Republicans push ahead with attempt to impeach governor over Albuquerque gun ban

A pair of Republican lawmakers are pushing ahead with an effort to impeach Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham over a gun ban that has been called unconstitutional and thrust New Mexico into the national debate on gun violence.

The effort, however, faces an uphill battle in the state Legislature, where Democrats control both chambers.

Reps. John Block of Alamogordo and Stefani Lord of Sandia Park this week launched a certificate form for lawmakers to sign calling for an extraordinary session to impeach Lujan Grisham over an executive order prohibiting carrying open or concealed firearms in public in Albuquerque and across Bernalillo County.

The governor ordered the 30-day gun ban, part of an effort to stem gun violence in New Mexico’s most populous city, after the shooting death of an 11-year-old boy — another casualty in a city beset by crime. The ban also triggered widespread criticism of the governor, who said no constitutional right, in her view, is intended to be absolute.

“The U.S. Constitution is absolute and designed to protect the rights of the people against tyrannical decisions like Governor Lujan [Grisham] attempted to do,” Lord, a staunch gun rights advocate, said in a statement.

Rep. John Block, R-Alamogordo, at the Capitol in January during the legislative session.

Block called the governor’s actions “despotic.”

“We must nip this governor’s lawlessness in the bud, which is why we have led the charge since day one to see the governor impeached,” he said in a statement. “We mustn’t fail in this effort, or else every petty tyrant across the land will use Lujan Grisham’s illegal actions as precedent to seize more power by trampling on Americans’ rights.”

The governor’s press secretary, Caroline Sweeney, described the impeachment effort as political theater.

“It is unsurprising but disappointing that Republicans in the state are choosing to use this time to orchestrate a political stunt instead of coming up with solutions to protect all New Mexicans,” Sweeney said in a statement. “With less than 120 days until the start of the [regular 30-day legislative] session, now is the time to focus on drafting comprehensive legislation to stem the epidemic of gun violence in the state.”

Amid public outcry, a series of lawsuits and a federal court order temporarily blocking the enforcement of the order, Lujan Grisham amended it last week. The order now bans carrying firearms in Bernalillo County only in parks and playgrounds.

The impeachment effort is proceeding nonetheless.

“New Mexicans are rightfully angry and confused by the governor’s actions, [and] that is why we are exploring every avenue to ensure American freedoms are never again threatened by a single politician acting unilaterally,” House Minority Leader Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, said in a statement.

House Republicans “are pursuing emergency action in the [state] Supreme Court to ensure such an unlawful attack on the [state] Constitution never happens again,” Lane added. “We will also continue to pursue commonsense anti-crime policies even while progressive Democrats continue to ignore the mounting crime problem.”

Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca, R-Belen, said Senate Republicans were scheduled to meet in caucus Wednesday afternoon to discuss the impeachment push.

“I’m sure there’s going to be opinions both ways on that,” he said. “As far as a caucus position, we don’t have one as of yet. … Everyone may support it. I don’t know.”

Baca said he is inclined to back the effort.

“It’s something that needs to be discussed and addressed, whether the effort is successful or not,” he said. “This constitutional overreach was out of the ordinary, and it was a stretch, I would say, for any elected official to take the public health order she did and use that as a basis to extinguish our constitutional rights in the state.”

Baca acknowledged the impeachment effort faces a tough climb, though.

“We’re almost at one-third minorities in both chambers,” he said.

Three-fifths of the members in each chamber must certify an emergency exists in the affairs of the state for an extraordinary session to occur.

If the threshold is met, the governor is mandated within five days, excluding Sundays, to convene the Legislature in extraordinary session. If the governor fails to do so, the Legislature may convene itself.

Chris Nordstrum, a spokesman for Senate Democrats, wrote in an email “Senate Democratic leadership does not support a special session or an extraordinary session at this time.”

Asked whether the impeachment effort had a chance of garnering the necessary support in both chambers, Block said he and Lord wouldn’t have pursued such proceedings if there weren’t.

“Absolutely, there’s a chance,” he said. “The lawless Governor’s Office and the Democratic Party of New Mexico are freaking out at the possibility Gov. Lujan Grisham will be impeached. Otherwise, they wouldn’t spend so much time attacking me and Rep. Stefani Lord.”

Joanne Vandestreek, senior legislative librarian, said research conducted by a previous librarian did not find any governor in New Mexico who has been impeached or even the introduction of legislation to impeach a governor.

Camille Ward, a spokeswoman for the House Democratic caucus, said calling an extraordinary session in the coming weeks would be a distraction and a waste of taxpayer dollars.

“Right now, House Democrats are focused on developing meaningful community safety solutions for the upcoming 30-day legislative session,” she said. “We invite everyone who wants to make New Mexico safer and reduce gun violence to join these efforts to advance real solutions instead of playing political games.”

Rep. Liz Thomson, D-Albuquerque, called the impeachment effort “unwarranted.”

“I’m not supporting them,” she said.

Thomson, however, said there may be a few Democrats who will.

“I don’t think there’s enough [support] to get them up to 60% by any stretch,” she said.