New Mexico governor slammed for buying jewelry amid closures

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is facing criticism for a jewelry purchase from a store in Albuquerque after she ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses.

The governor’s office said the transaction was done remotely and didn’t violate the order. But Republicans are calling the behavior hypocritical and dishonorable, saying it exemplifies recent weeks of inequitable treatment of small businesses at a time when the governor was telling people to only go out for essential items.

“This was really disgraceful, especially since so many people have been hurting for so long,” said Steve Pearce, chairman of the state Republican Party.

Many small businesses have been forced to close due to the economic fallout of the pandemic. The state’s unemployment rate has skyrocketed with more than 150,000 claims for jobless benefits.

The state has levied fines against some businesses and set up a hotline for people to report potential violators.

The jewelry purchase was first reported by Albuquerque television station KRQE. It said Lujan Grisham called an employee at Lilly Barrack in April and bought jewelry over the phone. Management said the employee went to the store, got the jewelry and placed it outside the door of the store where someone who knew the governor picked it up.

While curbside delivery wasn’t allowed until earlier this month, the governor’s office claims no rules were broken.

“The store was never ‘opened’ and a good safe process was followed,” spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett said. “An employee of the store left the merchandise outside her home and a personal friend of the governor’s went there to pick it up.”

Lujan Grisham’s office first said it was a campaign staffer, then later said it was the governor’s friend, but wouldn’t release a name.

When asked by The Associated Press about the purchase, Lujan Grisham’s office did not say whether the governor received special treatment. The office said the purchase was made by the governor with her own money and in her capacity as a private citizen.

KRQE reported that other businesses like Mark Diamond’s Jewelers did not interpret the orders the way the governor’s office did.

A manager at Gertrude Zachary told the station no one was allowed in that store and they feared fines. They thought online sales was their only option, but they got zero customers and lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales.

When asked about the two people who got the jewelry for the governor, her office said it was an unusual transaction. “Of course the governor has been telling people to stay home to the greatest extent possible, (it’s) also true she’s been urging New Mexicans to find ways to support local businesses.”

New Mexico has reported an additional 127 coronavirus cases Wednesday, bringing the total to more than 7,250s. McKinley and San Juan counties account for more than half of those infections. More than 200 people remain hospitalized and nearly 330 people have died.

In other coronavirus developments:

— The state auditor’s office is looking into a $1.6 million purchase of masks at a significantly higher cost than the normal list price. The Santa Fe New Mexican says the state Health Department bought the masks from a Chinese company in April.

— The Dona Ana County Commission voted 3-2 on Tuesday to give the Sheriff’s Office authority to enforce a state requirement that people wear face coverings in public. A violation could bring a fine of up to $300, the Las Cruces Sun-News reported.

— The New Mexico Military Institute plans to have cadets return for instruction in the fall but the school’s chief financial officer says it could see a 10% enrollment drop and a $2.2 million reduction in revenue. Col. Judy Scharmer said no tuition increases or employee layoffs are anticipated, the Roswell Daily Record reported.

— The state Human Services Department is granting $1,400 in back pay to an employee after federal investigators found that the agency initially refused to grant the worker paid sick leave to care for her children amid the pandemic.