Up early, Bedonie pursues a 'clean' campaign

Sep. 28—Editor's Note: The Journal this week is publishing profiles on New Mexico's candidates for governor.

SANTA FE — Karen Bedonie's day often starts about 4 a.m.

By nature, she said, she's an early riser, eager to start work and prepare for a long day of campaigning — making calls to supporters, recording online videos and traveling the state to meet voters over a meal.

It's a strategy Bedonie expects will carry her into the Roundhouse as New Mexico's next governor.

Not that she'll necessarily trust the election results. Bedonie said she would order a forensic audit to confirm the vote totals.

"I need to know I won fair and square," she said in a recent interview.

Bedonie, a Libertarian, is an unusual candidate for governor. Facing off against two well-funded opponents — Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Republican Mark Ronchetti — she says she plans to win the race through face-to-face campaigning, not fancy advertisements.

She has put 180,000 miles on her SUV, she said, to reach every dot on the map. She meets voters at gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants, wherever people want to learn more about her campaign.

"I really spend a lot of time with supporters," Bedonie said. "I don't just kiss babies and run off."

Her two rivals, Bedonie said, fear she will eat into their support and throw the race to the other. But Bedonie believes she will win outright, drawing support across the board from Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians and independents.

She had support from just 5% of likely voters in the Journal Poll conducted a month ago, putting her 35 points behind Ronchetti and 42 behind Lujan Grisham. Bedonie's support was highest — at 14% — among independent, Libertarian and minor party voters.

She hasn't been invited to either of the televised debates planned for the race.

But Bedonie said she is forging meaningful connections with voters.

"This campaign isn't just about becoming famous," Bedonie said. "It's about telling the truth of who you are as a person."

Where she stands

Bedonie, who initially ran as a Republican before switching her registration to Libertarian, said she draws heavy support from conservative, patriotic voters. But she believes her message appeals broadly to New Mexicans.

She switched party affiliation, she said, because she didn't want to be controlled by "party politics" or pressured by party leaders.

Libertarians have major party status in New Mexico, but they haven't won recent statewide or legislative races. In the last two U.S. Senate campaigns, Libertarian Bob Walsh won 3% of the vote in 2020 and Libertarian Gary Johnson won 15% in 2018.

Bedonie didn't respond to a written Journal questionnaire on her issue positions. But in an interview, asked to identify some of the issues important to her, Bedonie said she would:

—Ensure taxpayer funding isn't used to support abortion. She described herself as "100% pro-life" and believes abortion is a form of genocide.

—Eliminate, not just reduce, the state's gross receipts tax.

—Support "medical freedom," citing her own hospitalization for COVID-19 and fight to be treated with Ivermectin, an anti-parasite drug that isn't authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use against COVID-19. Bedonie said she would advocate for "right to try" legislation allowing access to unapproved treatments for cancer and other diseases.

—Defend capitalism and New Mexico's oil and gas industry.

—Pursue a "forensic audit" after every election. Bedonie said she simply doesn't trust the official results under the current system.

(In New Mexico, county clerks now oversee a canvass to double-check vote totals, and there are automatic recounts in close races. A post-election audit by a certified public accountant after every general election includes hand tallies of random precincts to verify the accuracy of the election results.)

Personal touch

Bedonie, 47, is a mother of eight children, each of whom was home-schooled. She's worked as a chef, welder and educator, she said, and she has owned small businesses, the most recent of which is a plumbing company with her husband, Albert.

Bedonie hasn't held an elected public office, ensuring, she said, that she is beholden to no special interest. Two years ago, she ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination in the 3rd Congressional District.

"I'm going in absolutely clean. ... We're going to fix this state without fear," Bedonie said.

She lives in the Mexican Springs area of the Navajo Nation, where she's a tribal member.

Her campaign has faced one ethics complaint, centering on a billboard advertising her along Interstate 40. The sign notes that it's paid for by Private Persons of New Mexico, though no group is registered in the state's campaign finance system under that name, according to the complaint.

Brett Kokinadis, first vice chair of the Republican Party of Santa Fe County, filed the complaint, accusing Bedonie's campaign of illegal coordination with an independent expenditure group and other violations.

Bedonie denies the allegations, saying her campaign had nothing to do with the billboard. The complaint is pending.

Bedonie says she dedicates much of her campaigning to in-person conversations with voters.

A key part of her days on the campaign trail is statewide travel. Despite raising just a fraction of what her rivals for governor have, Bedonie has outspent them on travel, lodging and meals, according to campaign finance reports.

Meeting with people in person, she said, is an authentic, effective way to connect with voters.

Her campaign is built on hard work, starting early in the day, she said, and two of her daughters, both young adults, are critical sources of help.

"It takes a lot of coordination and brain power to run a campaign as good as this," Bedonie said.