ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The governor’s race is getting nasty with back-and-forth TV ads, but on Monday, it was only GOP candidate Mark Ronchetti speaking to business owners at a commercial real estate development association’s gubernatorial candidate forum.

“You get a massive centralized government in Santa Fe that is crushing businesses and opportunity across the state,” he said to the room full of people from the business community.

NAIOP described itself as a non-partisan, pro-business voice for the business community. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham declined to participate in Monday’s forum, which surprised NAIOP leadership.

“I was disappointed. I know the governor. She’s been at NAIOP before, we have a good relationship, and I was excited to hear what she had to say. I was excited to hear what she’s done these last four years, what she plans on doing if re-elected,” said Lance Sigmon, president of NAIOP.

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In a news release, Ronchetti’s team claimed the governor was ‘dodging’ debating him. But, a spokesperson with the governor’s campaign clarified this particular event was a forum, not a debate.

“Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s campaign was working with NAIOP on two dates for the candidate forum, but they ultimately declined the date that the campaign agreed to. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham looks forward to publicly debating Mark Ronchetti in the fall to highlight the clear distinction between her record of delivering progress on the economy, education, and health care with Ronchetti’s inexperience and far-right views. The governor’s record delivering economic growth speaks for itself: just this month, we reached a 14-year low in unemployment and saw record state revenue projections, including a $2.45 billion windfall for the state,” said Delaney Corcoran, spokesperson for New Mexicans for Lujan Grisham.

At the forum, Ronchetti addressed his plans to address crime, like ‘ending catch-and-release’ and creating stricter penalties for repeat offenders. He also criticized judges. “We have judges in this state who will not enforce the law and continually let people out of jail,” said Ronchetti. He also criticized state leadership for investing in fancy space projects over small business owners.

“If it’s cool, we’ll invest in it. If it’s big, we’ll invest in it. If it’s you, 10, 15 people, good luck to you,” he told the crowd. He also shared his plan to curb unemployment and get more New Mexicans back to work which included lowering the 26-week unemployment period to 16 weeks and having stricter requirements for people to apply for jobs while receiving unemployment benefits.

Meanwhile, the governor’s team is touting her recent economic achievements coming out of the pandemic, like the low unemployment rate and record state revenue projections. NAIOP said the last time a candidate declined to participate in the forum was Diane Denish in 2010.