Leon Nall, who was a school board member in the village of Floyd for 20 years, describes himself as the victim of a political coup.

Nall and his four colleagues on the board were suspended last week by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration.

Board members had voted to make masks and distancing guidelines optional for students in the Floyd Municipal Schools. Their position contradicted Lujan Grisham’s protocol to stop the spread of COVID-19 and its aggressive delta variant.

Ryan Stewart, serving out his final two weeks as secretary of public education, removed the Floyd school board from power. At once, the state rules on COVID-19 precautions were posted in Floyd. Gone were voluntary measures on masks, right along with former board president Nall and the others who tried to enact them.

“I did nothing more than what the people who elected me asked me to do,” Nall said in an interview. “The people who elected me have lost their representation.”

On a broader scale, state Republicans hope the confrontation in Floyd will help them build momentum for the gubernatorial election in 2022.

A speck on most state maps, Floyd is an unlikely place for New Mexico Republicans to turn around a losing streak in statewide elections.

The village west of Portales has a population of 110 and a school district serving 220 kids. Or at least Floyd had that many students before the state suspended its school board.

Nall said some families might opt for home schooling, private schools or even classrooms in Texas. Defections would protest the loss of local control.

Discontent with Lujan Grisham in Floyd and nearby Eastern New Mexico towns might not be much of an opening for Republicans. They already control that region.

The real question is whether any of the six largely unknown Republican candidates for governor can be competitive statewide. Some are trying to raise their profile by protesting the Floyd school board’s ouster.

Lujan Grisham has wide name identification, which Republicans hope is a weakness. Her handling of the coronavirus pandemic was unpopular in many circles and certain regions. Floyd, two hours from Lubbock, Texas, and a world away from Santa Fe, is one of them.

Nall and the state Republican Party hope residents across New Mexico will see Lujan Grisham as autocratic and unfair. That theme probably won’t resonate in the state’s population centers, where Lujan Grisham ran strong in 2018 on her way to a landslide victory.

About the time the Floyd School Board voted to make masks optional, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave different counsel. The federal agency recommended that even fully vaccinated people wear a mask in public indoor settings, based on transmission levels of COVID-19.

Democrats during the last five years have become dominant in New Mexico’s population centers, most notably vote-rich Albuquerque. With Republicans sliding in larger cities, Democrats hold all statewide offices: governor, attorney general, auditor, treasurer, secretary of state and the two U.S. Senate seats.

Worse for Republicans, they lack strong candidates for most state offices.

Another plus for Lujan Grisham is voters know Republicans haven’t always been consistent about local control of public schools.

Nall saw many Republicans at the state level vote to take away his authority on whether Floyd students should be spanked.

Most of the state’s larger school districts had outlawed corporal punishment, but paddling kids was still allowed in Floyd and many other rural school districts until 10 years ago.

Democratic state legislators sponsored a bill to end spanking in public schools. Younger Republican lawmakers tended to side with progressive Democrats on the issue.

The bill squeaked through the Legislature. At the time, New Mexico’s governor was Republican Susana Martinez, who had been a career prosecutor before being elected to the state’s top office. Rural school board members believed Martinez would veto the bill to outlaw paddling of students.

She surprised them. Martinez signed the measure into law. Nall called the decision a setback for schools.

“It was a deterrent. It worked,” he said of paddling students.

Martinez made the right call in ending school spankings. As for local control, she said it had other limits. Her administration removed the entire school board in Questa, citing dysfunction and inefficiency.

Nall says Lujan Grisham’s ouster of the Floyd School Board is different. He hopes to be reinstated by a court.

“I look at it like I’m on sabbatical,” he said.

The governor’s Public Education Department has a different vision. It has filed suit to remove Nall and the others for good.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.

(8) comments

Emily Hartigan

By national comparison, Lujan-Grisham has managed to get a very poor state highly vaccinated. She got a lot of the least likely done.

These folks, G-d love 'em, down in the corner of the state, seem pretty ignorant of what will keep children safe.

She seems to be concentrating on keeping most of our state citizens alive. I'm for that.

Mike Johnson

I see this Op/Ed does a good job of reinforcing stereotypes of rural vs. urban types, with a bit of sanctimonious smugness thrown in for good measure.

Jim Klukkert

Good to see that the intelligent and well informed members of the SFNM Web Community are not "rising to the bait" of less informed n'er do wells who so often dominate these pages in their number of posts.

As if quantity might make up for the lack of quality of thought.

Cleve Spence

Roosevelt County has a vaccinated rate of under 35% and if you teach in Floyd you had better be seen in one of the many local churches on Sunday morning. Floyd 100% trump county. Floyd upports the Big Lie and COVID is a hoax and will magically disappear.

Tom Hyland

Cleve, there are many good reasons why folks are hesitant to receive the vaccines. A couple of good points to consider is most everyone stands a 99.7% and higher chance of surviving this virus, there have been mounting injuries and deaths suffered by the vaccinated, and ALL vaccine manufacturers have been granted total immunity against litigation if their vaccine harms or kills someone. Don't blame the folks of Floyd and surrounding areas if they haven't been eager to roll up their sleeves. Maybe they don't watch a lot of television news which would lead them in harm's way. Here's an interesting article which provides a lucid explanation of why the desperation of government and big pharma for 100% vaccination is attaining such a loud volume lately. https://tinyurl.com/3fam7k94

Tom Hyland

Gov. Michelle has destroyed her popularity all by herself. Strangling the grocery stores' attendance, in the freezing temperatures of November, while old folks wet themselves standing in line.... Michelle treated herself to a jolly good time on the beaches of Hawaii. Visiting shut down jewelry stores and spending lavishly on booze, a la Pelosi, rings of Ms. Antoinette suggesting... "Let them eat cake." Michelle was salivating to be picked as Joe's vice-president but she's too damaged at this point to ever rise above being temporary Governor of this victim-state. These are words of encouragement to the good people of Floyd, to all New Mexicans, and to America as a whole. Stop obeying these political puppets like Michelle who have no understanding of science, health, or the true wellbeing of their constituents. https://www.ericpetersautos.com/2021/08/09/diaper-report-8-9-21/

Tom Hyland

Eric Peters is a Libertarian auto dealer and columnist living in Virginia. His August 3rd update was an even more compelling read than the one I posted above. Check it out. https://www.ericpetersautos.com/2021/08/03/diaper-report-8-3-21/

Richard Reinders

All the school board did is put mask wearing in the hands of the teachers and parents, know one will know what direction they would have chosen and if there would have been no issue.

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