Is Ronchetti ready for tough questions?

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On Sunday, Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Ronchetti made me wonder whether he’s truly ready for the tough questioning that comes with running for public office — questioning that only gets tougher if you win a top political office.

His campaign intentionally denied entry to a working journalist, Shaun Griswold of Source New Mexico, from a Carlsbad event in which Florida governor Ron DeSantis appeared for the former TV meteorologist and political newcomer.

It’s not a good look for a candidate who aspires to a job that is rightfully an object of great public interest and scrutiny.

What does his campaign’s decision suggest about Ronchetti should he become governor and how he might handle journalists who have questions that might be dangerous to his political ambitions? 

Would he blacklist them from briefings?

This is a legitimate question. I’ve been blacklisted (which means, not informed of press briefings or given interviews) by both Democratic and Republican governors over the years for writing stories they considered critical. But those governors all waited until after they had won office before doing that to me. 

I’ve never been ejected from an event by a political campaign and I’ve covered gubernatorial campaigns for 20 years. We’re talking about events that help the public decide who they want to elect. They’re key to our democratic system, with the press playing an important role. 

What happened Sunday is disturbing and the public should be concerned. It doesn’t serve New Mexicans well if a candidate for a state’s top elected office is too insecure or unprepared for tough questioning.   

Griswold’s editor at Source New Mexico, Marisa DeMarco, went to Twitter on Sunday evening to decry the campaign’s decision:

“Shaun had secured a normal ticket to the event mid-week. I requested press credentials Friday morning. I heard from the campaign manager last night that he would not issue press credentials because of a critical article I published weeks ago by a freelance reporter.”

“So Shaun was ejected as a member of the media (no press pass) and as a member of the public (despite his ticket) because he works for a news organization that the Ronchetti camp perceives as critical.” 

It appears the campaign also tried to control the press inside the event. Here’s how Las Cruces Sun-News reporter Algernon D’Ammassa described the situation inside the event:

“Credentialed press inside the event were discouraged from speaking with people in attendance or moving about the auditorium ahead of and during the event.”

Enrique Knell, a spokesman for the Ronchetti campaign, told Dan McKay of the Albuquerque Journal that Source New Mexico was denied a credential because they are “a left-wing advocacy group, not a legitimate news organization.”

Our take? Griswold is an award-winning journalist who worked at New Mexico In Depth a few years ago as a Report for America corps member. See a few of his stories for us here and here and here. Shaun isn’t a left-wing activist. He’s a reporter. 

His editor, Marisa DeMarco, has been a well-known journalist in Albuquerque for a couple of decades, with bylines in the Alibi, the Albuquerque Tribune, and then KUNM for many years before helming Source NM, a nonprofit news organization that is part of the national States Newsroom network.

Perhaps Ronchetti’s lack of political experience contributed to his mistake. Scoring a national figure and potential presidential 2024 candidate like DeSantis to stump for his campaign represented a marquee event for the former TV meteorologist and political newcomer eight weeks before early voting starts in New Mexico.

He had a real opportunity to showcase his talents. Instead, here I am warning Mark Ronchetti and his campaign team that they better toughen up if he wants to be governor.

The questions will only get tougher if he’s elected. The public deserves nothing less.

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