Home News COVID-19 Situation Rally urges state to ‘open up’ economy

Rally urges state to ‘open up’ economy

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Lisa Dunlap Photo Jeffrey Bolduc joins about 80 other people Saturday afternoon who gathered along North Main Street downtown to protest the state coronavirus restrictions that have required many businesses to close their doors, including the store that Bolduc managed.

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Some have lost their jobs. Others have lost their businesses or are in danger of that possibility.

Some fear the erosion of constitutional rights and individual freedoms. Others see a governor who is being domineering and arbitrary, possibly for political gain.

The reasons varied for the 80 to 100 people who gathered downtown Saturday afternoon to protest the state coronavirus-related orders that limit gatherings including in churches, require many businesses to close their physical locations and employees to stay away from work, and have resulted in closed schools, parks and recreation areas.

What the participants had in common was the belief that the public health and emergency orders issued by New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham are threatening not just individual small businesses but the entire state’s economy, as well as infringing on individual rights without a sound public health rationale.

Public gatherings in opposition to state closure orders or restrictions have been occurring in numerous states and cities in recent days as concerns about the financial and economic consequences of the orders have grown. Lujan Grisham said during a Wednesday press conference that she considers it too early to reopen the economy because of projections about the continued spread of the virus that she fears could overwhelm hospitals and health care workers, as well as mean a significant increase in deaths.

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But a frequent statement by rally participants, including Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh and Chaves County Commissioner T. Calder Ezzell, was “one size does not fit all.”

They both said that the appropriate preventative measures for some areas of the state or country are not what’s necessary for a rural and agricultural-based area such as Chaves County, which had 21 of the state’s 1,798 diagnosed COVID-19 cases, as of press time. No COVID-19 deaths have been reported in the county.

“This is just another example of Santa Fe’s disconnect with southeast New Mexico,” said Ezzell, who gave an example of what he considered to be an unfair closure of a business operating only as a drive-through, even those its products are allowed to sell elsewhere. “I think it is just a knee-jerk reaction by the governor, who is afraid of her own shadow and does not understand that one size does not fit all.”

The event included many different groups, including Concerned Citizens of New Mexico and members of the Republican Women of Chaves County group. But a key organizer, Stacey Wolkwitz, said that the protest wasn’t about any particular group or set of beliefs. She said she was asked by many people, especially small business owners, to organize the rally.

For her own part, she said that she thinks the orders that allow big box stores to sell “non-essential” items but close small businesses that sell the same merchandise make no sense in terms of public safety. “Small businesses can have more control over how many people come through their door than the big box stores can,” she said.

Mayor Kintigh said he and other mayors belonging to a caucus of the New Mexico Municipal League are talking weekly about the situation, and he would like people from the governor’s office to contact him. He personally feels that Chaves County, with 1.2% of the state’s cases, should not have the same restrictions as areas such as McKinley County, which has about 18.5% of the cases.

“The point being, there is a huge disparity. Why impose the same restrictions throughout the state? … We need to start the discussion that we do not have the same problem throughout this state. We need to start having a serious discussion about opening up those areas that have not been as impacted. Another point I want to make is, why essential versus non-essential? Why not low risk versus high risk?”

As an example, he said, an automated car wash seems to him to be low-risk because no person-to-person contact is required. Yet those operations have been closed as non-essential.

Several small business owners were participating, including a prominent local leader who has had to close her physical store.

Molly Boyles, owner of Once Again Consignments and a MainStreet Roswell board member, has operated on North Main Street since 2004 but has closed her store location, laid off one full-time and three part-time workers, and is selling online only at this point. She said she hopes that at some point she might be able to open another brick-and-mortar location, but she doesn’t know at this point if that is possible.

Krisann Robles, owner of Sew Easy Sewing, is still in business. But she says she considers state decisions “arbitrary,” both in the fact that they favor big-box retailers over small businesses and that they treat Chaves County like New York City. She thinks Lujan Grisham is aiming for a higher political profile. Some other participants held similar opinions or said the governor’s actions showed her preference for big government.

Donald and Andrea James have operated the Ancient of Days store at North Main Street and East Second Street for eight years. They said that funding was not available when they applied for federal relief loan programs and they might have to close in a month if the state will not allow them to reopen their store doors.

Jeff Bolduc was the manager of a local tobacco store who is eager to be able to work again. He said the store was operating only as a drive-through after the public health orders were issued. But he said he was forced to close as a non-essential business and doesn’t understand why tobacco products are then still sold by the local stores of large national brands.

“They either should not let anyone sell tobacco,” he said, “or allow our store (to sell the products), which is a lot safer than people going into (a convenience store). … The governor has no right to pick winners and losers in this economy.”

Dr. Susan Neldon, a retired anesthesiologist, has similar views to several others, who talked about their concerns over what this means to personal and constitutional freedoms.

“The governor closed the churches, and I find that illegal by the United States Constitution that prohibits the interference of government with religion,” Neldon said. “Now if the churches want to close because they are concerned about their members, that’s one thing. For the government to do it, that is illegal.”

She added, “The second thing, as a physician, is that our government is blowing the risk of coronavirus out of the waters.”

She said that the incidence of death for coronavirus is less than that for influenza. Influenza is said to result in 12,000 to 61,000 deaths a year in the United States, according to a John Hopkins University website. That same website did say that researchers do not know the mortality rate for COVID-19, but think it could be higher than that of influenza.

Neldon also said that she thought the rally was an important way to voice concerns because she and others are finding it impossible to reach their congressional representatives by phone or email.

A former Dexter mayor who now works for a company that supplies equipment to the dairy industry talked about the devastating effect on area dairies. The closure of schools and restaurants have hit them hard by causing a steep decline in demand, resulting in prices that are about $6 to $7 dollars less per 100 weight than their break-even point, said Harmon “Chip” Clemmons.

Roswell lawyer Kelly Cassels said he showed up because a lot of his clients are small businesses, including oil and gas enterprises, that are finding it difficult to make payroll or stay open.

“I think it is kind of like burning down your field to kill a few weeds, is what our country has done, and I think we need to undo it or at least gradually (reopen),” he said. “I also think that New Mexico is a very big state and to say that we are going to do the exact same thing for Bernalillo or maybe even the reservation as they are doing for southeastern New Mexico is just really a silly thing to say.”

To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.