Lujan Grisham attacks Ronchetti over lack of experience in new TV ad

Jun. 15—The gloves are off.

A week after the primary election, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham unveiled her first two campaign ads of the general election season Tuesday, including one that hits Republican rival Mark Ronchetti over his lack of political experience.

Before the June primary, Lujan Grisham, who ran unopposed, paid for 15-second TV ads that touted her administration's accomplishments. The new ads, which will run concurrently, signal a shift in strategy as she embarks on what promises to be an expensive and hard-fought battle to November.

While one of the ads highlights a scholarship program, the other attacks her Republican opponent, who won the primary against four others in a landslide.

"Do you think a TV weatherman has any idea how to fight crime in New Mexico?" former Bernalillo police Chief Tom Romero says at the start of the 30-second ad.

Romero then says he's been in law enforcement for more than 35 years and has seen Lujan Grisham toughen penalties for criminals and give police the funding they need.

After the 30-day legislative session earlier this year, Lujan Grisham signed a sweeping crime package into law that included recruitment and retention bonuses for police and stiffer penalties for felons who use guns, among other provisions.

Ronchetti and other Republicans have criticized the incumbent Democrat over crime in the state, especially in Albuquerque, where deadly violence is a regular occurrence.

In the ad, Romero says the governor knows the job of fighting crime isn't over but Ronchetti, a former KRQE-TV meteorologist, doesn't have the experience to get it done.

"Now, we have to watch Mark Ronchetti, a TV weatherman, attacking the governor on crime?" Romero asks rhetorically. "Mark Ronchetti only knows which way the wind blows."

Enrique Knell, Ronchetti's campaign spokesman, asserted Lujan Grisham has made it easier to be a criminal and harder to be a police officer in New Mexico.

"As a result, crime's out of control, and people simply do not feel safe," he wrote in an email. "That's what you get with an out-of-touch career politician in charge. Nothing will change until we change leadership."

The other 30-second ad unveiled Tuesday features a Portales woman who became a nurse under the state's Opportunity Scholarship, a taxpayer-funded program that provides free college tuition to New Mexico residents at in-state schools.

Under Lujan Grisham, the state has expanded the scholarship program.

"Governor Lujan Grisham has moved New Mexico forward by making higher education affordable and accessible to all New Mexicans and by championing a smart-on-crime record," Kendall Witmer, a spokeswoman for the governor's reelection campaign, said in a statement.

The Portales woman in the ad, identified only as Carla, says she had promised her parents she'd become a nurse before they died within a year of one other. "The nurses took such compassionate care of them. I wanted to be that for someone else's family," she says. "I couldn't have done it without the governor's Opportunity Scholarship. Nursing school was completely free. I'm so grateful. She helped me keep my promise to my parents."

Knell said Lujan Grisham is being dishonest in the ad.

"Paying for everyone's college courses — whether they get a degree or not — is not 'free,' "

Knell said. "In fact, it's quite expensive, and it means that hardworking waitresses, for example, will be forced to pay the tuition of a 60-something-year-old to take classes in art history."

Knell said Ronchetti believes the state should strengthen the Lottery Scholarship instead.

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.