Bill McCamley just quit one of the most difficult, demanding and depressing jobs in state government.

He headed the agency that for a year has tried to manage the claims of more than 100,000 unemployed people at a time.

McCamley stuck to canned statements regarding his departure, but he was definitive about one part of his future.

I asked him if he would make another run for Congress.

“No sir,” McCamley wrote in a text message.

What are you running for, if anything?

“Nothing,” McCamley replied.

He probably expected those questions. McCamley, 43, has been running for public offices for more than a third of his life.

At 26, he was elected as a Doña Ana County commissioner. By 29, McCamley was running for Congress in the 2nd District, which sprawls across the southern half of the state. He lost to an oilman in the Democratic primary election.

At 32, McCamley lost again, this time to a Republican for a seat on the state Public Regulation Commission. He rebounded at 34, winning the first of three terms as a state representative.

McCamley had higher ambitions than the Legislature. He gave up his seat to run for state auditor in 2018.

It was the job he coveted. McCamley holds a master’s degree in public policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. The thought of becoming state auditor fit his interests and energized him.

As a legislator, McCamley wouldn’t accept so much as a cup of coffee or lunch from lobbyists. He would talk to any constituent or advocate. But he didn’t want their gifts or the appearance of being unduly influenced.

Being state auditor would have authorized him to double-check the spending practices of other politicians and their governments.

But McCamley lost by a landslide in the Democratic primary. Fortunately for him, he had a politician’s connections.

A fellow Democrat, Michelle Lujan Grisham, was elected governor. She hired McCamley as Cabinet secretary of the Department of Workforce Solutions.

In another era, the agency was called the Labor Department. Somehow, labor became a politically loaded word instead of something to take pride in.

More important than the department’s name are the drawbacks of the system.



Cabinet positions are political appointments. And the jobs often go to politicians instead of proven administrators.

Aside from the prison system or the mammoth state Department of Health, no agency is as difficult to run as Workforce Solutions. Its leader must learn to navigate the Byzantine federal laws the state has to follow in deciding if someone qualifies for unemployment benefits.

Workforce Solutions had 9,600 unemployment claims on March 9, 2020, the beginning stage of the coronavirus pandemic. The number of claims soared to 150,000 in June. It dipped after that, but still remained above 100,000.

Each week I received calls or emails from people who were desperate. Their unemployment benefits had stalled or been denied. They complained about a heartless bureaucracy.

After checking as far as I could on the more outrageous complaints of government inefficiency, I would call McCamley. He always responded, though he said privacy laws prohibited him from discussing the specifics of any case. I would provide him with details anyway, and he would listen.

A drug counselor who no longer could work in a county jail because of COVID-19 had stopped receiving his unemployment checks. He didn’t have a computer, and he couldn’t get anyone from Workforce Solutions on the phone.

McCamley looked into the snag. Soon after, the drug counselor was told he needed to submit another form for his benefits to resume. Someone who’d been worried about surviving got the help he needed.

A retail store worker who’d been grievously injured on the job, then fired, wasn’t receiving unemployment benefits. He couldn’t understand why.

It took a few weeks, but McCamley’s department removed the roadblock. The ousted retail worker began receiving benefits.

In another case, management ordered a worker at a national pizza chain to transfer to another store. The new assignment required many miles of travel, but the worker didn’t have a car or other means of transportation. He was out of work because he couldn’t get to the new restaurant.

The pizza company fought the worker’s claim for unemployment compensation. McCamley ruled for the former employee. He had wanted to work but was thrust into an impossible assignment — during a pandemic, no less.

McCamley and his crew made mistakes, I’m sure. No one — not a CEO or a school principal or a Cabinet secretary — can make thousands of decisions without getting some wrong.

McCamley worried about errors, knowing every decision had human consequences. He also balanced emotion with the law.

Many times people quit jobs to look for something better, then applied for unemployment benefits. They didn’t qualify. McCamley’s agency had to deny money to people who’d made an uninformed decision.

“The job is heartbreaking,” he once told me.

On that day, he had been investigating the unemployment claim of a man living in his truck.

McCamley understands the dignity of work. And he learned that losing elections isn’t the worst setback, not by a long shot.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at

msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.

(14) comments

Mike Johnson

And now he is leaving New Mexico for good and going to Austin.......

Michael Kiley

"Workforce Solutions" is the first thing that has to go. Change the department name from the GOP misnomer Workforce Solutions (Koch ALEC and State Policy Network) back to Department of Labor, as in the equal partner of capital. We workers are producers of the value in our economy (John Locke, Labor Theory of Value, Two Treatises of Government, c. 1670), we are not a “solution” for management. The department is for workers, not for small business owners pained by their self-inflicted (experience-rated) unemployment insurance premiums payments.

And fund a dedicated use of large numbers of unemployed claimants who know the operation from the claimants’ side, to solve the agency labor problem.

I also tried many times to call Mr. McCamley, the voice mail message played and then disconnected. When the departing cabinet head stopped having his phone answered, he showed he was not competent to handle the job. You defend him, but he betrayed himself.

Lee DiFiore

"No one — not a CEO or a school principal or a Cabinet secretary — can make thousands of decisions without getting some wrong". Cops too!

George Welland

This comment about making a thousand decisions, is so wrong that I must respond:

In Mr. McCamley's case he made one decision over and over, to get involved in every claim with an issue (as a way to learn about the job or just to appear to be working, who knows, but either way it was counter productive), but he never decided to lead properly by getting staff trained and the expertise his department needed!

McCamley's constant deflection of accepting responsibility (with the non-sequitur of praising staff?) may just be how his insecurity and incompetency were manifested; but at best was misplaced loyalty to take the fall for NMDWS' inability to function properly (loyalty to the governor, his former legislative cohorts, and the cronies awarded computer contracts over the last decade, all who fiddled while Rome burned); and is more indicative of a faker who is better at making excuses and apologizing than working (at worst he may have been pilfering funds?).

I am very happy to take my chances in being chastised for casting stones at the former NMDWS Secretary, and those who defend him, than risk being associated with such a dismal failure (but hey, failure is New Mexico's forte, maybe because it's rewarded and defended as with Mr. McCamley). I'm beginning to think that the Column, "Ringside Seat," refers to a circus, or maybe a rodeo, where the so-called observer is more of a participant (a barrel clown?). The fact that there are any defenders of the former Secretary is almost as disturbing as his destroying NMDWS along with many New Mexicans' lives.

Mike Johnson

[thumbup] Well said, you must know him the way I do......

George Welland

Which one, McCamley or Simonich ;-o How can the latter defend the former?

Mike Johnson

McCamley, all I know about Milan is what I read in the paper.......and that is not good in many cases.

Mike Johnson

Dirty Harry said it best: "A man's got to know his limitations..." Like many of his generation who became professional politicians, Mr. McCamley thought form over function and style over substance could bluff his way along in politics. He most likely learned a great life lesson here and may actually take it to heart. Brian had the education and experience to be State Auditor, Mr. McCamley did not, the voters, for once, made a wise decision. When you are educated in politics, and experienced in politics, you might actually come to believe government is about politics, not professional skills to serve the people. Too many in our government think it is about politics, and that is why we are last in most all things, including a new review today that shows NM dead last as the worst state for retirement in the US.....https://finance.yahoo.com/news/results-worst-states-retirement-2021-140000684.html

George Welland

Hat Tip? Here's the "tip" that McCamley, and NMDWS, gave the unemployed for over a year, "Get a job!"

Apparently the outgoing secretary of NMDWS can't even sing his own swan song; and the silly examples the columnist offered as things the former Secretary overcame daily succumbs to the same failings that plagued NMDWS under him; I.e., those are just typical examples of what's in a day's (No, a minute's) work at the unemployment office (or should be), and which halfway-trained staff should address.

McCamley and this columnist still don't get it... The Secretary's job is to provide for trained staff, not micro manage and get lost in the minutiae of bureaucracy... It would be like a Fire Chief painting the most appealing number of spots on a Dalmatian to pose upon a firetruck for a photo-op, while holding up the engine's response to a fire while doing so!

I'll give this comment about five minutes before it's taken down, if it's even allowed to be posted... Good luck ya' all - Geo.

Mike Johnson

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

zach miller

ah yes need to thank him for being the gatekeeper to welfare that is needed, denying it on one technicality or another to people without work. Such an admiral job. Lets thank the warsaw ghetto guards next, they didn't feed everyone, but the ones they did feed should be grateful no?

Richard Reinders

[thumbdown]

Comment deleted.
zach miller

Workforce solutions is trash because it is designed with the sole purpose of denying aid to those who need it, and those who literally paid into the unemployment fund. Regardless of whatever politician is in the governors seat, workforce will always be a barrier that prevents poor people from getting aid from a fund they paid into.

Comment deleted.
zach miller

let me put it this way, the ghetto in warsaw was created with a purpose and it fulfilled that purpose. Much like workforce solutions was created with a purpose and it fulfills that purpose.

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