We know plenty about COVID-19 by now, right?
We get the airborne transmission, the sneaky and silent way it slips into people’s bodies and steals their lives. We understand, even if we don’t want to admit that big family dinners and funerals and office parties are open invitations to disaster.
We get the miracle that is the vaccine and anguish about how there isn’t enough yet, because we want and deserve our shot right now, dammit! (Or the flip side: I don’t care how much sense it makes or how many lives I might save including my own, this is America. You can’t make me take a shot, dammit!)
We even get that maybe, maybe, maybe, life in a few months might approach what it was a year ago.
What we don’t know, however, is what COVID-19’s long-term effects will do to New Mexico politics and its most powerful and recognizable politician.
Up to maybe a few weeks ago, I’d have bet the farm that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham was a diminutive colossus, particularly as the 2022 gubernatorial election begins to take form in the distance. Aggressive and tough, yet accessible and sensitive, she’d brought the state through some of its darkest days, particularly in November and December when the specter of “crisis care” — the worst-case scenario for managing ill and dying COVID-19 patients — seemed just moments away.
Two months after those awful moments, Lujan Grisham should feel pretty good. As virus numbers tumble to somewhere between controllable and negligible, she can accurately claim her bare-knuckled efforts saved lives and averted disaster.
And yet, out on the streets, away from the cra-cra nutjobs who commit cyberassault on her Facebook feed, Lujan Grisham’s shine doesn’t seem as bright. Drive down the fast-food and small-business mecca that is Albuquerque’s Menaul Boulevard — a street that adheres to neither red nor blue, but green — and check out the MLG bashing on neon signs that ought to say “2-for-1 burger special.”
Read the letters to the editor. Hear the cries of parents who want their kids in school now.
There’s a different vibe.
It’s human nature to blame somebody for anything from tragedy to inconvenience. More and more, right or wrong, some want to blame the governor.
I have nothing to back this up, nothing, but I suspect Lujan Grisham’s advisers are concerned. New Mexico’s return to hybrid learning, sprung on the public (and the people who work and attend our schools) during her State of the State speech, has the whiff of a kneejerk reaction to troublesome poll numbers.
If those numbers exist, I do not know.
What they say, I do not know.
What I do know is this: A lot of people consider schools the lifeblood of normalcy. And they are loud when things ain’t normal for 11 months and counting.
Through it all, Lujan Grisham has been forced to make herself a target for those who don’t want bad news. She’s had to tell her constituents schools must go remote, restaurants would have to close to indoor dining, businesses would falter and (wait for it) “nothing about the virus is fair.”
Hear that once or twice or 10 times, and you get it. Hear more … and there’s a cost.
Add that to tone-deaf, if not knucklehead, fumbles like the shopping bill in the governor’s discretionary fund, and pretty soon, Republicans finally have a talking point that can divert attention from the fact they’ve done little, if anything, to help in the crisis.
There’s going to be a time, maybe soon, when Lujan Grisham can say New Mexico is through the worst part of COVID-19, and that her policies saved lives. That is not arguable. Sooner or later it will end, and shutdowns limited exposures.
Problem is, she can’t really say how many lives her policies spared, only mourn those who were lost and note this could’ve been so much worse.
Her opponent? In the fall of ’22 and maybe sooner, the Republican candidate will trot out scads of ads featuring bereft business owners and distraught high school linebackers who will say they were hurt by the governor of New Mexico, not COVID-19. If the GOP is smart, it will find someone who appears reasonable, almost centrist, and can feign hearing loss when asked whether he or she had ever heard of Donald Trump or Steve Pearce.
Almost exactly one year ago, Michelle Lujan Grisham concluded a legislative session in which her nonstop drive set the tone, not just at the Roundhouse but for the entire state. The humming motor remains intact, but the cloud of COVID-19 is now the issue of her term — and the next one, if she gets one. Which brings us to the ensuing six to 12 months, and how New Mexicans will frame all that has happened.
Did the governor save us?
Or did the governor hurt us?
November ’22 is getting closer every day.