Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s first stop July 28 was the tiny town of Hurley in the far southwestern corner of New Mexico.
There, she announced $25 million in state funding to expand and improve U.S. 180 from Silver City to Deming.
Lujan Grisham then hit the road to Silver City about 15 miles away. Joined again by her running mate in the November general election, Lt. Gov. Howie Morales, the pair broke ground on the Bear Canyon Dam rehabilitation project. According to her office, the governor is supporting the project through $10 million in state funding.
The governor passed through Hurley again for her next stop: Deming, where she announced $2.1 million in funding for a new emergency operations center in Luna County.
The back-to-back announcements, which generated positive press for Lujan Grisham in the Deming Headlight, are part of the governor’s summerlong “infrastructure tour.”
The tour also comes as she runs for reelection in what is believed to be a highly competitive race against Republican Mark Ronchetti — raising criticism the incumbent Democrat is campaigning on the taxpayers’ dime under the guise of conducting official government business.
Brian Sanderoff, a respected pollster and political analyst, said the governor’s infrastructure tour is a mix of business and politicking.
“It’s not unusual for a governor to tout her and the Legislature’s accomplishments at a localized and targeted level,” he said. “But it’s no coincidence that this tour is happening a number of months before a general election.”
While traveling to different parts of the state is not unusual for Lujan Grisham, who, for example, visited communities in Northern New Mexico during the height of the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire — and was in Las Vegas, N.M., on Saturday to announce a wildfire business assistance grant — the pace and promotion of such trips by her office has picked up in recent weeks.
Nora Meyers Sackett, the governor’s press secretary, said Lujan Grisham has traveled throughout New Mexico since “Day One of taking office.”
During her time as governor, Lujan Grisham has visited with community members and announced important projects and investments from her administration “as is her official role as state executive,” Sackett wrote in an email.
“Of course that travel was unfortunately disrupted by the pandemic for some time, limiting the options to safely visit with New Mexico communities,” Sackett wrote.
Sackett didn’t specifically answer whether the governor’s travel was tied to the upcoming election but indicated it isn’t.
“The governor spearheaded an extremely productive legislative session earlier this year, enacting important and transformative investments in New Mexico communities, and it is her role to launch those projects throughout the state, just as she has been doing since she took office,” she wrote.
Enrique Knell, Ronchetti’s campaign spokesman, described the governor’s infrastructure announcements as disingenuous. He pointed to a Legislative Finance Committee report from June that found “a large number of appropriations, combined with supply chain disruptions, rising construction costs and labor issues associated with the pandemic, are contributing to high outstanding balances across thousands of active capital projects” in the state.
“In the coming year, balances are likely to grow and bottlenecks to further tighten as $2.2 billion in appropriations to over 1,400 additional state and local projects come online,” the report stated.
While the state appropriates money for projects, “no one from the [Lujan Grisham] administration is making sure the funding gets spent to actually help people and help communities with failing infrastructure,” Knell said in a statement.
“No one should trust this governor to fix our communities’ infrastructure needs because she’s ignored the problem every year except her election year — where she’s doing photo ops while $2 billion sits unspent,” Knell said, adding Ronchetti’s economic recovery plan calls for identifying failing infrastructure systems statewide and moving existing state government positions from several agencies into one unit to drive completion of projects.
In a news release issued Thursday, the governor’s campaign touted some of Lujan Grisham’s recent funding announcements, including $5.7 million for a new public safety complex in Sandoval County.
“On the road: Governor Lujan Grisham underscores her commitment to public safety during law enforcement funding announcements, National Night Out,” the news release stated.
Kendall Witmer, the governor’s campaign spokeswoman, said in a statement the governor is focused on giving New Mexicans and their communities, large and small, the resources they need. She suggested the governor keeps campaigning and serving as the state’s chief executive separate, noting Lujan Grisham has attended or hosted 25 campaign events since the June 7 primary.
“Delivering for local communities across New Mexico is the driving force behind everything Gov. Lujan Grisham has done in her three years as governor,” she said.
“Unlike Mark Ronchetti, who has no relevant business, managerial, policy, budget or public service experience and who spends his time making empty promises that are light on specifics, Gov. Lujan Grisham has a track record of building consensus” and bringing people together, she said.