Monday, June 14

Ronchetti throws himself into highs, lows of politics | Elections

A few days ago, Mark Ronchetti woke up, walked outside his north-side Albuquerque home and was shocked how chilly it was.

“It was a cold front that came through and I had no clue it was coming,” he said with a chuckle.

It was certainly unusual for a career meteorologist to forget about the weather — especially considering Ronchetti was one of New Mexico’s best-known television weathermen.

It’s also rare for a meteorologist to run for the U.S. Senate. Ronchetti says he hasn’t thought much about his old job since he began an intense bid as Republican candidate for the seat being vacated by Sen. Tom Udall.

“I haven’t had time to miss it, to be honest with you,” Ronchetti, who was formerly chief meteorologist for KRQE-TV, said in an interview. “It’s funny, I don’t look at the forecast day to day right now.”

This year, Ronchetti, 46, has been in the political headlines, not giving the weather report, as he campaigns for the Senate opening against Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján and Libertarian Bob Walsh.

In recent weeks, he’s sparred with Luján over everything from climate change to health care to the coronavirus pandemic. On Monday, he’ll have a chance to voice his views live during the KOB-TV/Santa Fe New Mexican debate.

But the shift to politics doesn’t mean the weather isn’t still a big part of Ronchetti’s persona. The former television personality’s widespread name recognition likely has been a factor in polls that show a relatively close race, even though Ronchetti is a political newcomer facing  a six-time U.S. congressman from Northern New Mexico.

Highs, lows and precipitation forecasts have been an integral part of Ronchetti’s existence for more than 20 years.

It started by chance. Back in the late ’90s, when Ronchetti was a young news reporter at Channel 7, the news director asked him if he could start doing the weather report on weekend mornings.

“I started doing it and I loved it,” he said. “I thought it was great.”

Ronchetti had taken science courses as part of his undergraduate studies but didn’t have a degree in meteorology. He asked his news director if the channel would pay for him to get that degree and the answer was yes.

What attracted Ronchetti to the job, he said, was explaining the why behind the weather.

“If I’m giving you the high, the percentage of precipitation, you can find that anywhere,” he said. “So, what you want to do is give them more information, get some more details, so that when it comes time to trust someone that they believe in, they turn to you.”

Even if it wasn’t outwardly apparent, the seed of politics had been planted back then as well — even before Ronchetti’s name became synonymous with the weather.

He grew up in Vermont in an Italian family, where political debate was common around the dinner table.

“It was one of these Italian-Catholic families where everything ends up in a melee,” he said. “We all had similar views on things, but yet we would always find things to disagree about on politics. So I grew up valuing the political process.”

While that piqued his interest in the political process at a young age, Ronchetti didn’t think he would get into politics himself. Yet about a decade after having moved to New Mexico in 1998, he said he became frustrated over issues he believed the state’s elected officials weren’t solving.

In the coming years, he thought about running for different public offices but never got serious about it.

Then in March 2019, Udall announced he would not seek another term after nearly 30 years as a major player in New Mexico politics.

“When Sen. Udall announced that he was retiring, I kind of went, ‘Hmmm,’ ” he said.

In January, he announced he was leaving his CBS affiliate after 13 years in order to run for the Senate, calling himself a “pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment conservative Republican that believes in low taxes.” In June, he won the Republican primary. 

One reason Ronchetti decided to run was motivated by his daughters, Ava and Ella. Too many kids were leaving New Mexico because the schools and job opportunities weren’t good enough, he said.

He also had direct experience with something he wanted to change about his city — the time in 2012 when his family survived a home invasion in Albuquerque. The meteorologist was due to go on the 10 o’clock news in about 15 minutes when he got a text from his wife. She and their daughters were hiding in a closet upstairs as someone had broken into the house.

“I immediately called Krysty, my wife, and she answered the phone terrified and crying, saying, ‘There’s someone in the house,’ ” he said. “ ‘I’m upstairs with the girls and I’ve got a gun pointed at the door and if someone comes through that door, I’m going to pull the trigger.’ ”

He took off for home, finding the police had arrived and his family was safe.

“Too many other people’s stories end completely differently in this state,” the candidate said. “For too long, crime has been accepted as a way of life in New Mexico, and I just don’t believe it should be.”

Crime has been an issue Ronchetti has highlighted during his campaign, saying he favors President Donald Trump’s deployment of federal law enforcement to the streets of Albuquerque.

“We need federal law enforcement help to keep our streets safe, as violent crime has skyrocketed in too many places,” he said. “I’m proud to be endorsed by the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, and I will defend law enforcement and oppose efforts to defund the police.”

Still, the candidate has made it a point to stress he’s a political outsider.

“I’m not a politician and will bring a fresh perspective built on New Mexico values,” he said.

On a personal level, Ronchetti said he is religious and prays every day. He believes that “God is being pushed more and more out of our lives,” and that people are experiencing “more and more tension” these days that “could be remedied by more faith.”

“It’s the centerpiece of my whole life,” he said.

Another place the candidate finds solace is in the mountains — in particular, in Angel Fire and Taos. Ronchetti grew up skiing and also climbs mountains, hikes and runs. He and his family now have a second home in Angel Fire.

“We try to get up there all the time, as much as we can, just because it’s such a beautiful part of the state,” he said.

In fact, Ronchetti starred in a reality TV show called Mark vs The Mountain about his attempt “to build the highest-elevation house in New Mexico,” near the summit of Angel Fire Resort.

His favorite hike? Agua Fria Peak at Angel Fire.

Favorite ski run? A classic: Al’s Run at Taos Ski Valley.

“There’s some great terrain there that I always enjoy,” he said.

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