“I saw this pandemic coming well before January, and we began to lay out a planning strategy, including drive through testing, so we didn’t wait for the feds,” Lujan Grisham told POLITICO on Wednesday before she spoke at the Democratic National Convention. “Not having a federal effort and response and strategy is malpractice.”
Despite its best efforts, New Mexico is still struggling to contain the virus, which swept through the Navajo Nation in the state’s northwestern corner. And shutdowns have devastated the economy of the already struggling state.
Now Lujan Grisham, the country’s first Latina Democrat elected governor who was said to be on the long list to be Joe Biden’s running mate, is tasked with helping the Democratic nominee reach Latino voters, especially in swing states like Arizona and New Mexico. (New Mexico also made history with Lujan Grisham’s predecessor, Susana Martinez, the nation’s first elected Latina governor, a Republican.)
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How did New Mexico contain the Covid outbreak?
One thing we did is declaring it as a real emergency, staying the course and engaging New Mexicans in good public health behavior. Early, we said, it’s got to be a mandatory mask mandates everywhere.
We’ve been in the top states for testing. I personally go after testing, supplies, commodities on the front-end to swabs and then on the back-end, reagents and help stand up every single one of our laboratory instruments, and then dedicated private sector partners and public health personnel to make sure that they could take samples from individuals — all paid for so there is no barrier to getting tested.
We were one of the first states to say asymptomatic individuals need to be tested, so that allowed us to do rapid responses. We go out immediately to a business or an organization that’s got an infection. We clean it up, we work with them, we often close them down. We test everybody so that we can manage a spread, which is how, even when the rest of the bordering states were having the kind community spread that you can’t get ahead of or control, we were able to crush our curve again.
I want to just say, for the record, I despise competing with other states. The notion that a New Mexico family or individual is more important and more valuable to protect then someone in Texas is untenable, which is why not having a federal effort and response and strategy is malpractice.
Do you think schools will be able to reopen this fall?
We think we’re going to be the first state in the nation to be able to show a very limited, hybrid K-5 in-person education approach that really mitigates risk to students and educators and their families. I’m cautiously optimistic that we’re gonna be able to do that effectively because of our Covid success.
What about Indigenous people who live in New Mexico — they have been struggling with some of the highest Covid rates in the country?
Sovereign nations were working with a federal effort not the state effort, because they’re forced to. The whole Navajo Nation is also dealing with Utah and Arizona. Those are very different state strategies. They have no running water, electricity and are in multi-generational households. This explains why they were the most at risk, and they deserved a much better federal response. We’ve been really good partners, and I appreciate their leadership. Sovereign nations in New Mexico have been in basic lockdown in their communities, and it could have been far worse, but I’m upset about every single life lost in this state.
Do you think Biden should be doing more to reach Latino voters?
I’m gonna broaden your question. I hope you don’t mind. Most candidates have not really engaged the growing Hispanic communities and Latino communities across the country. And that requires not just a national effort, but a state by state, community by community effort. We’re seeing the largest population group are young Latino, Hispanic voters and workers. We need to address policies that are very specific to their ability to meet and reach the American dream. Immigration is a very complex complicating factor here. We’ve not been, I don’t think, as a nation, really engaging that.
Each of us, that’s me included, for the Biden campaign, I have to reach beyond my state comfort zone. We’ve got to reach into other states. So I’ve been doing that: Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, California, Nevada, Arizona, Texas. We need to do more of that. While 70-plus days [until the November election] is tricky, it’s doable, and I hope that we don’t lose momentum.
Every American should feel important. But when you’re a community of color that has been left behind by any number of elected leaders, particularly this person, the current person occupying the White House, then I hope that they build in time.
What do you think Biden should do to reach this group with the time he has left in the campaign?
If you get a chance to speak to Joe Biden, you feel like he’s talking to you directly. It’s the first name basis. I have no doubt he wins your vote. We need him to be able to do as much of that in the Covid world as possible. And I certainly know he’s up to the task.
I think he should be right in El Paso talking with you and other elected leaders and that constituent members about what El Pasoins deserve, particularly as an immigration city, about what policies and strategies need to be undertaken as a priority to make a difference in your lives immediately.