Not being privy to the inner workings of Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, we don’t know how seriously Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is being considered as a potential running mate for the Democratic ticket. She’s reportedly in the top echelon of would-be choices.
For the record, she’s plenty capable, but we hope New Mexico gets to keep her. The state needs her leadership right now through the pandemic, budget crisis, police reform and economic recovery.
However, to give credit where credit is due, Lujan Grisham’s appearance Tuesday night with Chris Hayes on MSNBC shows her appeal. The governor was speaking about the horrific shooting of a protester Monday in Albuquerque.
As the entire world has seen, demonstrators advocating the removal of the Oñate statue had their gathering upended. First, there were members of a so-called citizen militia, heavily armed, on the scene, supposedly to protect public property. Their presence changed the tone of the gathering; people felt threatened from the beginning.
As multiple videos showed, a blue-shirted man assaulted two women, throwing one to the ground. Protesters chased him and one hit the man with a skateboard. The blue-shirted man began shooting and hit one of the protesters, effectively ending the demonstration. Eventually, members of the Albuquerque police force arrived.
That’s a lot to unpack.
Citizens have a First Amendment right to gather and address grievances — although we will argue that attempting to pull down the statue, as demonstrators were doing, goes beyond peaceful protest. The Second Amendment deals with the right to bear arms, including gathering with neighbors to form a militia and patrol, even when no one has requested your presence. Then, there’s responsibility of civic authorities to maintain public safety.
To add context to all of this, there is the concern some in the Albuquerque Police Department are too cozy with the civilian militia members, a suspicion reinforced by scanner traffic that referred to the gun-toting men as “armed friendlies.”
All of that, in one place, with a shooting at the end — the victim was critically injured but is expected to live. Militia members, for the record, say the suspect — Steven Ray Baca — is not associated with their group. Militia members were taken into custody after the shooting and later released. But here’s what was confiscated from five men: 13 weapons and 34 magazines.
And that’s the situation Lujan Grisham went on the air to discuss. Her ability to frame the issue and to think through the state’s responsibility demonstrates her ability to respond in a crisis. A presidential candidate needs a running mate who can make the case in a manner that appeals not just to supporters but those who are on the fence.
First, she promised that during the special session starting Thursday, New Mexico will deal with police reform: “Police reform and racial injustice are going to be topics that we will get through in a couple of days to see if we can’t do better than the militarization of our police and having militia engaged only to provoke violence at peaceful protests.”
She didn’t pull punches about the need to find out whether members of the Albuquerque police and members of the militia are allied. That’s going to be controversial among certain groups, but it’s the right approach.
It is in her discussion of the rights of citizens that Lujan Grisham showed other Democrats how to approach the controversial topic of gun rights: “All our constitutional rights are valid. My constitutional right to be safe in my community needs to be upheld. And we have got to stop this intimidation and stop allowing armed men and women whose only purpose is to create havoc and harm at these gatherings. It’s unacceptable. We have the ability to do something about it right now in this country. And New Mexico intends — and I intend — to do something about it.”
Whatever happens in the special session, investigation into militia groups and potential links to law enforcement will continue after the session. The governor announced Wednesday she is supporting making a police officer’s disciplinary history a matter of public record and wants that debated in the upcoming session, along with a ban on putting suspects in chokehold restraints and requiring officers to wear body cameras.
But there’s another immediate action the Legislature could take: Rescind the state’s open-carry law, among the most permissive in the country. It would no longer be legal to show up with a gun in public, whether at a protest, at a City Council meeting or in the Roundhouse. That would reduce the possibility of violence, something we need to do. When the open-carry law is gone, then move to the state’s concealed-carry statute — that will take leadership and likely should be dealt with in a longer legislative meeting.
To lead the charge in reforming police amid a pandemic and a budget crisis, Michelle Lujan Grisham needs to stay right where she is — as governor of New Mexico. But the appeal is real, no doubt about it.