August 30, 2018

Candidate Q&A: Michelle Lujan Grisham, candidate for governor

Editor’s note: This week, NM Political Report will publish Q&As with candidates for U.S. House, U.S. Senate and governor about their policy platforms regarding a range of topics, including abortion, contraception, LGBTQ issues and domestic violence.

For links to all of our stories, see here

The following is from a Q&A with Michelle Lujan Grisham, the Democratic nominee for governor.

NMPR: If elected, how will your beliefs about the separation between religion and government guide your administration?

Michelle Lujan Grisham: … While the Constitution is pretty clear about religious freedom, there is a clear and distinct separation. I’ll give you a quick example. When I was [Bernalillo] County Commissioner, we were having the law enforcement cadet graduation, which is a mandatory effort … and those graduations were held at Legacy Church without having any regard for all of the individuals’ religious protections, and no separation between county government and that particular church. I fought against that. We got that reversed, and it was actually one of those areas that can become very controversial and contentious, because we don’t do a good job as elected officials really making the case for two things: there is a separation, we will uphold it, it will be mandated, and that will be the professionalized location of government.

That doesn’t mean we don’t have certain [government] contracts—if they’re evidence-based—with religious non-profit organizations who can do incredible work, including the work that they often do in education, literacy, in some of our jails and prisons, and some of the work that they do for homeless populations. But I see those as very different things.

NMPR: Is healthcare a human right? Why or why not?

Michelle Lujan Grisham: Yes. Without healthcare, a basic human need, there is no way you can be guaranteed any quality of life. Making it an environment where we are denying access and we’re rationing care—we do that in public and in private systems—we actually cost the nation and the state more money, by denying access, than getting it done in the front-end.

As a sister who saw my sibling die of cancer, and watching my parents make really tough decisions—about food on the table, mortgages and paying for my sister’s healthcare—I know unequivocally what it does to a family. We have to stop destroying our families. It’s a human right.

Howie Morales: Having a background working in healthcare, I see that unfortunately when people aren’t given the opportunity to get the care that they need, that it just turns into situations where it’s so costly, because the issue they started off with and are needing help, that it actually [results in] further complications…. If we can be as preventative as possible, it’s going to be absolutely key to make sure that it is a right of every person, not something that’s a force to those who can are going to pay those visits and those that are not able to simply are denied that access.

NMPR: New Mexico law since 1968 dictates that abortion is a 4th-degree felony, with the exception of pregnancy that threatens the life of the pregnant person or that resulted from incest or rape. If elected, would you support state legislation to decriminalize abortion?

Michelle Lujan Grisham: Before I was elected, I supported legislation that would decriminalize that. Certainly the Senator can speak for himself, but I know that he’s on the record in the same vein. We were also incredibly disappointed that we couldn’t get the contraception bill—which is a separate issue, except that it deals with preventing unwanted pregnancies, preventing pregnancy, family planning, and making sure we have those prevention practices completely available. And contraception should be covered by private insurance carriers.

NMPR: What would your administration do, if anything, to ensure contraception is easily accessible and affordable?

Michelle Lujan Grisham: When I was [New Mexico’s] Secretary of Health, we put through K-12, age-appropriate, comprehensive sex education, which included access to contraceptives in school-based health centers. I want to do all of the above, and I want to do what states around us have done, including the Colorado Family Planning Initiative, which began to implement access for long-acting contraceptive support. This has shown dramatic decreases—because you don’t have to do routine access and have gaps—in teen pregnancy in particular, which is an area New Mexico must do much better in. So that’s an area both Senator Morales and I would undertake and make available in New Mexico.

Senator Morales: I am an educator, and in communities that don’t provide contraception or have access to that, the rates show there was actually an increase in adverse effects. We want to make sure that there’s ability for individuals to have access to those services.

Some of the nation’s most strident activists opposed to abortion have made New Mexico their “mission field,” including as part of the so-called “Red Rose Rescue” movement to block patient access to abortion providers by way of criminal trespass. What is your perspective regarding such actions?

Michelle Lujan Grisham: We are going to make sure that we are standing tall against those actions. While I certainly defend an individual’s First Amendment rights, I want to be very careful that those don’t become violent, unfair [or] discriminatory, and we certainly aren’t going to be interfering with an academic institution’s right to ensure abortion access remains available to New Mexico women. I stood along and fought with Respect ABQ, and we won. I made sure in Congress that we fought back against the sort of negative, narrow, harassing effort which is intended to eliminate a woman’s right to reproductive health and abortion care services. … We would fight against those by making sure we’re increasing awareness, access, and the facts about women’s health and abortion services.

NMPR: What are your priorities when it comes to addressing the needs and concerns of New Mexico’s LGBTQ residents, including those in rural and tribal communities?

Michelle Lujan Grisham: While New Mexico has a long way to go—there’s not a single state in the nation that has completely eliminated or eradicated discrimination, whether it’s sexual orientation or minority status issues—we’ll do everything in our power to eliminate that. Now, New Mexico has done some good work. Early in my career, we were the first state in the country to acknowledge same-sex partners in healthcare decision-making. We instituted that in our own advanced directives, and broke from the uniform laws that the feds were pushing out. This was back in the ‘90s, but now we want to make sure that diversity exists in decision-making at the highest levels. That includes cabinet representation. We want to make sure that in our Medicaid contracts, we are very clear about appropriate healthcare services and access in rural areas. We do that by making sure that the contracts and efforts we have in community health centers include the same language. And in workplace efforts.

These are very important issues that distinguish my campaign with Howie Morales from my opponents. We are very clear that we have to stand up to discrimination, and to do everything we can, then, upstream. We have to do much more to prevent bullying in the schools and making sure that, like Casa Q, we’re looking at housing and appropriate support for one of the most at-risk populations, which is our transgender youth. We have to do much more. The state and [the] Children, Youth and Families [Department], that department in particular, has a role here to make sure we’re protecting our young people and we’re advancing the rights of everyone, including the LGBTQ community.

NMPR: What is your stance regarding proposals to enact state work requirements for public assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)?

Michelle Lujan Grisham: As you might know, I’m going to be one of the

conferees in the Farm Bill, as soon as I go back to D.C. I’m really proud that I’ve been selected to do that, in large part that’s because I’ve been fighting against work requirements that are intended not to provide work training and support. We know that a good, productive economy with meaningful wages supports everyone, and that it’s the way forward for moving out of poverty. But if you put in work requirements for things like SNAP—the vast majority of those benefits go to these … populations: children, seniors, veterans and active military. We pay our active, enlisted men and women wages so low they’re having to get food benefits in order to make ends meet. …

These work requirements are arbitrary, capricious and burdensome. Not even Republican governors around the country want them. They are just intended to deny access. I opposed that. Now, job training, investment, partnering and making sure we don’t have a cliff effect—all of those are the kind of things that grow people into meaningful careers and jobs but don’t rip the rug out from underneath them. I want to make sure the stability for our families stays.

NMPR: Would you support measures to expand New Mexico’s sex/health education standards to include age-appropriate instruction aimed at combating sexual abuse and fostering healthy relationships?

Michelle Lujan Grisham: Absolutely. … I did that when the bulk of our funds at the time were coming from the federal government, during the [George W.] Bush administration, which wanted abstinence-only. The Trump administration is moving again in that direction. I fought the Bush administration, I won, we used every single federal dollar for age-appropriate, comprehensive sex ed, kindergarten through high school, and I intend to win it again, and direct all of our funds to evidence-based approaches.

NMPR: What is your agenda for helping New Mexico families combat our high prevalence of substance abuse disorders?

Michelle Lujan Grisham: There’s low-hanging fruit here. Maybe we ought to have meaningful behavioral health services. That starts with not cancelling 100 percent of those contracts, and then bringing in one or two providers from out-of-state with zero relationships. When you’ve got someone with a significant mental health or mental illness issue, who has co-occurring disorders and is self-medicating with either alcohol or drugs, the notion that you would take away a meaningful relationship with a provider they know and trust, was the worst possible thing that we could do. It increased suicide, incarceration, homelessness, all of it.

We have a really robust plan for dealing with opioid addiction, including using the medical cannabis program and an evidence-based approach for both prevention and treatment. I think there’s so much more we can be doing. We’re going to take an all-of-the-above approach in this administration.

NMPR: What are your top priorities for improving safety and support services for survivors of sex offenses? For survivors of domestic violence?

Michelle Lujan Grisham: We’re going to start by doing a couple of things. We’re going to not be competing, and we’re going to make sure that we’re leveraging every dollar so that rape testing kits are actually getting done. That is outrageous; we can’t prevent a secondary or repeat offense. It’s so unfair to so many women and victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

We’re going to make sure in our responsible gun reform legislation that we focus on making sure that offenders of domestic violence do not have access to a firearm. This increases exponentially the safety of women. And we’re going to continue to do the kind of education that helps women protect themselves and minimizes these issues on the front-end.

I mean, the fact that we have any [rape kit test] backlogs … is absolutely outrageous. That’s something that has to be addressed immediately, along with … more shelters, more interventions, less poverty. We have to lower the risks. And we have to make sure every single one of our Cabinet departments that deal with these issues are all working together. That’s one of the reasons I want to have a Children’s Cabinet, because it looks at the whole family unit and at minimizing these threats, for children and adults.

NMPR: Is there anything you wish I’d asked about issues that affect New Mexico women and families?

Michelle Lujan Grisham: I’ve got a record of being on the side of the issues that I’m talking about now. It’s not just part of a campaign effort and education on the campaign. I’ve seen them work, I know the evidence, I’ve seen improvements in the quality of life and how we can protect women and their families. The notion that the federal government continues to walk away from that responsible effort, and that the state has all but stooped to the national Republican agenda, is outrageous to me as the mother of two daughters and a three-year-old granddaughter. … We didn’t get to talk about maternity care and access, but I hope you’ll interview me again, because there’s so much that we can talk about—about the roles and strengths of women and families and creating an environment that safeguards our children. We need to do more than just recover from the last eight years. Now we need to lead into the next 50.

Editor’s Note: Republican nominee Steve Pearce’s campaign turned down multiple interview requests, and Republican Lt. Gov candidate Michelle Garcia Holmes did not respond. Democratic nominees Michelle Lujan Grisham and Howie Morales sat together for this interview.

All of this week’s candidate Q&A’s were edited for clarity and length, although we did not edit the meaning of candidates’ answers. We did not include, however, tangents or off-topic issues candidates raised during the course of the conversations. It’s also important to note that the candidate’s answers aren’t annotated and we don’t point out any possible inaccuracies or misstatements.