Milan Simonich

Milan Simonich
Celebrity candidates enter the political arena with one guarantee only: They will be ridiculed.
Ronald Reagan was a B-list actor. Football legend Lynn Swann told the masses not to take voting rights for granted, only to be exposed as someone who often didn’t bother casting a ballot. Jesse Ventura made millions in professional wrestling, a business almost as dirty as politics and nearly as theatrical as reality television shows.
Detractors called Ventura a bad role model based on the way he had hyped his matches. “Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat,” Ventura would say. He stole the line not from Donald Trump but from ’50s wrestler Gorgeous George Wagner.
Ventura, a former Navy SEAL and suburban mayor, was charismatic enough as a minor-party candidate to be elected governor of Minnesota in 1998. It ranks as one of the spectacular upsets in American politics.
Former television weatherman Mark Ronchetti is not nearly as famous as Reagan, Swann or Ventura. The Republican nominee for governor of New Mexico, Ronchetti faces criticism similar to what the others received. Enemies call him a performer who’s ignorant of government operations.
Ronchetti has revealed his strategy to counter critics in the homestretch of his race against Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. He will try to turn inexperience into an asset.
What has a seasoned politician brought the state? he asks. “New Mexico is 51st in education, and MLG does not have a plan to turn things around,” Ronchetti wrote in a recent email soliciting donations.
He also points to Lujan Grisham having gone through four education Cabinet secretaries in 3½ years. The first lasted only six months before Lujan Grisham fired her.
Ronchetti’s criticism of the governor’s mismanagement of the state Public Education Department is more than fair. It’s essential. The agency has been unstable.
Whether Ronchetti could do better is another matter. Should he win, he would have to sell whatever ideas he has for school reform to a Democratic state Senate and, in all probability, a Democratic House of Representatives.
New Mexico’s last Republican governor, Susana Martinez, spent eight futile years pushing for mass retention of third graders who fared poorly on standardized reading tests. Democrats in the Legislature balked, saying Martinez’s plan would have eliminated parental involvement in life-changing decisions.
Legislators early in Martinez’s tenure approved her reform plan to grade each school in an A-through-F system. That change was widely criticized for bias and inaccuracies. Lawmakers did away with grades for schools soon after Martinez left office in 2019.
Like Martinez, Ronchetti is hackneyed in his talking points about education and out of touch with the real world. Here’s one example: “Mark believes our schools should be focused on teaching our children to master core subjects, rather than trying to indoctrinate kids in liberal ideology.”
What rot. Teachers aspire to help kids learn, which includes critical thinking skills.
Teachers’ jobs are made harder when kids are chronically absent from school or move so often they gain no traction in any classroom.
Stan Rounds, formerly superintendent of the Las Cruces Public Schools, once explained the difficulties. He had a school, MacArthur Elementary, where most kids were classified as “homeless.” The term meant they did not have a consistent place to live. A child might sleep on a neighbor’s couch one night and in an aunt’s spare room across town the next.
Teachers are too busy with these problems to try brainwashing students in liberalism, as if they’d want to. Ronchetti, of Albuquerque, should know all about transient student populations because of impoverished or drug-addicted parents.
Another of Ronchetti’s talking points states the obvious: “Mark will support policies that attract great minds to work with our children, including transitioning from other occupations into the classroom.”
Every sober adult in the state will say he or she wants excellence in schools. Not all want to pay for it, though. I received complaints from several solid citizens this year after the Legislature and Lujan Grisham raised annual minimum salaries for all teachers by $10,000.
Celebrity candidates have been around as long as movies with sound and the modern Olympic Games. The worst candidate this year is 1982 Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker, who’s running for the U.S. Senate in Georgia. A Republican, bumbling Walker is Trump’s handpicked choice in a state the former president lost in 2020.
Ronchetti is several cuts above Walker, which isn’t hard. Ronchetti also finds himself in one of the more competitive gubernatorial elections in the country, in part because of his television career.
Another factor in his favor is Lujan Grisham’s decline in popularity since her landslide victory of 2018. Ronchetti is the most dangerous opponent she could draw.
Lujan Grisham can’t afford to underestimate Ronchetti. For all his generalities, he’s no Herschel Walker.
Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at or 505-986-3080.
Milan Simonich
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