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New Mexico Governor On DNC, Latinx Voters And The Coronavirus

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Democrats from around the country are making their case to the American people this week. Tomorrow night, a group of high-profile female leaders in the party will take the virtual stage at the Democratic National Convention - among them, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. I spoke to Lujan Grisham earlier today via Skype, and I asked her, as the nation's first Democratic Latina governor, what message does she think the Biden/Harris campaign should be sending to Latino voters?

MICHELLE LUJAN GRISHAM: I really appreciate this question because we've got active voter suppression that's now being led at the federal level in addition to, you know, generations - right? - of efforts to gerrymander and prevent communities of color and Hispanic and Latino communities from voting. So here's what we need. I think that the Biden/Harris campaign and the DNC - and I was pleased yesterday - need to do the following things. You have to remind people what's at stake. They're doing that. But they also have to motivate us about why we can make a difference.

When we talk about racial injustice, we have to make sure that you're talking about all communities of color. You want to talk about racial injustice, talk about - to the Hispanic communities in New Mexico and immigrant communities and Native American communities. So they've got to reach in to those voters and motivate them that this really is the only way we start tackling those as a nation - is if we get Biden and Harris into the White House.

KELLY: It sounds like you think there is a lot of work to be done. Let me put to you a question that I put to Julian Castro last night - former Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro. If I asked you for a letter grade for how outreach to Latino voters has been so far by the Democratic Party, what would you give it?

LUJAN GRISHAM: That's a hard question, and I appreciate it. And Secretary Castro and I talk about this a ton.

KELLY: He also dodged the question, but I'm (laughter)...

LUJAN GRISHAM: (Unintelligible) not dodging it. Look. I think we could do better. So I would give us, you know, a C-plus in COVID, which I think is a strong response. But there's room to be an A-plus. Take this. This makes a difference in my state for sure. You're going to fix the procurement code so that you highlight and make sure that communities of color and Hispanic small-owned businesses are going to get their fair share of federal contracts. That is a game-changer in a state that needs - and frankly, we have a lot of federal dollars flowing through here. But are they getting to women-owned in particular, Hispanic women-owned businesses? No, they're not. And if they're going to dedicate their efforts to doing that across federal government, that can make the difference between real equity in a business. And businesses with that kind of equity could have survived in COVID.

KELLY: Let me follow up on questions about electoral - about election interference - a basic question. Should voters in New Mexico have full confidence that whether they vote in person or by mail in November, their vote will be counted, and the result will be timely and fair?

LUJAN GRISHAM: Yes. I mean, New Mexico frankly has done an outstanding job in voter protection.

KELLY: Is your state set up to handle the expected onslaught of mail-in ballots this year?

LUJAN GRISHAM: We are because we had this - we had a primary that had a thousand percent increase in absentee ballots, so voting by mail. We're announcing today that members of our congressional delegation are personally inspecting post offices. So I think we are one of the most prepared states. But federal interference isn't something to take lightly, which is why we're going to do these independent inspections. We think states who don't do that are putting themselves at great peril.

KELLY: Let me turn to the pandemic. You have won praise for how New Mexico has handled COVID. When you last talked to us on NPR a couple of weeks ago, you said you were on track to get kids back to school after Labor Day. Where does that stand? Are you still on track and are you thinking in-person learning?

LUJAN GRISHAM: We are on track. We have not only flattened the curve again; you know, our cases now the last couple of days have been at a hundred or less. Our positivity rate is 2.5%. It's a considerable effort, and it's because we've got very strict stay-at-home orders still. We have a mandatory mask effort for both individuals and businesses.

So we're going to do in-person learning hybrid just K through 5. And we've been testing that right now with high-risk kids and special needs kids. Their physical therapy and all of their behavioral therapies are usually at a school. So without having the sites open to do that right now, those kids are further disadvantaged. So far so good with a very aggressive testing, very aggressive requirements for PPE, including students must have masks and no congregate settings. That means dining, recess - none of that can occur. Hybrid means half the class sizes, 6 feet at least social distancing. And we have one of the lowest positivity rates in child care centers in the nation. So I...

KELLY: Does it make you nervous, though, watching other states that have - that are trying this and are already having to scale back?

LUJAN GRISHAM: Yes. But they also have much higher positivity rates, and they also don't have an aggressive testing plan, haven't been aggressive testing states and have far too many businesses open. So we think this is going to work. If we didn't and if I didn't have one of the nation's national labs who put together a modeling test, who identified what the risk is for us at a hybrid model, K through 5, we wouldn't do it at all. We've used every scientific resource, which I think is also part of our success because I followed that guidelines - that guidance and set those guidelines.

I believe right now that New Mexico is turning the corner, and our rapid responses and enforcement is beginning to see a decline. And I feel really good about that and our COVID exit strategy. We're now in the yellow nationally, and I expect to be green before kids go back to school.

KELLY: That is Michelle Lujan Grisham, the Democratic governor of New Mexico.

Governor, many thanks.

LUJAN GRISHAM: Thank you very much, Mary Louise. I appreciate you.

(SOUNDBITE OF HNNY'S "KINDNESS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.