Republican Party of New Mexico Chairman Steve Pearce on Monday called for a “healthy dose of common sense and uncommon courage” from the governor’s office in keeping the state’s economy afloat while combating the spread of COVID-19.
The Democratic Speaker of the House and governor, meanwhile, said it was not in the best interest of public safety to ease restrictions on businesses.
“Somebody has got to speak up for the small business people of the country,” Pearce said during an online press briefing.
Pearce was joined by Republican leaders as well as a handful of small business owners from around the state. All who spoke, argued that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s statewide public health emergency order is hurting small businesses, while allowing “big box” stores to remain open.
New Mexico House Minority Leader Jim Townsend said the state’s economy is facing an emergency of its own.
“We have two epidemics in New Mexico: the COVID-19 and the financial crisis,” Townsend said.
Small business owners from around the state joined the online meeting and shared their frustration with the governor’s order to close down all businesses that are not deemed essential.
Louie Sanchez, the owner of Calibers shooting range in Albuquerque who recently ended his campaign for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination, said he is going to reopen his business despite the state’s order. Sanchez said his business is essential to military and law enforcement.
“We at Calibers have decided that we are going to open up with social distancing on our range and you know what? We’re going to take this fight back to her because we feel like unless somehow she got a magical power to take the Second Amendment out of our Constitution, that we have the right to open up,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez also said he has been “inundated” with inquiries about gun safety classes, sometimes even by people who previously protested his business.
Tripp Stelnicki, a spokesman for Lujan Grisham, said it’s not as simple as Pearce and the Republican Party are framing it.
“There’s a false choice presented in this rhetoric about the economy,” Stelnicki said. “No state can safely reopen till we have done the work of defeating the virus. It’s that simple.”
Stelnicki said allowing business, especially in rural areas to partially open right now could hurt what progress the state state has made so far and further stress the state’s limited health care resources.
Stelnicki said none of the governor’s orders specifically favor large chain stores over local businesses. He said the state has set up a number of assistance programs for small businesses as well.
“The GOP should, if they are so inclined, find a way to help more of the local businesses they are concerned about get connected to those resources,” Stelnicki said.
Speaker of the House Brian Egolf also said it wasn’t safe to reopen businesses yet.
He said it is “completely unsubstantiated” that it would be safe to reopen some small businesses, and that the decision to maintain the stay-at-home order is based on science.
“We are not willing to play russian roulette with the lives of New Mexicans,” Egolf said.
In his press call, Egolf encouraged small businesses to apply for aid from the Paycheck Protection Program through the federal Small Business Administration, and outlined the increased help through unemployment in the most recent COVID-19 relief bill.
Matthew Reichbach contributed to this story.