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State Republican Party Chair Steve Pearce said Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is taking a one-dimensional approach in the way she is dealing with COVID-19, and the New Mexico Legislature and the state Supreme Court are giving her a free hand.
“The governor is worried about the pandemic, which is appropriate, but she is not figuring in any of the other factors,” Pearce said, including the impact of state public health orders on small business, public education and mental health.
“At some point, people have to be able to make a living, pay the rent, feed the family, send their kids to school and deal with the pandemic. We should be doing all those things,” Pearce said. “We can’t shelter down until there’s not one case.”
If he were governor, Pearce said, he would have approached the pandemic similarly to what Gov. Kristi Noem has done in South Dakota. Both are large, “pretty rural” states, Pearce said, but Noem has kept (South Dakota) open.”
Pearce ran unsuccessfully for governor against Lujan Grisham in 2018. He served 14 years in Congress, 2002-08 and 2010-18, representing New Mexico’s Second Congressional District. Pearce also served four years as a New Mexico state representative, 1997-2000, representing Lea County.
The way New Mexico has handled the pandemic has caused an increase in suicides and other behavioral health issues, Pearce said, and public schools have lost track of about 12,000 students.
Pearce said many small businesses closed as a result of state public health orders “will probably never come back,” which he said will cause “economic devastation” in communities around the state. It will also impact the state budget, Pearce said, because “when you spend the money at a large box store, it leaves the state.” The long-term effect is “starving the life blood from New Mexico’s economy,” he said.
Small businesses are “the backbone of the community,” Pearce said. Their owners are community leaders, and losing them will mean the loss of important local activists and decisionmakers.
“You’re just weakening the social fabric of New Mexico for the next generation or two,” Pearce said.
Shutting the state down “until we have no more cases of COVID, it’s misguided,” Pearce said.
“As a policymaker, as a citizen, I’m seeing this one voice.”
“They should be looking at more than spikes” in COVID-19 cases in New Mexico, he said. “Look at mortality.” More than 95 percent of those who contract COVID-19 are surviving, Pearce said. And, if you statistically “remove from the equation” those age 80 and over, “survivability increases pretty dramatically.”
“The legislature is in a very awkward position,” he said. Both houses are controlled by Democrats, and they “have to know their bills won’t be signed” by the governor, also a Democrat, if they speak out against her.
“That’s not the way our system is supposed to work,” Pearce said.
Pearce said he understands legislators’ reluctance “to be talking against your leader.” But, he said, “people are struggling. They are suffering to the breaking point.”
It’s “a very one-dimensional look at solutions that ignore “the voices of business … of people who need a job … of parents, of students. A lot of voices out there are very frustrated that they don’t get listened to,” Pearce said.
The state Republican Party “has been kind of a solitary voice for the people who are saying ‘We’ve got to have an economy,’” Pearce said. People have to “live and deal with the virus at the same time.”
Earlier this month, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled, “in a very political decision,” Pearce said, that the governor has the authority “to impose civil administrative penalties to enforce public health emergency orders restricting business operations.”
“The court wrote a new law,” Pearce said, which should lead to a “deep discussion of the function of the court.” The ruling “rubber stamped whatever (the governor) wanted to do.”
“Do we want her to have this unmitigated power?” he asked.
Pearce also criticized Lujan Grisham for her participation in President-elect Joe Biden’s transition to the White House.
“She should be here taking care of her job instead of being in Washington and leading a transition team … and applying for a job” in the Biden administration, he said.