At the same time Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham was urging New Mexicans to not mix households, she was holding in-person meetings with Cabinet secretaries and small groups of legislators at the governor’s mansion in Santa Fe.

The meetings, however, were sporadic and followed COVID-19 safe practices, such as social distancing and face masks, the governor’s spokesman, Tripp Stelnicki, said Thursday.

“There’s a difference between inviting someone into your house for the Super Bowl or someone’s birthday and having three or four Cabinet secretaries there to talk about their budgets amid an unprecedented economic downturn and to work out what we’re going to propose or recommend to the Legislature given the changing economic forecast,” he said.

“I mean,” Stelnicki added, “the governor does live there, but it’s not like she’s inviting them into her living room.”

Stelnicki didn’t know whether people who met with Lujan Grisham had to pass a COVID-19 test beforehand.

Revelations about in-person meetings at the governor’s mansion, which includes what Stelnicki called a “public side” where Lujan Grisham conducts business and a “private side” where she resides, emerged this week after a report about her discretionary fund spending between July and December.

According to documents released under a public records request, the governor racked up nearly $13,500 in spending over the second half of 2020.

Receipts show more than $6,500 on groceries, from Wagyu beef and tuna steaks to several purchases of alcohol, including bottles of tequila, vodka, gin, wine and beer.

Republican leaders pounced on the governor’s spending, noting the news comes after she handed out salary increases ranging from $7,500 to $12,000 to several employees in her office.

“It really appears in the Governor’s Office as if she really believes herself to be more privileged than everybody else in New Mexico,” said House Minority Whip Rod Montoya, R-Farmington.

Montoya said Lujan Grisham should be paying for food and booze out of her own pocket.

“I didn’t realize the governor was so underpaid that she has to use discretionary money for things that she should be paying for herself,” he said. “Legislators are all up here doing our job, and we’re doing it on per diem.”

House Minority Leader Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, called the governor’s purchases “unfortunate” and inappropriate.

“It’s not what tax dollars ought to be spent for,” he said. “In the time when people are hurting all over the state, using their tax dollars to buy Wagyu beef has got to be a little bit disenchanting to many people. I think it’s just more of indication of the problem that we have had and the governor has had connecting with people.”

Townsend accused the governor of “acting like she’s better than everyone else,” particularly by holding meetings at the mansion when she had advised New Mexicans to not bring households together.

Just before Thanksgiving, for example, the governor asked New Mexicans to “make the safest possible decisions this Thanksgiving.”

“I know it’s hard because we’ve had eight months where we can’t be with our friends and families,” she said at the time. “Do everything in your power not to mix households. I know that that’s asking a lot because Thanksgiving is exactly how we celebrate, bringing our families from multiple households together. This is ripe for spreading this virus.”

Though the governor did have people not in her household at the mansion, Stelnicki said she’s “worked really hard to minimize her in-person interactions with other people,” not only to set a good example to New Mexicans but keep herself, her fiancé and staff at the residence safe. He also said the mansion has not only been her “home base” but her office. While Lujan Grisham has conducted much of her business remotely, Stelnicki noted there are times when in-person meetings work best.

“The governor is managing the largest public health emergency the state has ever faced,” he said.

Townsend said the governor says one thing but behaves another way.

“Those are the kinds of things that cause people to totally distrust the government,” he said. “When they see these [messages] of, ‘You need to stay home and you can’t have your family for Christmas and you can’t do this and you can’t do that,’ but I’m going to sit here and eat Wagyu beef and buy hundreds of dollars of alcohol with your tax dollars. What in the world would you expect them to think?”

The biggest purchase of booze happened at Sam’s Club in September. A receipt shows more than $200 in spending for liquor, including at least five bottles of tequila, two bottles of vodka, two bottles of merlot and a bottle of whiskey and a bottle of gin.

The staff member who purchased the alcohol “might have been guilty of some optimistic thinking,” Stelnicki said.

When the COVID-19 numbers in New Mexico “were looking a little better,” the staffer saw the opportunity for a gathering with legislators or others as the holidays were approaching after a “long and difficult year,” Stelnicki said.

“Of course, that didn’t happen,” he said, adding the bottles of booze remain unopened.

Stelnicki said the food wasn’t solely for the governor but also for members of her staff, including maintenance workers and her security detail, who work around the clock, as well as people who attended an occasional meeting there. He said he didn’t know why food was being purchased for staff members.

Groceries were also purchased for the governor to cook and bake, he said.

“The governor wanted to sort of try to make things and send them to people, like posole at Christmas,” he said.

The receipts also showed several charges for dry cleaning, which Stelnicki said was for the governor’s clothes for news conferences and other remote meetings. Even on Zoom, he said, the governor has to look like a governor and represent New Mexicans well.

“We’re talking about $13,000 [in total contingency fund spending] in a budget of $7 billion,” Stelnicki said. “It’s absolutely the public’s right and obligation to scrutinize the spending of public dollars, but I think that context is important.”

The governor’s contingency fund is now subject to more transparency, due in part to former Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who tapped into the fund to pay for what turned out to be a raucous — and infamous — holiday party at the Eldorado Hotel & Spa that involved the police.

The party, which some say ended Martinez’s hopes for national office, generated complaints about noise and people throwing bottles from a balcony.

“Loud noise? We’re in a room eating pizza. … We are eating pizza and drinking Cokes, and whoever was throwing bottles is not there — hasn’t been there for like six hours,” Martinez said in the recorded call with police before telling a dispatcher to “call off” officers who were going to her room.

After the party, lawmakers approved a bill that overhauled how the money is doled out and overseen. Martinez signed the bill into law, but it didn’t go into effect until 2019, after Martinez had left office.

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.

(48) comments

Rhian Hibner

Slow news day? What a complete and utter non-issue. You should be embarrassed for reporting on it.

Alexis Martinez Johnson

The issue no matter if it is 1cent pertains to buying Wagyu beef which is the most expensive beef you can buy and alcohol. Irrespective of party buying alcohol in a pandemic when she said not to gather is out of line.

Donald Apodaca

Gov. MLG spin is that the alcohol was purchased for a post pandemic party. Can KOB 4 be allowed to inventory the alcohol? Or will another LIE be told to cover up the reality that the booze and fine food has been consumed?

Lupe Molina

Is this article a joke? $6500 on groceries over 6 months for the governor's mansion. That breaks down to just over $250 a week. That's bigger than my grocery bill but it's hardly exorbitant. Why is this news?

Alexis Martinez Johnson

It goes to to the heart of what taxpayer money goes to. In a pandemic buying tequila and Wagyu beef is out-of-touch. This is not a party thing this is a using my taxpayer money to buy alcohol and Wagyu beef while I’m making beans and rice trying to live and sending some of my money to taxes for that.

William Craig

Stelnicki says the guests of the Guv were “. . . Cabinet secretaries there to talk about their budgets amid an unprecedented economic downturn . . .” — well, the collapse of the tourism and energy sectors were precipitated by whose dictates?

As for booze from Sam’s Club (owned by Walmart) on the far side of town, there were plenty of locally-owned liquor stores much closer to her north-side mansion — were they shut down by executive orders?

Barry Rabkin

The collapse of the sectors were precipitated by the COVID-19 virus. Full stop !

Bonnie Cox

Interesting that the topic under discussion was "BUDGET"!

Red Eagle

Wage beef! That’s all I need say...

Alexis Martinez Johnson

Wagyu beef is the MOST expensive beef to be bought where cows are hand fed milk.

Jerry Appel

Mountains out of mole hills. When you are buying your booze from Sam's Club to provide guests with a libation, you are making a mistake because you are not buying local. I would have been happier if the governor had virtual instead of socially-distanced conferences, but maybe she wanted to discuss some things that needed to be discussed without the threat of being hacked. Maybe, some of the attendees had been hacked. Still, buying from New Mexicans would have been smarter than corporate giants like the Waltons.

Khal Spencer

Sure, and the rest of us get the finger-wagging reminder to do stuff by Zoom or other remote platform. As someone else said, I recall all those on the Left having a cow when Susana Martinez had one rowdy party downtown.

Jerry Appel

You didn't address my point about security. Interesting. Personally, I wasn't all that jazzed about Gov. Martinez's pizza party, but the cover-up of the bad behavior. That too was a mole hill. I was much more concerned about her slavish adherence to the Republican playbook which forced the PARCC test on us with all of its infrastructure costs and attendant lack of transparency and efficacy.

Khal Spencer

Your assertions about security is conjecture, not fact. And there are other platforms besides Zoom.

Alexis Martinez Johnson

It’s not about giving out libations for dignitaries and it’s not about being a Republican or Democrat. It’s about buying the most expensive beef money can buy and tequila, etc., in a pandemic. Some people like myself have children and we pay taxes and are home feeding them doing the best we can saving to buy them milk.

Khal Spencer

I wonder if Tripp has to take a shower after holding these news conferences and making excuses for the Governor.

Mike Johnson

That's why he makes the big bucks Khal, and just got a massive raise. Obfuscation, deflection, and creative lying takes talent......

Lupe Molina

Khal, you mean because he works so hard fending off idiotic questions? Agreed, a thousand bucks a month on groceries isn't newsworthy.

Khal Spencer

Booze on public funds. Nothing idiotic about questioning that.

Mike Johnson

True, but as we found out with Andrea Romero, even the most expensive booze purchased with tax payer money means nothing to the left wing. But a Coke and pizza party.....well, that's a disgrace and should be prosecuted.

Khal Spencer

Related article: Gov admits she messed up....

https://www.santafenewmexican.com/news/legislature/governor-admits-she-messed-up-with-discretionary-funds/article_bb1298a4-72ea-11eb-af34-8b6d017c2c5e.html

I admit it is a bit of a tempest in a teapot (but hey, what is snark for?), but given the crisis of the last year, it seems awfully tone deaf of her. And the rationale about buying food for children? Seems a little contrived, given what was on that list.

Daniel Valdez

If it's NM taxpayers money, then it's darn well worth publishing. Lupe, you definitely don't see the big picture. Bless your heart...

Alexis Martinez Johnson

New Mexicans are trying to do their best and some have to go the food pantry or save to buy their children diapers and milk. When the Governor buys Wagyu beef the most expensive beef money can buy-you’re talking hand fed cows and buying bottles of liquor in a pandemic it is sad.

Vince Czarnowski

Everyone needs to remember this come election time. I've only been living in Santa Fe since October, but it seems her style of government is no different than the crooks running Chicago and Illinois.

Red Eagle

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

Carlos Vasquez

just go back - no perspective , no context - just a retrumplican trying to escape your own mess?

Mike Johnson

I remember the left wing going nuts when Suzie had a pizza and coke party at a local hotel. This is just typical political hypocrisy, and shows the regal and elite way MLG runs her corrupt regime. Rules for thee, not for me.......

Carlos Vasquez

IF u are comparing the pizza party scandal that cost her a cabinet position (thank goodness) to a receipt then you have talking out of all the orifices syndrome - not unlike Lindsey Graham

Alexis Martinez Johnson

We’re talking about a pandemic and buying the most expensive beef money can buy Wagyu beef and your talking about bottles of liquor like tequila, etc. This is not about party it’s about New Mexicans. I’m paying tax money to her and those actions are not from someone that represents the everyday person.

Jake Greene

Let's see if I got this right. A bunch of guys who sued in the NM Supreme Court for the privilege of breathing on each other in a state-owned building are upset that the Governor met with members of her cabinet and staff in a state-owned building to conduct state business. Can you say, 'Hypocrisy?'

Richard Reinders

The meeting may be OK but spending on Wagu Beef and liquor is excessive especially alcohol when so many are broke because of the pandemic and I am sure this is the tip of the ice berg for all politicians. I guess her zoom was broken ,do as I say not as I do.

David Romero

Not to mention all of the small business forced to close down because of this fool’s draconian policies.

Alexis Martinez Johnson

It’s not that. We’re in a pandemic and many Née Mexicans are making beans and rice and preparing food for their children and we don’t want our tax money to buy Wagyu beef for the Governor in a pandemic. Wagyu beef is the most expensive beef from hand fed cows. We don’t want to pay for bottles of tequila and rum when we are supposed to be home alone is what she said.

B H

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

David Romero

Why does the Governor need that much beer and liquor? Why can't she buy groceries at Smiths or Walmart like everyone else? It's easy when she is using tax payer money.

Cathy Rael

If you were in that position you sure as h--- wouldn't . She has worked her way to be there and deserves to entertain guests invited to the Mansion...

Alexis Martinez Johnson

Hi Cathy we should all take into account the pandemic and refrain from using taxpayer money for Wagyu beef and bottles of liquor. There’s nothing wrong with buying those items but she should use her own funds as we are supposed to be alone at home is what she said to do.

David Romero

Sure. But now that she’s there she has made a mockery of the position.

Angel Ortiz

More political finger pointing to come out of this. Unless you overhaul all the spending done by every legislator, mayor, city council, this is hardly a need story. I am dying to see all the GOP pundits on this forum jump into the fray. Time to move on to something more interesting.

Brad Doubles

Angel,

For once you have actually made sense. We NEED to reform spending at all levels of government. Especially in a state where 6 out of 10 work for local, state or Fed govt. All of this entrenched mentality of entitlement is breaking the will and financial prosperity of the folks who are working to pay the bill.

As far as MLG is concerned, her attitude is and has always been..."Rules are for thee, not for me" so what would one expect from such a mindset?

You deserve the government that you vote for....now reap what you sow

Angel Ortiz

Perhaps you and don't agree because of our zip codes but thanks anyway.

Carlos Vasquez

go to tennessee with the rest of them,on the double...

Daniel Valdez

A bit racist Carlos?? Unable to accept people with differing opinions and thoughts? Where should you go??

Brad Doubles

87144 is thankfully MUCH different than the 87505

Cathy Rael

I totally agree!!!

Carlos Vasquez

[thumbup][thumbup]This is simply the simple mind of Daniel Chacon; either the sfnm is giving him too much leeway, or he is angling to try retrumplicating... too late, too little, too low...bro[thumbdown]

Alexis Martinez Johnson

It looks like it was reported by KOB Chris Ramirez and it is good to know what the taxpayer money is used for especially in a pandemic. The Governor said to stay home and not participate in groups and so I don’t understand the liquor purchases and Wagyu beef. That beef is from ha d fed cows and is the MOST expensive beef money can buy. We can’t afford to pay so much tax right now when we are trying to feed our children and saving for milk and diapers.

David Romero

Many, many New Mexicans, especially children are going hungry. MLG is a disgrace. .!!! End of story.

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