Home News COVID-19 Situation Nibert, Burt criticize governor on COVID-19 response

Nibert, Burt criticize governor on COVID-19 response

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State Sen. Bill Burt, R-Alamogordo, left, and state Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell at the Elks Lodge in Roswell during a Sept. 16 meeting of the Chaves County Federated Republican Women's Club. The two candidates, who are the only state legislators from Chaves County to have Democratic opponents in the November election, criticized the governor's use of emergency powers in the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Alex Ross Photo)

Two local legislators recently railed against Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham while expressing optimism Republicans can make gains in the state Legislature this November.

State Sen. Bill Burt, R-Alamogordo, and state Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, made their remarks during a Sept. 16 meeting of the Chaves County Federated Republican Women at the Elks Lodge in Roswell.

Nibert, who is seeking his third term representing Chaves and Lincoln counties in New Mexico House District 59, faces Democrat Kimble Lee Kearns of Capitan in the general election. Burt, whose Senate District 33 seat includes portions of Chaves, Lincoln and Otero counties, will face Democrat Denise Lange-Browne of La Luz in the fall.

Addressing the audience, Burt criticized the use of emergency public health orders by Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the growth in state spending over the last two years.

“And that is probably the two biggest problems we have in the state of New Mexico right now: the spending problem with this administration and opening up the economy so we can generate the money,” he said.

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Burt said the governor should lift more of the public health orders because the restrictions are choking off crucial tax revenue to the state. Decisions on how much schools and businesses should reopen, he said, should be decided by local officials.

“Why can’t we make our own decisions in any city or any county in the state of New Mexico about what level we go back to opening the economy?” Burt asked the crowd.

Nibert also criticized the governor, accusing her of going beyond the powers granted to her under state laws by issuing fines against individuals and businesses who do not comply with her public health orders. He said that she has not consulted with the Legislature when it comes to the state’s response to the pandemic.

He also faulted the New Mexico Supreme Court for upholding the governor’s use of emergency powers.

“So what we have is a dictator,” Nibert said. “We have someone making the rules and then enforcing the rules and then thirdly, upholding the rules all in the same office.”

Lujan Grisham’s office has long maintained the public health orders are allowed under state statute and have been effective in saving lives and curbing the spread of the virus.

During the special legislative session in June called by Lujan Grisham to deal with an expected state budget revenue shortfall, Nibert sponsored legislation that if signed into law, would have limited to 30 days any declaration of emergency, or the invocation of powers pursuant to an act in the state’s Emergency Power Code.

Extending an emergency beyond that timeframe would have required approval from the Legislature during either a special or regular legislative session.

The bill was not heard during the special session. Daniel Marzec, a spokesperson for House Democrats, in June said the bill was not allowed to move forward because it was not on the governor’s call and it is the governor who decides the agenda during a special session.

Election

The episode is the latest in two years of frustration Republicans have felt, after Democrats won full control of state government in the 2018 midterm elections.

In addition to the governor’s office, Democrats now hold a 46-24 majority in the New Mexico House of Representatives and a 26-16 majority in the New Mexico Senate.

Nibert said those numbers clearly show Republicans are outmatched in Santa Fe.

“It doesn’t take a second grade math student to figure out who wins the argument. All we can do is make the argument but we know we are going to lose the argument when it comes to the vote,” he said.

Republicans though have expressed hope that come November, the party’s fortunes will change. They point to a record number of Republican candidates being fielded in state legislative races as proof that their chance to gain seats, if not flip control of one or both chambers, is possible.

Burt said he hopes that Republicans can win control of the House and gain three or four seats in the Senate.

“And in that position, we can block just about anything the Democrats would like to do and we might even be able to overturn a governor veto,” he said.

Nibert though said how much influence Republicans wield in the coming legislative session is something that will ultimately be in the hands of the voters.

“It is only through our activities at the ballot box that we will force our state to change,” he said.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or breakingnews@rdrnews.com.

To keep up with coverage of this and other 2020 elections of local and regional interest, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/elections/.