The question of the day isn’t rhetorical, though it might seem that way at a glance.

Can Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham lose her bid for reelection in what’s mostly a bright-blue state?

Probably not, but she’s giving it her all.

Two announcements last week helped keep an uninspiring collection of Republican candidates for governor on life-support.

The first came from WalletHub, a Washington-based financial website. It ranked New Mexico’s public school system as the worst in America.

Two days later, Lujan Grisham hired her third Cabinet secretary of public education in 31 months.

Teachers, principals and the governor herself can scoff at WalletHub rating New Mexico 51st in education, behind all the other states and Washington, D.C. Lists of the best and worst schools are always subject to debate.

What Lujan Grisham cannot deny is instability at the top of her Public Education Department. Three top administrators in less than three years is a failure of the governor.

Lujan Grisham fired her first public education secretary, Karen Trujillo, after only six months. The governor’s stated reason was Trujillo didn’t meet expectations.

Trujillo was puzzled by Lujan Grisham’s critique. At the time of Trujillo’s firing, she said no one in the governor’s administration had discussed any shortcomings with her.

Trujillo resurrected her career as superintendent of schools in Las Cruces. She died in an accident in February, struck by a minivan while walking her dogs.

Lujan Grisham’s next choice to run the Public Education Department was Ryan Stewart, just 38 when she hired him in August 2019. He arrived from a nonprofit organization whose mission was to improve schools in a section of Philadelphia.

Stewart promised a commitment to New Mexico kids during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Rules Committee.

“I take the pressure to deliver on this moment home with me every day,” he said.

The location of Stewart’s home soon became a contentious issue.

Stewart once admitted spending four months of 2020 in Philadelphia with his wife and son.



That left him 1,900 miles away from schools in New Mexico that were trying to navigate the coronavirus pandemic.

At least seven state senators, five Democrats and two Republicans, questioned Stewart’s commitment to the job and, by extension, Lujan Grisham’s wisdom in appointing him.

The senators advanced a bill Stewart inspired. It would have required state Cabinet secretaries to live in New Mexico. What the bill really did was express unhappiness with Stewart and the governor.

Stewart knew Lujan Grisham would veto the bill if it cleared the Legislature. It stalled. He decided to rebut the bill anyway.

Contradicting his earlier comments about residing in Philadelphia for a stretch of 2020, he stated he had lived in New Mexico since his appointment. Even with the pandemic, Stewart said, he’d visited 70 schools spread across every region of New Mexico.

Stewart says he is resigning from his job Aug. 20 for family reasons. His stay in the New Mexico Public Education Department lasted two years, including time spent on the East Coast.

Lujan Grisham has hired Kurt Steinhaus, 67, as Stewart’s successor. Steinhaus is coming out of a brief retirement to take the job. He was superintendent of the Los Alamos Public Schools until stepping down in May.

He’s entering a pressure cooker. Lujan Grisham needs stability in the Public Education Department to quiet criticisms of mismanagement as she campaigns for reelection.

New Mexico residents have more than politics at stake. Good jobs and good schools are always linked. Employers don’t want to locate their businesses in a state whose education system is inferior.

If New Mexico Republicans had a leader instead of Amarillo Steve Pearce, Lujan Grisham might be in more danger of being upset in the election.

Pearce, chairman of the New Mexico Republican Party, identifies with ruby-red Texas. He moved a New Mexico Republican convention to Amarillo this year, calling it Operation Freedom.

Pearce had more than a Lone Star misstep. After Donald Trump’s defeat and a riot at the U.S. Capitol by his supporters, Pearce stood up for the defeated candidate.

“God bless President Donald J. Trump. He will be our President FOREVER and no one can take that away from us,” Pearce wrote in a tweet.

Pearce deleted the tweet, perhaps realizing presidents have term limits, or that Trump is unpopular in most of New Mexico.

Amarillo Steve’s biggest failure is his thin bench. He hasn’t built a roster of Republican candidates who can win statewide elections, the operative state being New Mexico.

Lujan Grisham can’t afford to have Pearce to defect to Texas. Her side needs him.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.

(34) comments

Khal Spencer

I was getting my glasses fixed in a local optical vendor the other day and all they could talk about was whether MLG was going to panic and shut the state down again. My hunch is that is not the only small business that trusts this administration as far as one can throw it.

Meanwhile, as Milan astutely points out and many state GOP leaders reinforce, the opposition is somewhere out in La-La Land. Or maybe Texas. I knew a fair number of very thoughtful GOP members in my 17 years living in Los Alamos. Most of them dumped the Grand Old Party when it became the Ghastly Old Party. Help Wanted: Republicans grounded in reality who can put together a thoughtful message to challenge the status quo.

David Gordon

Perhaps not teaching racism, sexualization and Marxism would be a good start. Forced injections with an experimental genetic substance and which fails to provide protection is also generally unpopular. Furthermore, efforts to gag the breath, minds and spirits of students by a self-elected hierarchy will stifle interest. All this before even considering math and literacy as primary to the educational process. On the other hand: A homeschooled seven-year old can hold a rational, directed and critical conversation. Which is probably exactly what this coven of miscreants does not want.

There is a home school support group in Santa Fe on FB for this reason.

Emily Hartigan

"Forced injections with an experimental genetic substance..." is out of some sci-fi movie, not anything vaguely connected with reality, David Gordon.

I'd say please return to earth, but maybe you should stay out there....

Khal Spencer

Seriously? Marxism is one of the most important political concepts driving the 20th Century. Racism permeates the history of the United States (we are re-watching Eyes on the Prize this week). Sex ed in some modern form is important. The problems are all of these are hot button issues and need to be taught competently and with nuance in age-appropriate settings and not taught stupidly, such as by asking a third grader to get up and apologize for being White. Teaching these difficult concepts well is a challenge to which the educational establishment is not always ready to meet. But I do agree that the 3Rs should come first.

As far as your continued fiction on the vaccinations, spare me you vivid imagination.

Jerry Appel

This is a clickbait column. As the author points out, the only Republican leader as incompetent as Pearce is Trump. As a retired teacher, NMPED Secretary usually does nothing but gum up the works. New Mexico is getting out of the corporate testing scam. Yeah! What it needs to do is let its teachers teach and support them. How do you support them? Simple, get rid of the honerous reporting requirements and pay them like they are really important. Next, provide them with students that are not hungry, tired from working jobs, or worried about where they will sleep next. Gov. MLG is doing the right thing in making pre-school universal which can only help in the long run. How do I know this stuff works (pay, stability, and less top-down micromanagement)? Happy teachers and happy students want to teach and learn because they are not having to deal with paying bills, hunger, and domestic instability. And all that gives parents the the confidence and security they need and missed during the COVID-19 pandemic. The one good thing NMPED Sec. Stewart did was shut down schools early and put mitigation protocols in place. Without those policies the pandemic would be infecting and killing a lot more children. The idea that school-age children were less likely to get sick or hospitalized was for that very reason. Keeping them in school to expand obscene corporate greed, a Republican homicidal fantasy, was stonewalled by rational leaders, thankfully.

Prince Michael Jauregui

Mr. Appel, both agenda-serving Political parties failed the citizens miserably during the pandemic - and you took the "clickbait".

Dottie Butler

Improving New Mexico's education system is going to take a long-term plan that needs to be sustained indefinitely, not one or two terms in office.

MLG has made a good start, but the plan must be backed up financially in a big way for the long haul. New Mexicans cannot count on the Republican Party to ever sustain it in the way it needs to be sustained.

If you really want the best and the brightest to ever come to New Mexico and set down permanent roots here then you have to demonstrate the kind of commitment over the long haul that MLG just started with her tenure as Governor.

The only things Republicans are committed to are the reinstatement of Donald Trump and the imposition of fascism on America.

They don't even want to educate the people of a nonwhite majority state like New Mexico.

Prince Michael Jauregui

Truth, be told: "Governor" Grisham merely towed the DNC line, not unlike other Democrat Party governors.

All committing to an agenda, which did more to protect "Corporate America" than actual Americans. Always, in-direct conflict with the Republican Party "leaders" and their own special-agenda serving narrative. Hence from the start of the pandemic, Americans were getting very mixed -and dangerous messages- from unfit and inept politicians. Yet again, agenda-serving politicians -both- failed and exploited We, The People during a most critical time. Placing the self-serving needs of the political party first. This, cannot and shall not be tolerated any longer.

Or, in the words of an actual child? "How come we can get the Corona at school and

church, but not at Wal-Mart?".

Nor, apparently, at expensive jewelry stores.

Chris Mechels

Actually, her choice for Secr of Education seems sound, and the question is whether she will let him do his job. She seems meddle, and micro manage, and this has competent people running to the exits. Can she finally control HERSELF?? I suspect not, as this pattern is decades old, and got her fired in 2007 from her Secr of Health post. She had run off her top staff with her meddling.

The DPS Secretary seems a poor choice. They need a reformer, preferably from outside the NM police system. Choosing the RRPD Deputy Chief was a weak move, as all his experience is in one agency. Hard to see how he'll deal with the NMSP problems, which are many, as the NMSP seems to have Michelle's ear.

Red Eagle

A couple of thoughts: I can’t believe that government officials are not required to reside in the State! The people of NM pay their salaries and should expect these politicians to be accountable 24/7. Second, “Even with the pandemic, Stewart said, he’d visited 70 schools spread across every region of New Mexico.” Stewart may have visited 70 schools, but the majority of them must have been closed, as I recall the pandemic / MLG forced the closure of schools across the state. Stewart must have gotten a lot of insight from those visits to empty schools. Good riddens, we should be happy he’s gone, I would love to know how much money he received for his troubles.

David Romero

We had a Transportation CEO at Metro in Cincinnati that did the exact same thing. Lived in Dallas Tx. , got paid $200K a year and didn't do a think but run the place to the ground. that's what identity politics will get you.

Red Eagle

One can only hope that the citizens of New Mexico set party politics aside and elect someone who has the peoples best interest above their own. MLG has shown her true colors enough times for the people to see enough is enough. With the state at or near the bottom on so many metrics, please people of NM wake up and vote this woman out of office. Give someone else a chance to show that they care about the people, as clearly MLG does not!

Mike Johnson

Very, very well said, but as we know NM voters have very low standards when it comes to politicians, Andrea Romero......

John Cook

Terrible, isn't it, that voters get to decide who represents them by a majority of the votes? How sad for the minority dead-enders. For a guy who claimed to not support Trump, you sure toe his anti-democratic line.

Mike Johnson

Have you seen what the minority Ds are doing in Texas to keep the majority from passing reasonable, fair, and safe voting laws? I guess you think the majority needs to prevail there too?

Richard Reinders

MLG management of the pandemic without the benefit of science destroyed many businesses and put the rest on life support. It was like she was throwing darts at a board for who could open and who would close. Breweries could open but Wineries couldn't as an example, identical businesses in everyway of operation and exposure. With this new variant possibly effecting closures MLG will surely finish off the small business community only leaving big box corporations in business . David Romero hit the nail on the head we went from one of the most desirable places to one of the worse places to live.

Al Chavez

Governor Lujan's missteps absolutely pale in contrast to her excellent record fighting COVID. That people favor business-friendly policies and thereby accept a high death rate is simply insane. How can folks who subscribe to the Golden Rule advocate for policies that demonstrably kill people?

Mike Johnson

You mean where NM is the 13th worst state for deaths per capita in the US? Worse than Arkansas, Florida, Texas, etc. Are you serious?

John Cook

Cherry picking a stat without any necessary background. Clearly, you don't know the reasons behind that statistic. It mattered which states got hit hardest before treatments caught up with the disease. New York, for example, has a higher per capita death rate. It was the first state with giant numbers of infections before the medicine caught up. Similarly, New Mexico had huge outbreaks in native-American populations with poor health care and, accordingly, high death rates. But go ahead, Dr. Johnson, keep sailing too close to the wind on facts.

Bill Cass

Her excellent record fighting COVID? Are you kidding. I split my time between NM and Georgia. Georgia never shut down and the economy is booming. NM is basically dying. Oh, and their infection rates are statistically the same.

Mike Johnson

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Barry Rabkin

It was with the 'benefit of science' that MLG took the correct path to manage contagion - not overwhelming our healthcare system and striving to save lives - rather than managing commerce. COVID-19 and its variants are not the same as the seasonal flu. COVID-19 and its variants are not 'fake news.' Limiting the number of places that people could go during the pandemic was correct because each of us, each person, is a repository of viruses that can expose others to infection, hospitalization, intubation, and death. Did her actions kill small businesses or severely hurt them financially? Yes. Global pandemics like COVID-19 do not occur frequently but when one cascades across the globe, they must be managed by keeping each person from exposing other people. Want to ensure that our economy remains open now? Get vaccinated !!!!!!

James Brown

The curve flattened by May - the original goalposts so as not to overwhelm hospitals. Then the goal posts moved to saving the most lives as would many other draconian measures such as the 55 mph speed limit of the 70s, Prohibition of the 20s, punitive taxes on sugary sodas and outright banning nicotine smokes and chews.

Bill Cass

I split my time between NM and Georgia. GA never shut down, and the economy is booming while NM's is on life support. Oh, and their infection rates are statistically identical. MLG's management of COVID has been an unmitigated disaster.

Diane Denish

Maybe you should spend more time in Georgia.....

David Romero

New Mexico is ranked # 2 in crime and poverty and dead last in desirable states to live in. Along with her draconian measures that killed the already anemic economy in Nm during the pandemic, she has been an absolute disaster. if she is elected to a second term things are going to get worse, much worse.

Red Eagle

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Mike Johnson

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Stefanie Beninato

If it was true that NM ranks dead last as a desireable state in which to live then why does Santa Fe keep getting ranked in the top 5 cities based on a variety of factors. Just recently Santa Fe received a high ranking for innovation. Yes, appointed officials should live in NM but what was not done for the 4 months the the last Sec of Ed resided near Philly? Virtually everything was virtual anyway.

David Gordon

I've researched this low-ranking of New Mexico. These livability survey results are primarily based on two things. Border and trafficing corridor proximity raises the crime rate vastly. An average low graduation rate is ascribed to the numerical influence of the reservations. Both situations are easily remedied if we refuse to live in the idiocracy highlighted in the above article.

David Romero

SF has turned into a dump. Homelessness, filth, high crime, bumper to bumper traffic. When I was growing up here it was a great place to live. Now I refuse to live here, I live in Pecos instead.

John Cook

"... dead last in desirable states to live in." Don't let the 'Welcome to Texas' sign hit you on the bumper on your way out of New Mexico.

David Romero

I'm just stating the facts. Obviously you did not do any research before you made this comment. Oh and by the way, I am a native santa Fan thank you. Maybe you should go back to New York.

Mike Johnson

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