Our view: The governor’s race heats up | Editorials

The contest to become governor of New Mexico is shaping up, with the latest addition Congressman Steve Pearce of Hobbs. To date, he is the only Republican in the race to succeed current Gov. Susana Martinez.

The competition likely will have its low points — politics is a contact sport, after all — but we are encouraged that candidates to date seem to be more worried about presenting their best selves than tearing down opponents. On the Democratic side, there are businessman Jeff Apodaca, State Sen. Joseph Cervantes, advocate Peter DeBenedittis and U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

The seat is seen as a possible pickup for Democrats. The Republican president is enmeshed in ever-widening scandals, and Martinez has become unpopular, with her approval ratings dipping below 50 percent in a number of polls. Voters might decide they want a change in parties at the top.

Pearce, 69, is no pushover. He is a tough campaigner and a hardcore conservative. He is no Republican In Name Only. Of course, the congressman will have a lot of explaining to do — his support for the GOP health care plan, for example, is contrary to the interest of many New Mexicans. They will want answers.

At the same time, Pearce seems to understand that a governor must serve all New Mexicans — not just those from his or her political party. That would be progress from the current state of governance in New Mexico.

Whoever takes over in 2018, New Mexico needs a new way of doing business. The governor must work with the Legislature, and lawmakers must look for ways to compromise with the executive branch. New ideas are a must, with less reliance on tired slogans of getting rid of regulations and making New Mexico “business friendly.” Watch not just the candidates as the campaign moves forward, but look at the people with whom they associate. We need a governor less worried about politics and more about policy, someone who wants smart business leaders, intellectuals, artists and others to chime in on the best ways to move New Mexico forward.

Pearce is right to say that New Mexico is “stuck in a ditch.” We tread — or lose — water while the states around us do better economically. The jobless rate is among the highest in the country, and the state’s finances remain perilously close to dun territory. A lot remains for the next governor to tackle.

But New Mexico will not improve education, build a better economy or improve the quality of life until the state’s leaders figure out how to alleviate poverty. Whoever is elected must at least make an attempt to attack the root cause of what ails us, rather than simply trying to alleviate symptoms. Otherwise, the status quo will not budge.

To that end, we hope to see all the candidates wage a vigorous, principled campaign. Talk about issues, with focus on solutions and not slogans. New Mexico needs fresh approaches to entrenched challenges, and we’re pleased to see candidates working on presenting their ideas well before the election gets hopping. Right now, before the election season truly begins in 2018, much is going on.

Apodaca is beginning his “APO Tour” to talk about what he calls his big ideas to turn New Mexico around, starting in Ruidoso on July 16. Cervantes is promising to invest his own money in the race while presenting solutions that will help keep young people in the state. Little has been heard yet from DeBenedittis, the least known of the candidates; we do hope he stays in the race long enough to talk about his ideas for treating alcohol and substance abuse — his contribution could be presenting solutions to some of the state’s long-standing problems to a wider audience. The acknowledged front-runner, Lujan Grisham, has been quietly meeting with potential voters, as well as gathering big-name endorsements and contributions. Lots of activity behind the scenes, in other words.

And, on the GOP side, Pearce stands alone. Other high-profile candidates appear headed for different races. Lt. Gov. John Sanchez reportedly is considering a run for U.S. Senate, while Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn might run for Pearce’s seat in Congress or even re-election, rather than governor. Pearce is such a big name in the GOP that his entry might have cleared the field. For now, that is.

Campaign seasons are long and much can change between now and Election Day. With the announcement that Pearce is in the race, at least voters know they can look forward to a spirited and hard-fought battle to replace Martinez. And that, when all is said and done, can only be good for New Mexicans.