B01_SFNM_15907c12-b1e2-11ea-bf13-a3f13871673b

Sen. Cliff Pirtle, center, talks with Sen. Gabriel Ramos, D-Silver City, on the Senate floor during the first day of the special session last month. After Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced two weeks ago the state would begin enforcing mask-wearing, the Roswell Republican said right away he wouldn’t comply. ‘I will not be wearing a mask,’ Pirtle wrote on Facebook. ‘Where do I pick up my fine?’

As New Mexico struggles to enforce a face mask requirement during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, some of its elected leaders have been less than ideal role models.

State Sen. Greg Baca did not wear a face covering during the five-day special legislative session last month, and Sen. Cliff Pirtle rarely put one on. Both are Republicans, but even Democratic senators became lax about covering up at times.

Pirtle’s defiance has continued since then. After Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced two weeks ago the state would begin enforcing mask-wearing, the Roswell Republican said right away he wouldn’t comply.

“I will not be wearing a mask,” Pirtle wrote on Facebook. “Where do I pick up my fine?”

The individual challenges to the public health order — particularly from a few legislators — highlight the continuing challenges of enforcing compliance when not everyone in the state agrees with the requirement. They also raise questions about role modeling at a time when the act of wearing a mask is seen by some as the mark of what an individual believes about the pandemic.

The issue drifts through locales and high-profile offices far from the Roundhouse.

Some sheriff’s offices, such as Bernalillo County’s, have said they won’t enforce the order and will instead refer cases to the state police and state Department of Health. The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office has said each deputy may decide whether to issue mask citations or not, but the office hasn’t issued any so far.

These sheriff’s offices are eschewing the order even as Lujan Grisham’s office sent a directive to all local law enforcement agencies instructing them to enforce it. Violations are petty misdemeanors punishable by a fine of up to $100 or imprisonment for a period of up to six months, the directive says.

Whether people in positions of authority obey the mask order can have a significant impact on how the rest of the state responds to the instruction. Though his department hadn’t issued citations as of late last week, Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza said the fact his deputies wear face coverings helps encourage members of the public to do so as well.

“I think when they realize that we’re doing our part to protect the public, we’re setting the example,” Mendoza said.

Conversely, those who don’t wear masks can influence people as well, and that may be the case of some members of the state Senate.

While Lujan Grisham had not yet issued her enforcement order during last month’s legislative session, the Senate Rules Committee met to draft new coronavirus-related procedures that included a requirement that all senators wear a mask.

“The presiding officer shall ensure that each member wear a mask that covers the mouth and nose while on the floor or in committee,” the new rule stated.

Both Baca and Pirtle sit on that committee and participated in the debate preceding the rule change, yet they still didn’t wear masks themselves on the Senate floor.

“I didn’t read it that way,” Baca, R-Belen, said when asked why he didn’t follow the Senate rule.

When read the Senate rule verbatim, Baca said it was the chamber president’s obligation to ensure senators put on the coverings, and the rule didn’t have a real enforcement mechanism.

“I hadn’t been approached by anybody on it at all,” he said. “There was no enforcement mechanism in place at the time, which means it’s a suggestion, not a rule.”



Lt. Gov. Howie Morales, who is president of the Senate and its presiding officer when he’s present in the chamber, said he didn’t speak with Baca about masks during the session.

“We spoke at times but didn’t specifically speak about wearing the mask,” Morales said.

The lieutenant governor said he was “disappointed” in Baca’s response when the senator was asked why he kept his face uncovered.

“I think that’s irresponsible and I thought it was reckless, but that’s something that he’s going to have to explain to the voters of his counties that he serves,” Morales said.

Morales did say he spoke with Pirtle about putting his mask on and repeatedly reminded the entire Senate through his microphone to wear face coverings and maintain social-distancing measures.

It wasn’t just Baca and Pirtle who needed reminders. Other Republican and Democratic senators also had lapses in their mask-wearing and came within 6 feet of one another at times during the session, particularly during long debates on the floor.

Morales also said there ultimately was no enforcement mechanism at the time, and he didn’t want to throw senators out of the session because that would disenfranchise voters from their districts.

“I felt that for the most part the senators did a good job wearing their masks,” Morales said.

Pirtle said Wednesday he has kept his promise not to wear a mask, except when he enters businesses because they can be fined for letting customers enter without face coverings.

He said he disagrees with the order and called his pledge not to follow it an act of “civil disobedience.”

“I think the way it was put out is the wrong way to lead,” Pirtle said. “To dictate to people is wrong, but I think the way it’s been handled is a way that causes resistance.”

For his part, Baca said he doesn’t believe masks are an effective way of stopping the spread of COVID-19, even though U.S. health authorities recommend it.

“I don’t believe in the science behind it, to be honest with you,” he said. “I don’t believe the consensus on the masks is established, and I don’t believe they’re effective.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that “people wear cloth face coverings in public settings when around people outside of their household.”

“Wearing a cloth face covering will help protect people around you, including those at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 and workers who frequently come into close contact with other people,” the CDC says on its website.

As for enforcement, an issue even Lujan Grisham admits is a thorny one for state leaders, the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office originally said it would only encourage people to wear masks and would not issue citations. But Mendoza has since changed his office’s policy.

“We’ll leave the discretion to the deputy on a case-by-case basis,” Mendoza said. “We are asking for voluntary compliance. We have a lot of other priorities in public safety right now.”

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Reporter

Jens Gould covers politics for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He was a correspondent for Bloomberg News in Mexico City, a regular contributor for TIME in California, and produced the video series Bravery Tapes.

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(33) comments

Sabine Strohem

I'd like to see honest and open contact tracing of cases related to the legislative session. Let it be a cautionary tale.

Dag Hammer

Hard to understand the logic of these people who claim "civil disobedience," "personal freedom," and other lofty, but entirely misplaced and false, ideals. Do they also disagree with safety belts, car licensing, drivers' licenses, banning lead paint, fluoridation, the list goes on. Typhoid Mary, at least, was oblivious to her role as a superspreader. These guys are just plain dumb and a threat to those around them.

jeff jones

RESPECT to any lawmaker who flouts this unscientific, abusive and illegal law.

There is zero science behind them except media pr from actors and fake TV ''scientist'' like bill nye...Dr.Yoram Lass - is an Israeli physician,Director General of the Health Ministry. Dean of the Tel Aviv University Medical School''the swine flu in 2009. That was a virus that reached the world from Mexico and until today there is no vaccination against it. But what? At that time there was no Facebook or there maybe was but it was still in its infancy. The coronavirus, in contrast, is a virus with public relations. Whoever thinks that governments end viruses is wrong”..........................tv is powerful on weak minds

Sabine Strohem

Do they not have newspapers where you live? FFS.

Tom Ribe

Go to Home Depot and Lowes where the staff don't wear masks. Go to these stores and get the virus along with your supplies.

Mark Sorenson

Mr. Pirtle, and all other NM no-maskers: Your refusal to wear the mask, in my presence, in the presence of my people, and in the presence of others, I consider to be a direct threat of violence. With each instance, you make a conscious decision to facilitate the spread of a biological weapon. You all should expect a violent response now that we have at this for some time, and now that the contagion is increasing. no maskers should expect to experience direct countermeasures to their threat to others. It's a biological weapon you are wielding plain and simple.

Bryon Grosz

I consider your attempt to force me to wear a mask as a direct threat of violence.

Expect to experience direct countermeasures to this threat.

Angel Ortiz

Seriously? It is this type of ignorance that has our country in this predicament

Try moving to Arizona or Florida . Your threats and fear are useless here.

paul pacheco

3-STOOGES Construction; or in this case, elected members of the NM Legislature. Covid is real of course but masks proven to be effective in preventing Covid? Just as it hasn’t been proven that masks allow users to inhale their own carbon dioxide which is also dangerous; where’s the proof? You have a [million] scientists and doctors out there with a million different opinions! So, who is the general public supposed to believe? I wear one because I do it for your protection! But I don’t use it when I don’t have to. Seriously, it’s my choice!

Tom Ribe

Conservatives always know better than the experts. Their leader Donny Trump knows everything and has led us to an economic disaster caused by his contempt for expertise.

Bryon Grosz

That's because "the experts" are constantly wrong.

They are also completely inconsistent.

Up until a couple months ago, both the CDC and WHO said we should not wear masks. Then they caved to public pressure and changed their position. There was nothing scientific about their decision.

Congregating in large crowds is the worst thing you can do... unless it's a BLM protest in which case there is no problem.

DO NOT TOUCH YOUR FACE. But also we require you to constantly touch your face as put your mask on or take it off.

Vitamin-D deficiency is a major aspect of those that struggle the most with COVID-19. So we require that you stay inside.

Obesity is another aspect that makes a person more vulnerable to COVID-19. So we are closing down gyms.

Yeah, it doesn't take much analysis to realize experts aren't experts, they just play one on TV.

Barbara Cooke

OMG- I’m an a registered nurse and I know MANY who are now DEAD. Seriously, if you truly believe that vitamin D will save you? Well then- I do wish you good luck with that.

Bryon Grosz

To Barbara,

Not being very old with major health issues will save me.

The median age of death is over 80 and they have an average of 2.5 comorbidities.

Outside of that group, this is no different than the flu. Yes, some younger and healthier people will die of this just as some younger and healthier people die of the flu.

Lock down nursing homes, not all of society.

Mike Johnson

The primary role model, who is a brazen hypocrite, is the Guv, who not only allowed the anarchist protests and riots in violation of her own heath orders, but endorsed and congratulated them for breaking it.

Lynn k Allen

If you refuse to wear a mask & comply with scientifically based health recommendations, PLEASE ALSO SIGN THAT YOU WILL NOT USE HEALTHCARE FACILITIES IF YOU GET SICK.

You endanger our hard working HEALTHCARE PEOPLE & SYSTEM..

Don’t use it if you don’t believe in it! You are a vampire to our entire healthcare system.

SAVE OUR HEALTHCARE PEOPLE

& OUR SYSTEM !

Bryon Grosz

How are infections increasing when there is a mask mandate if masks are effective?

No, it's not because SOME people aren't wearing them. You don't need 100% coverage to have a positive effect. IF masks are effected, then 25% of the population wearing them will reduce infections to some degree, 50% wearing them will do more and 100% will do the most.

There are clearly far more people wearing masks after the Governor issued the mandate than before.

So the only explanation for an increase in infections well after the mandate was put in place is that the masks are not effective.

Ramon David

Or more people were congregating in indoor spaces without wearing masks like in restaurants, because we opened up too much

Dottie Butler

Democrats, you hold a majority in New Mexico's legislature. It's time to pass and enforce mask rules on legislators. Tell them the initial fine is at least one thousand dollars for the first offense. fifty thousand dollars for the second offense, two hundred thousand dollars, and expulsion from the legislature for the third offense. You should all be ashamed of yourselves for not wearing masks and should have to pay dearly for not setting the example for everyone. Are you listening, voters?

Dan Chase

Problem is...some of these guys just need a good ole fashion a$$ kicking! They think they are above others including the law. They make it political and are nothing but idiots!

Kathy Cota

These lawmakers, GOP or Dem, are a bunch of loser, pathetic examples of leaders. I would LMAO if they contracted COVID-19 for not wearing a mask.

Orlie Romero

Connie, you as well as many many others have already had it or will get it regardless. Drop the useless mask, go back to living and have fun with RISK as you have done your entire life; driving, flying, visiting hospitals, exercising, going to school with 1000s of sick kids over the course of tour lifetime, nothing has changed other than your perception.

Philip Taccetta

Nothing has changed except for the 135,000 deaths caused by the Coronavirus. Of course the huge upswing of those infected by the virus has nothing to do with states opening their economies and relaxing most restrictions. Maybe you should try some other news sources Orlie!

Bryon Grosz

So do you shut down forever then?

At what point would you expect that opening back up would not increase infections?

And you, and no one else has any idea when or if COVID-19 will go away on it's own or when / if there is a vaccine.

So no, shutting down forever is not an option.

Nancy Murata

Have fun with RISK? Some risks may be fun, as you and I can imagine - contracting a highly contagious virus due to the negligence and lack of social responsibility of others is not in that category!

Bryon Grosz

How are infections increasing when there is a mask mandate if masks are effective?

No, it's not because SOME people aren't wearing them. You don't need 100% coverage to have a positive effect. IF masks are effected, then 25% of the population wearing them will reduce infections to some degree, 50% wearing them will do more and 100% will do the most.

There are clearly far more people wearing masks after the Governor issued the mandate than before.

So the only explanation for an increase in infections well after the mandate was put in place is that the masks are not effective.

John Wilson

Those of us outside this cult of disobedience are baffled. I used to teach at a private school where spoiled and provocatively disobedient children flouted rules because they could. They seemed to feel it was important to show that they were special and nobody could tell them what to do. Perhaps it is because these legislators wish to show membership in the cult of personality with the president at the head. Maybe they fear looking foolish. Perhaps they are really very bad at science. Whatever the reason they put their own importance above the well being of the larger society.

Bryon Grosz

And that is an unAmerican collectivist mindset. 1. That we are children who just need to do as we are told and 2. "put their own importance above the well being of the larger society". Hello communism.

Sabine Strohem

Bryon: I hope you don't procreate.

Amy Earle

It just goes to show state lawmakers are not exempt from stupidity. Over and over again health professionals have explained why masks are necessary to stop virus spread and yet there are people who just can’t be bothered to show any social conscience or concern for others. You’d think lawmakers would have more sense and interest in public health. Obviously they don’t. Shame on them.

Bryon Grosz

How are infections increasing when there is a mask mandate if masks are effective? No, it's not because SOME people aren't wearing them. You don't need 100% coverage to have a positive effect. IF masks are effective, then 25% of the population wearing them will reduce infections to some degree, 50% wearing them will do more and 100% will do the most. There are clearly far more people wearing masks after the Governor issued the mandate than before. So the only explanation for an increase in infections well after the mandate was put in place is that the masks are not effective.

Bryon Grosz

Also, until two months ago both the WHO and CDC told people masks were NOT effective and they shouldn't wear them. It's only until they buckled to societal pressure that they changed their position. There was nothing scientific about it.

Ramon David

Yet those health professionals and the governor in her briefings model the exact opposite of what they should do. They are in the same room with others and talking without a mask on, then they put the mask on after they stop talking. The virus is spread by talking too. Should we do as you say or as you do?

Chris Mechels

I can't find the law concerning the $100 fine. Can someone send a reference??

cmechels@q.com The $5,000 fine language is at NMSA 12-10A-10. There are questions concern that fine also, which the NM Supremes will decide. Also, the Public Hearing procedure is under development, with a 23 July Rules Hearing. It is important, so get involved. http://www.publicnoticeads.com/NM/search/view.asp?T=PN&id=3099/6232020_25991482.htm

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