After being rebuked by the state Supreme Court, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham might yet turn a turkey trot into a horse race.

She continues her slide toward vulnerability in the 2022 election by alienating even natural allies.

A Democrat, Lujan Grisham should have an easy time building and maintaining relationships with state legislators. After all, fellow Democrats control the Senate and the House of Representatives by wide margins.

But Lujan Grisham took an autocratic position on how $1.6 billion in federal money would be spent to help people survive the coronavirus pandemic. She would call the shots while lawmakers idled at home.

A rebellion followed. Nearly half of the 42-member Senate — five Democrats and all 15 Republicans — wanted legislative participation in appropriating the money.

The state Supreme Court sided with the dissident lawmakers — a 5-0 spanking for Lujan Grisham.

Oddly enough, her combative style resembled that of her immediate predecessor, Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

Petulant and infected with bad judgment, Martinez once vetoed 10 bills but refused to explain why. Democratic lawmakers sued her and won. All 10 measures, including bills to expand broadband access and allow for research of industrial hemp, became law because of Martinez’s bungled vetoes.

Martinez spent most of her two terms warring with Democrats. A former prosecutor, she was pugilistic by nature and overmatched at the Capitol.

Martinez needed the votes of majority Democrats to advance her legislative agenda, but she didn’t try to win them over.

Lujan Grisham has plenty of Democrats ready to help her. Yet she took up residence in a bunker to fight with them.

Sens. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, and Greg Baca, R-Belen, sued Lujan Grisham to stop her from shutting out lawmakers on the federal windfall. Baca and Candelaria are persistent critics of Lujan Grisham. They would happily post their complaints about her on a highway billboard.

But mild-mannered Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, also opposed Lujan Grisham’s attempt to dictate spending on pandemic relief.

Ortiz y Pino is 79 years old, a gentleman to all, and as liberal as they come. He would not challenge a governor of his own party unless he was provoked.

If Lujan Grisham was at odds with Ortiz y Pino in a high-profile lawsuit, she probably angered a silent majority of Democrats in the Legislature. Ortiz y Pino was brave enough to take a principled position despite the risk of Lujan Grisham vetoing his bills.



Neither House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, nor any of the other 44 members of his caucus moved against Lujan Grisham’s autocratic behavior.

Egolf rates Lujan Grisham as strong in combating COVID-19 and managing state operations.

“The governor will be reelected,” he predicted after her embarrassing defeat in the Supreme Court.

Lujan Grisham remains the front-runner based on recent history. She won the open governor’s seat by 14 percentage points in 2018.

Beyond that, New Mexico’s last three governors, Democrat Bill Richardson and Republicans Martinez and Gary Johnson, each got two terms. Voters haven’t rejected a sitting governor since Democrat Bruce King lost to Johnson in 1994.

Contrary to Egolf’s assessment, Lujan Grisham’s behavior and decisions leave her susceptible in a midterm election that should favor Republicans.

Many people fault her for shuttering small businesses during part of the pandemic, thereby funneling consumers to big-box stores.

Lujan Grisham has other worries. Her political committee paid $150,000 to her onetime campaign spokesman, James Hallinan, who said she sexually harassed him. Lujan Grisham called Hallinan’s allegations false but still opted to settle with him.

By her account, she ended a distraction to governing during a pandemic. But the deal is sure to be a campaign issue for Republicans.

They also will attack Lujan Grisham on her management skills. One of her public education secretaries served only six months in the Cabinet before being fired. The next one resigned after two years, though he spent a few months in Pennsylvania instead of New Mexico.

The governor’s priorities are another ripe issue for Republicans. She didn’t want lawmakers involved in allocating money for pandemic relief, but she called them into special session this year to legalize recreational cannabis.

Still in question is whether any of the eight Republicans running for governor can capitalize on Lujan Grisham’s weaknesses. Only one has statewide name recognition, former television weatherman Mark Ronchetti.

Ronchetti’s résumé is skimpy, devoid of government service. At least professional wrestler Jesse Ventura had been mayor of a Minneapolis suburb before winning election as governor of Minnesota.

The rest of New Mexico’s Republican field will try to shut down Ronchetti and hope that one of them can catch fire. They received a nice assist from Lujan Grisham, who went to court without a case.

It was one of a hundred paper cuts, mostly self-inflicted.

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

(45) comments

Michael Kiley

Governor Lujan is compliant with federal law, as her brief states. Trounce that. Through the Fiscal Recovery Funds, Congress provided State, local, and Tribal governments with significant resources to respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency and its economic impacts through four categories of eligible uses. Section 602 and section 603 contain the same eligible uses; the primary difference between the two sections is that section 602 establishes a fund for States, territories, and Tribal governments and section 603 establishes a) To respond to the public health emergency or its negative economic impacts, including assistance to households, small businesses, and nonprofits, or aid to impacted industries such as tourism, travel, and hospitality; b) To respond to workers performing essential work during the COVID-19 public health emergency by providing premium pay to eligible workers; c) For the provision of government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue due to the COVID–19 public health emergency relative to revenues collected in the most recent full fiscal year prior to the emergency; and d) To make necessary investments in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure. 2021-10283.pdf (federalregister.gov) The ARPA is a law responding to a historic economic and public health emergency; it is “extraordinary” legislation about which “both Congress and the President articulated a profound sense of ‘urgency.’” Petry v. Block, 737 F.2d 1193, 1200 (D.C. Cir. 1984). Recipient means a State, Territory, Tribal government, metropolitan city, nonentitlement unit of local government, county, or unit of general local government that receives a payment made under section 602(b) or 603(b) of the Social Security Act or transfer pursuant to section 603(c)(4) of the Social Security Act.

Mike Johnson

Reports are surfacing that Mimi is retaliating against Jacob for this, and having him removed from the Senate Finance Committee he is on.

Stefanie Beninato

Hardly worth reading these comments--they are so predictable.

Jeff Varela

No fan of Milan...but we've always thought and said that one of MLG's weaknesses is her own ego. Reality check time.

John Cook

This is great news for MLG. When Milan launches a campaign against someone (cf. Andrea Romero; Alan Webber) their re-election is assured.

Mike Johnson

Yes, very appropriate comparisons, a grifter and an incompetent.

John Cook

I completely object to that. Milan is often wrong and even more often ineffective. But he is neither an incompetent nor a grifter.

Chris Mechels

What a record... An incompetent, aggressive, micro manager, who thinks crotch grabbing is great fun. What a legacy... I'd vote for a dead dog over Michelle.

Mike Johnson

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John Cook

You are in luck, Chris Mechels, the Republicans will nominate a person who fits your criterion.

Chris Mechels

Anyone who is honest has my vote. The Trifecta, esp MLG and Egolf, lie constantly. "Governance" seems like an oxymoron with that crowd. "Larceny" is more their game.

Khal Spencer

The State Constitution says (Art. 4, Sec 30) "Except interest or other payments on the public debt, money shall be paid out of the treasury only upon appropriations made by the legislature.  No money shall be paid therefrom except upon warrant drawn by the proper officer.  Every law making an appropriation shall distinctly specify the sum appropriated and the object to which it is to be applied."

So does Federal money go into the State Treasury? I doubt it says "pay to the order of the Governor" but maybe that is the question. Where does Federal money go and does it go into the Treasury or into some other set of pots that could be exempt from that clause in the state constitution? I cannot imagine the NM Supreme Court would have missed that. Especially when slapping down a Governor of their own party.

Also, once it is in state hands, I'd be surprised if a Federal court told the state how to appropriate money unless what the state did violated Federal law. But since none of us are ConLaw scholars, our opinions are what the New Mexican paid is for them.

Finally, I'd wonder what the advantage would be to MLG to make a pitched battle of this in an election year. Stay tuned.

Khal Spencer

Lujan Grisham's best allies to get her re-elected are the New Mexico Republicans, who have never failed, in the last few years, to form their own circular firing squad and lose races that should at least be close.

Yep. Four more years of emergency orders.

Mike Johnson

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Dottie Butler

One thing we do know about where this money is going to go regardless of whether it's our Democratic Governor or our Democratic Legislature that decides is that the people of New Mexico are ultimately going to get this money.

That would not be the case if Republicans were doing the deciding.

Nobody should want Republicans in charge of anything in New Mexico.

I think they would just hand the money to Donald Trump and his fascist friends some of whom are right here in New Mexico.

Khal Spencer

[thumbdown]

Chris Mechels

Lets see about that Ms. Butler. It seems that Egolf got some $345,000 for his law firm, because it was lying about. How does this get to the people?? Trickle Down??

Some $200 million is being thrown out the window via the LEDA Recovery Act grants, and we can't even see the applications, because IPRA was blocked. This is larceny, pure and simple. More Trickle Down??

Never, ever, trust government without oversight, because humans have larceny in their heart. With the Trifecta, all bets are off, as Egolf and the LEDA scam demonstrate. We're all safer when government power is divided, and that it why Michelle must go.

We should also reduce the Governor to one term, of four years. With a weak Legislature the two term governors are a menace. The 1990s change was a mistake.

Carlos Vasquez

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Russell Scanlon

At least this column gave Mr. Johnson to use the term “Socialist” incorrectly once again.

Mike Johnson

That's "Democratic" Socialist, a real party and one many NM left wing Ds belong to philosophically. It is of course an oxymoron.......and why I use the quotation marks on what it isn't.

Emily Hartigan

Actually, there may be such a party, but not registered. I'm a Christian Socialist of many years, and there are European parties with that name. You can't dictate names, Mike.

Mike Johnson

Yes, it is registered in the US, and has chapters in ABQ and Santa Fe, I'm amazed you didn't know that: https://www.dsausa.org/chapters/

And I lived in Norway for 5 years, I had friends that were Christian Democrats (Kristeleg Folkeparti) a large political party there, primarily right-center. But there was no Christian Socialist Party there.

Emily Hartigan

Mike, there was, for example, a perennial Christian socialist candidate for governor in Wisconsin, and it's a long tradition. Dorothy Day was a Christian Socialist. Sorry you don't know about it.

Mike Johnson

I have never been to Wisconsin, and I could care less about any socialists.

Ed McGurk

"Bungled Votes" Maybe Martinez was trying to hold back continued over reach by the Democratic controlled legislature. Do you ever write about the cause of our state coming in close to last in every important statistical category? Even as all of the states on every border are booming? Of course not. I doubt you would dare to address it.

Emily Hartigan

It would help to have a clearer rendition of the NMSCT decision. It seems the critiques should inform MLG.

MLG is not Martinez, and not a weather-person. She did shepherd the state to an excellent vaccination rate, including in rural, poor and Indigenous territories, so possibly over-reaching on emergency funds doesn't seem fatal. The hysterical reactions against her are symptomatic of GOP silo thinking, but perhaps MLG should take care not to get caught in a silo herself.

Khal Spencer

Yes, indeed. If anyone has a link to the decision, please post it here.

Khal Spencer

Here is a longer article, but not the Court decision. Seems the court decisions web site has not been updated since 2020. Unless I missed it.

https://nmpoliticalreport.com/2021/11/18/nm-high-court-says-legislature-has-authority-over-federal-covid-19-funds/

Carlos Vasquez

[wink][thumbup]

Mike Johnson

I don't know if any of this helps any GOP candidates, probably not, but the benefit of her slap down by the Supreme Court (usually in the tank for anything she does) and the rebuke from her fellow Democrats is to expose her as the tyrant and dictator she really is. This also could benefit some of the more moderate/conservative Ds, and help them grow a spine to challenge her and her kind and take back my NM Democratic Party from the "Democratic" Socialists. Thanks Milan, you show great courage in taking this tyrant on publicly.

Emily Hartigan

Mike, you need to get new vocabulary. Tyrant, dictator. blah, blah, blah.

Mike Johnson

If the shoe fits, she has to wear it, and it does, look up the definitions and then compare to her actions. Sometimes you have to call a spade a spade for clarity and understanding.

Jennifer Johnson

Santa Fe deserves better than Milan Simonich. Your constant drive to enflame divisiveness continues to escalate. What is needed is factual reporting that focuses on building community rather than driving wedges.

Mike Johnson

So you dislike disagreement? Gandhi said disagreement is the sign of progress, and I like this thought: "Our country, if you read the 'Federalist Papers,' is about disagreement. It's about pitting faction against faction, divided government, checks and balances. The hero in American political tradition is the man who stands up to the mob - not the mob itself." Goldberg. I think Milan qualifies here. Diversity of thought, political views, and outlooks is the key part of democracy, and even business, from my hero, Alfred P. Sloan: "If we are all in agreement on the decision - then I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until our next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain some understanding of what the decision is all about." To want everyone to agree and think the same way is not democracy, but it has been in place in other forms of government you may like better?

Stefanie Beninato

Thanks, Jennifer. But building community does not sell newspapers.

Mike Johnson

Nor does it get people to vote for you......

Michael Kiley

Me thinks the man doth predict too soon. The final word has not come on this issue. The federal legislation needs be settled in federal court, not in the state legislature, and while the New Mexico Supreme Court has had its say, federal courts have not. And the issue is pandemic emergency powers in the Act, not state appropriation. The Governor's fast and resolute action simply saved lives in New Mexico, and she was near top of states. Voters remember.

Mike Johnson

So you are saying MLG has appealed the ruling to SCOTUS? Seriously?

Khal Spencer

I suspect Mr. Kiley is conjecturing, since there are not the usual 27 links and a bunch of cap lock phrases.

Richard Reinders

From someone that didn’t know the difference between the infrastructure bill that the progressives fought so hard to stop and the turn our children and grandchildren into indentured slave bill.

Mike Johnson

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Emily Hartigan

Seriously? Hyperbole is so 2016.

Michael Kiley

The rule in the Federal Register (quoted in part in my comment above) used "emergencies" 149 times. Out of session legislatures do not do emergencies; Governors do.

Emily Koyama

"Doing emergencies" clearly does not include what could potentially amount to over 5 billion in extra money for the State. The court had decided.

I'm really surprised that you think one person (a politician, at that, with all the temptations for abuse that can entail) should have unilateral control of that much money. You must really love MLG.

Mike Johnson

Exactly Emily, I do wonder if this person's real name is Nora or Tripp........

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