Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham refused Republican state senators’ calls to fully reopen the economy Tuesday, blasting their demands as “reckless” and “anti-scientific bluster.”
Thirteen of New Mexico’s 16 Republican state senators sent a letter to the governor Monday urging her to completely lift all public health orders by Wednesday morning.
They argued the impact of the novel coronavirus has not “risen to the levels initially thought by many experts.”
Lujan Grisham lambasted the senators’ demands as an “utter failure and unflinching surrender to the virus ravaging our communities” and rejected the notion the current U.S. COVID-19 death toll of approximately 90,000 people could be conceived of as a “mild or moderate outcome.”
In New Mexico, the Governor’s Office reported Tuesday that 276 New Mexicans had died from the respiratory illness.
“Your reckless demand for a full-scale ‘re-opening,’ ” the governor wrote, “serves only to inflame misinformed public opinion, which is to risk further illness and likely death, death that will be lonely and all the more tragic because it was and is within our power to prevent.”
Republican leaders and legislators since April have accused the governor of overreaching in her public health measures, charging she has unnecessarily hurt local businesses and the economy through overly strict restrictions.
Last week, Lujan Grisham announced new measures allowing retailers and houses of worship in most parts of the state to start operating at 25 percent capacity.
GOP senators said that wasn’t enough and contended the limited opening — combined with a massive budget shortfall — would have “a disastrous effect on the New Mexico economy.”
“Common sense would dictate a rational, measured response to what we now know about the spread of this virus and the data available to us,” the senators wrote.
Three Republican senators who did not sign the letter are from Albuquerque: Minority Whip William Payne, Sen. Candace Gould and Sen. Sander Rue.
Payne said he didn’t sign onto the letter because he believed the governor’s measures to partially reopen the economy were reasonable, given the continuing risk of spreading the virus.
“It just didn’t seem to be prudent,” he said about signing the letter. “Right now, this thing is still pretty problematic.”
Reached by telephone for comment, Rue asked that questions be emailed to him and then did not respond to an email. Gould did not return a call Tuesday.
In her response, Lujan Grisham criticized the senators for not citing health experts or scientists in their letter and charged “no public health expert or epidemiologist could or would or does support” the policy the Republican lawmakers advocated.
She also chided the senators for ignoring that the “strong steps” her administration has taken during the outbreak have led to what she called New Mexico’s “relative success in combating the virus.”
The governor said the Senate Republicans have not publicly supported any of her public health measures, advocated for federal support for small businesses or supported the federal disbursement of relief funds.
In addition to sharply criticizing the governor for not taking more steps to open the economy, House GOP legislators have asked U.S. Attorney General William Barr to look into a possible violation of civil rights due to the state’s public health orders.
An April 29 letter sent to Barr by state House Republican Leader Jim Townsend suggested Lujan Grisham is one of “numerous governors” who are making decisions with what he called “almost dictatorial powers by intimidating people to stay at home.”
State health officials said last week that while New Mexico’s COVID-19 crisis is far from conquered, the overall transmission rate has been kept low enough to prevent infected patients from overwhelming the medical system.
Still, Lujan Grisham has reiterated the importance of wearing face coverings to curb the spread of the virus, issuing an order last week that mandated everyone wear a mask while in public.