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Crime concerns take hold of gov’s race

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By Associated Press

SANTA FE — Political attack ads, fliers and recriminations from the Republican candidate for governor are thrusting issues of crime and punishment into the race as voting entered its final two-week stretch on Tuesday.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Steve Pearce’s campaign has launched a lurid attack ad and distributed fliers that accuse his Democratic rival Michelle Lujan Grisham of supporting automatic parole — which she denies.

The TV ad invokes the name and imagery of the “Breaking Bad” television series about a fictional Albuquerque drug chemist and trafficker, flashing images of a local convicted drug dealer posing beside Lujan Grisham in a selfie-style photo of mysterious origin.

Several current and former law enforcement officials on Monday denounced the ads as slanderous and pledged support for Lujan Grisham and her public safety platform. They included former Republican-appointed state police chief Robert Shilling and Republican former District Attorney Diana Martwick.

“When I see the attack ads, when I see the slanderous remarks coming from the Republican Party, it’s hurtful,” said Jeremy Romero, a retired Corrales police officer who was with Shilling and Martwick at the event.

State government analysts have outlined an uptick in crime in New Mexico’s largest metro area of Albuquerque over a recent multiyear period as poverty and other social issues worsened. But more recently, Albuquerque Police Department crime statistics for the first nine months of the year show a 5 percent decrease in reported homicides versus the same 2017 period, with reported robberies and property crimes falling by more than 25 percent.

Both candidates for governor have distanced themselves from the crime-fighting strategies of termed-out Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, a former district attorney who advocated for harsher sentencing requirements and sought reinstatement of the New Mexico’s death penalty, without success. Martinez also has criticized pre-trial detention reforms that nearly eliminate the role of money in the bail process — the consequence of a 2016 referendum approved in a statewide vote.

Pearce has provided a rough outline of his plans to curtail crime, indicating that he would use the bully pulpit of the governor’s office to keep serious crime in check through local law enforcement agencies and at the same time reduce recidivism by connecting former jail inmates with work and housing opportunities.

Lujan Grisham has outlined a lengthy anti-crime strategy that seeks better pay and technology for police, with a focus on perpetrators of repeated violent crimes and deterring auto theft.

Pearce’s new video ad calls Lujan Grisham “dangerous and reckless” for voicing support for state legislation that would have changed parole criteria for criminals sentenced to life in prison for serious crimes but eligible for release after 30 years of incarceration.

Currently, the state parole board considers a list of factors when denying or granting parole, including various circumstances of the crime. The failed 2017 bill would have focused future parole board release decisions on whether inmates are willing or able to become law-abiding citizens and included a requirement for parole boards to justify decisions based on those factors.

The bill won Senate approval with bipartisan support but never reached a House vote.

Lujan Grisham as a U.S. congresswoman would not have been able to vote on the bill but said in response to a questionnaire by advocates for alternatives to incarceration that she would support similar legislation.

Pearce’s ads and fliers have said the bill amounted to “automatic parole” for murderers.

The bill’s author, Democratic state Sen. Bill O’Neill, said Pearce misconstrued the legislation.

“It is not mandatory parole,” said O’Neill, a former executive director of the state’s juvenile parole board.

O’Neill plans to revive the bill in consultation with crime victims.