New Mexico governor feeling heat to relax business, stay-at-home restrictions

Border Report

Republican lawmakers, several counties and small-business owners favor phased resumption of economic activity in the state

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (AP file photo)

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — As Texas prepares for a phased reopening of its economy, pressure builds in neighboring New Mexico to follow suit.

On Monday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said many non-essential businesses can reopen on Friday at 25% capacity and by observing social distancing recommendations. He said more restrictions could be relaxed absent unexpected new COVID-19 spikes.

On Tuesday, 24 state lawmakers sent a letter to New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham demanding “justice, fairness and equity” for small businesses in the state that they say are going broke while big-box retailers are open.

“After a month of forced closures throughout the state, we are hearing from a growing number of small business owners who are at their financial breaking point. New Mexico companies are going out of business at a rapid clip,” the legislators said, adding that 80,000 New Mexicans are unemployed.

New Mexico GOP chairman Steve Pearce swiftly echoed those concerns. “Outside states are gobbling up our local dollars while mom and pop businesses remain closed and Main Streets become ghost towns,” Pearce said. “The governor must look at what areas can slowly open, areas where there are few and no cases of COVID-19 to start with.”

Lujan Grisham last week said she would extend New Mexico’s stay-at-home order from May 1 through May 15. The state has recorded 2,974 COVID-19 cases and 110 fatalities, so far. On Tuesday, it reported 153 new cases.

“We are not out of the woods yet,” Lujan Grisham said at a recent online briefing. “Until we have a vaccine, this virus lives amongst us and it’s looking for hosts. So it’s waiting for you to show up at a business or a long-term care facility or emergency room or a grocery store or a neighbor’s house. This is exactly how it creates havoc and harm.”

But elected officials throughout the state are hearing from beleaguered merchants and laid-off workers who want to reopen the state’s economy and are willing to continue observing social distancing recommendations.

“Several people that I have talked to, that have called are saying that business is suffering,” said Doña Ana County Commissioner District 4 Isabella Solis. “Maybe they’ve gotten some money but they’re using loans to continue paying their employees. […] I have to listen to my constituents. I have to advocate for them, that’s why I was elected to office.”

Solis sponsored a resolution urging Lujan Grisham to begin a “data-driven” phased-in reopening of non-essential businesses in the state. The resolution also calls for the resumption of non-essential medical procedures and offers to keep social distancing safeguards at businesses in place. The Doña Ana Board of County Commissioners approved the resolution Tuesday on a 4-1 vote.

Dona Ana County Commissioner District 4 Commissioner Isabella Solis

“I think this was very important. There are small businesses that are on life support right now and they need to reopen,” Solis told Border Report. “It’s kind of unfair that you have Walmart and Albertsons open and making a lot of money while the small businesses are just dying. It’s very important to open responsibly — not the old way — but we need to reopen in a responsible fashion.”

Lujan Grisham’s press secretary said the governor and state officials are evaluating reopening criteria and procedures for New Mexico.

“The public health order remains in effect and must be abided by,” said Press Secretary Nora Meyers Sackett. “The state is immensely grateful to the local community officials and stakeholders from all across New Mexico who recognize the importance of safeguarding public health and upholding the measures we all must undertake to minimize transmission of this virus and ensure New Mexicans are as safe and healthy.”

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