SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Candidates for governor of New Mexico drew sharp distinctions Wednesday about approaches to the statewide minimum wage, funding for public education and oil industry regulation — but they acknowledged one similarity: Neither has ever smoked pot.
In a televised debate — the first of the general election campaign allowing direct interaction between candidates — Democratic Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham and Republican Congressman Steve Pearce both denied using marijuana, but clashed on legislation concerning recreational use.
Lujan Grisham reiterated her position of support for legislation authorizing recreational marijuana if it properly addresses workplace intoxication, prevents underage use and ensure adequate supplies for medical cannabis patients.
Pearce said recreational use would not benefit the state, and said he had talked to a parent who fled Colorado because the state's marijuana laws were an obstacle to effective parenting.
New Mexico has the second highest rate of poverty after Mississippi and tied with Louisiana — and both candidates have emphasized their own expertise and prescriptions for reviving the state economy.
Lujan Grisham said she wants to raise the minimum hourly wage from $7.50 to $10 statewide and eventually index it to inflation. Pearce described a "hostile" environment for business in New Mexico and said any increase would hurt small businesses, while Lujan Grisham said Pearce's stance would keep families and women in poverty.
Lujan Grisham, however, named public education reform as her top priority— in the form of increased pay and training for teachers, spending to expand early childhood education and doing away with the current form of "high-stakes" testing of students linked to teacher evaluations.
Pearce generally urged a more cautious approach to budgeting for public education — though acknowledging that more spending is need in the wake of a state district court ruling that found insufficient state spending to provide an adequate education to economically disadvantaged and minority students.
He repeatedly declined to provide an opinion about whether to end "social promotion" by holding back children who can't read at grade level — insisting that nearly all children are capable of reading proficiency with sufficient attention form teachers and parents.
Asked for impressions about Donald Trump, Pearce stressed his willingness to challenge Trump on occasion and generally through private channels, citing two instances.
Pearce, who supported Trump's presidential campaign in New Mexico, said he has opposed Trump's plan to build a bigger wall at the U.S.-Mexico border and a refused to support Trump with an initial bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Pearce eventually voted with the House majority to repeal President Barack Obama's signature health care law. That effort failed to win Senate approval.
Lujan Grisham said the health-care law repeal would have been devastating for New Mexicans. She regularly pillories the Republican president.
Pearce has proposed work requirements for Medicaid recipients to help end cycles of poverty and hopelessness. On Wednesday, he suggested the requirements could be tied to volunteer work by parents in public schools to help young children learn to read.
Questioned about recent attack ads in the campaign, both candidates denounced falsehoods.
Lujan Grisham said she runs a positive campaign and described as "ludicrous" a recent attack ad from the Pearce campaign criticizing her past role in a business that oversees a statewide health insurance pool for the severely ill.
In response, the Lujan Grisham campaign is running a video testimonial from a cancer patient who credits Lujan Grisham with getting him health insurance and saving his family from bankruptcy.
An earlier attack ad from a Democratic-aligned political committee took aim at Pearce's ties to the oil industry. Pearce campaign spokesman Kevin Sheridan says it was taken off the air because of debunked allegations.
At the debate, Pearce acknowledged accepting campaign contributions from oil from natural gas interests — and said Lujan Grisham had too. He accused Lujan Grisham of supporting regulations that "are going to cause the industry to shut down."
Lujan Grisham said she supports an all-of-the-above energy policy that includes greater measures to reduce the release of heat-trapping methane into the atmosphere, and that she opposes drilling near Chaco Culture National Historical Park or Santa Fe.
Gov. Susana Martinez cannot run for a third consecutive terms and will leave office at the end of the year.
The next governor will take office amid a surge in state government income linked to an oil-sector boom in the southeastern corner of the state. The state is expecting an estimated additional $1.2 billion in revenue for the budget year beginning in July 2019.
Neither candidate for governor is running for re-election to Congress.