Amid growing speculation TV weatherman Mark Ronchetti will seek the Republican nomination for governor, attorneys for the Democratic Governors Association have fired a warning shot at his employer.
“Any time spent by Mr. Ronchetti on your station’s airwaves will become subject to the equal opportunity provisions of federal communications law should he decide to run for Governor of New Mexico,” attorneys with the Washington, D.C.-based Elias Law Group recently wrote in a letter to Bill Anderson, KRQE-TV’s president and general manager.
“We expect his opponents will zealously enforce their rights to the equal use of your broadcast facilities,” they wrote.
The equal opportunity provisions would be a factor only if Ronchetti becomes a “legally qualified candidate.” At this point, Ronchetti hasn’t even said whether he’s considering running.
A day before he announced his bid for the U.S. Senate in January 2020, Ronchetti stepped down from his position as KRQE’s chief meteorologist. The married father of two returned to his TV gig at the beginning of the year after he narrowly lost the race to Democrat Ben Ray Luján.
Though Ronchetti hasn’t revealed his intentions, Republican insiders say he’s considering a gubernatorial run.
Ronchetti has statewide name recognition, unlike the seven Republicans who already have announced their intention to seek the nomination, and proved his fundraising prowess when he ran for the Senate. A political science professor at the University of New Mexico said last month Ronchetti would be the front-runner if he threw his name into the ring.
In a statement Thursday, Ronchetti accused Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who chairs the Democratic Governors Association, of utilizing the organization’s lawyers to harass him and his family, which he wrote “has to stop.”
“The Governor’s thinly veiled efforts at intimidation are completely out of line,” he wrote. “I have not commented on political issues or done anything of a political nature since the end of the Senate campaign. No private citizen of this state deserves to have the Governor attack their livelihood.”
Kendall Witmer, a spokeswoman for Lujan Grisham’s campaign, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Ronchetti’s statement.
Ronchetti did not address whether he was considering a gubernatorial run.
The letter to Anderson states that “credible reporting” indicates he will announce his candidacy for governor soon.
“Television personalities like Mr. Ronchetti have delayed a run for office in the past in order to maximize their television exposure and promote themselves to voters for free,” the letter states. “We urge KRQE to take appropriate steps to ensure that this does not happen here.”
Anderson did not return messages seeking comment.
Christina Amestoy, senior communications director for the Democratic Governors Association, declined a telephone interview but provided an emailed statement.
“This letter is simply a request that Mark Ronchetti and his employers respect and follow the law,” she wrote. “As he holds meetings to discuss his possible run for governor, Ronchetti needs to know that he cannot use his very public position to bend the rules to advance his political career. New Mexico voters expect and deserve better.”
Jonathan S. Berkon, one of the attorneys who signed the letter to Ronchetti’s boss, did not return a message seeking comment. The letter states the lawyers “continue to closely monitor the situation” to ensure Federal Communications Commission rules are followed.
The Republican Governors Association, which is working to prevent Lujan Grisham from winning a second four-year term in November 2022, contends the letter to KRQE, the second involving Ronchetti since January, shows the governor is in “deep trouble” with voters.
“Instead of trying to get the local weatherman fired, DGA chair Lujan Grisham should focus her efforts on not getting involved in any more sex scandals that would definitely result in an immediate dismissal from any job,” association spokesman Will Reinert said in a statement, referring to allegations Lujan Grisham grabbed the crotch of a former campaign staffer who has been paid $62,500 so far to settle the salacious claim.
“Lujan Grisham’s candidacy is already doomed, and this latest act is an obvious sign of how vulnerable her allies think she is,” Reinert said.