ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) — Crime and crime fighting are two of the major topics weighing on the minds of New Mexico voters. Addressing those topics in a recent ad, the former San Miguel County Sheriff highlights public safety funding measures Democratic gubernatorial candidate Michelle Lujan Grisham has played a role in.
So what is Lujan Grisham’s record on supporting public safety? KRQE News 13 is looking into the gubernatorial candidates’ political advertisements in the run-up to Election Day to help you get the full story. Here’s the details behind Lujan Grisham’s latest ad.
A role in funding
As Governor, Lujan Grisham has executive power over the state’s budget, including the State Police. While legislators are responsible for ultimately passing the budget, Lujan Grisham makes recommendations and stamps her approval on statewide funding by signing lawmakers’ final bill into law. So, by necessity of the office, the Governor has had a role in funding public safety.
Lujan Grisham’s recent ad highlights some of this legislative budget work through the voice of Chris Najar, a long-time public servant in New Mexico. After introducing himself, Najar claims “the Governor got over $100 million for more police officers, better training, and equipment.”
That total is made up of several funding packages approved under the Governor’s leadership. It includes more than $50 million for law enforcement under the fiscal year 2023 budget, the creation of a $14 million law enforcement protection fund, and the $21.9 million forensic lab announced during Lujan Grisham’s time in office. Beyond that, the Lujan Grisham campaign is counting nearly $50 million in capital outlay funds going towards public safety.
While some of Lujan Grisham’s legislative actions boosted public safety budgets, a closer look at her recommendation for the statewide budget for fiscal year 2022 seems to show she recommended cutting parts of the budget for the Correction Department’s Community Offender Management Program along with recommending cuts to victim compensation through the state’s Crime Victims Reparation Commission. But, Nora Sackett, the press secretary for the Governor, noted in an email to KRQE News 13 that those apparent cuts are actually due to reorganization of funding within those department. So, for example, while the line-item for victim compensation shows a decrease, the overall reparations commission received a boost compared to the year prior.
In the ad, Najar goes on to say that Lujan Grisham “toughened penalties for violent criminals.” According to a press release from the campaign, that’s referring to a bipartisan crime bill passed earlier this year.
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House Bill 68 was the result of lengthy discussions on how to address crime among lawmakers in the roundhouse. After several rewrites of the bill, lawmakers ultimately approved a version that, among other things, increased the minimum charge for violent felons who possess a gun.
The bill sets out a minimum of six years in prison for serious violent felons who are caught with a firearm. Previously, violent felons in possession of a gun were subject to a basic sentence of three years in prison, according to an analysis by the Legislative Finance Committee. The bill also increases time in prison for all noncapital felony offenses when the offender uses a firearm.
The bill also creates new crimes. It makes it a crime to threaten a judge, to make a threat of a shooting, to operate a chop shop, and a crime to damage property while trying to steal some regulated materials.
Addressing allegations of “defunding” police
Further addressing the issue of police funding toward the end of the ad, Chris Najar states, “the Governor didn’t defund the police. She is doing the exact opposite.” The topic of “defunding the police” has been a key point of contention between Democrats and Republicans through the national 2022 midterm election cycle.
In terms of the Governor’s overall budget recommendation for fiscal year 2023, the numbers indicate an effort to increase public safety funding. Lujan Grisham’s budget recommendation was to give the New Mexico Public Safety Department an increase of over $10 million compared to fiscal year 2022. The final version of the budget passed by the legislature actually surpassed that.
Editor’s Note: KRQE News 13 is fact checking and contextualizing television ads used in the 2022 race for New Mexico’s Governor’s office. Ads reviewed are ads from the candidates, not from political action committees. The review period consists of ads either released, or running between September 5, 2022 and the November election. For more KRQE News 13 Fact Check articles, visit KRQE.com/elections