­tel Al­bu­querque at Old Town. “Gone are the days where any­one talks about New Mex­ico not be­ing in first place,” Lu­jan Gr­isham said. “Gone!”

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