A day after the mother of a teenage murder victim cried at the Capitol as lawmakers approved a bill said to be lenient on criminals, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham embarked on a public relations campaign that shifted the blame for lack of action on her “tough-on-crime” agenda to the Legislature.
Lujan Grisham, a Democrat running for re-election this year, told reporters “it defies explanation” why lawmakers in the Democrat-controlled Legislature have been unable to reach consensus on bills meant to fight crime in New Mexico.
“I don’t understand why they don’t want to tackle it head on, but I’m going to stay the course for as long as it takes because we all have a responsibility to our families and our communities to do everything we can about it,” Lujan Grisham said.
A short time later, her office issued a news release stating the governor, along with Attorney General Hector Balderas and members of her public safety team, had met with the mothers of violent crime victims, including Nicole Chavez, who was in tears at the Capitol a day earlier as the Senate passed a controversial bill on a sentencing option for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder.
“Governor, Attorney General meet with family of crime victims, reiterate commitment to meaningful action,” the news release proclaimed.
“I am deeply troubled and frustrated by the Legislature’s reluctance to take meaningful action — and New Mexicans should be outraged,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement in the news release, which included pictures of the governor sitting across from Chavez and Angel Alire, whose son also was gunned down in Albuquerque.
Lujan Grisham told reporters every New Mexican has the constitutional right to be safe in their community.
“No matter what happens in the legislative session … we’re going to keep finding ways to address the violent crime problem, and I do expect the criminal penalty enhancement to get up there,” she said, referring to a proposal to increase penalties for second-degree murder from 15 years to 18 years.
Lujan Grisham did not specifically address the bill passed Tuesday by the Senate that prohibits life without the possibility of parole as a sentencing option for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder. As part of the ground rules of the interview with the governor, reporters were limited to one question.
Lujan Grisham said she hopes “there’s not just politics as the underpinning” reason her crime bills haven’t gained traction. But she said she would keep “putting pressure” on lawmakers.
“There isn’t a New Mexican that I know that isn’t a victim of some crime,” said Lujan Grisham, adding her grandson was held at gunpoint in an attempted carjacking and her fiancée’s business has been vandalized numerous times.
“I witnessed a potential violent crime myself, as governor, at my daughter’s house,” she said.
“No one in this state can deny that crime is a problem,” she added. “It is a crime all across the country.”
Crime isn’t the only legislative priority where Lujan Grisham has encountered opposition. Some of the governor’s other priorities for the 30-day legislative session have been met with resistance by Democrats and Republicans alike.
But while the governor has suffered setbacks on some of her other priorities, she isn’t ready to throw in the towel with only eight days of the session left.
“I focus on every 24-hour period,” she said. “On one hand, it feels like it’s too short to get a ton of work done, and on the other hand feels like it’s a very long time to get all the things that we believe will make a difference for New Mexicans. But I’m actually very confident that we get a tax package that has the kinds of tax relief that I think are most valuable and important to New Mexicans.”
Lujan Grisham said she feels “very confident” two key tax proposals — a push to eliminate New Mexico’s income tax on Social Security benefits and a reduction of the gross receipts tax — will come together.
Lujan Grisham also said no one should be surprised if legislation dealing with hydrogen production makes its way to her desk, though she acknowledged her initial proposal to turn New Mexico into a hydrogen hub, which she has called her “signature piece of legislation,” had faltered.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t see nods to hydrogen opportunities for businesses in one of the many budget bills that will also make their way upstairs,” she said. “You’ll see some nods, won’t see our exact bill, so I count that as a win.”
Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.