New Mexico’s gregarious governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, observes a personal rule as she mingles with crowds or kids.
She always asks for permission before hugging someone.
Lujan Grisham told me she wouldn’t want what is intended as a brief, friendly embrace to make anyone feel uncomfortable.
She said one small boy declined her request for a hug. He was polite about it, but this brought home to the governor how important it is to find out what others are thinking.
A Democrat in her first year as governor, Lujan Grisham hasn’t been as savvy in communicating with state Sen. Craig Brandt, one of the Legislature’s more outspoken members on school safety.
They seem to be in enemy bunkers as well as different branches of government.
Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, said this divide has left students without improved protection, even as Lujan Grisham convenes her summit to fend off tragedies like the mass murders in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio.
Brandt is unhappy because Lujan Grisham pocket vetoed his bill to allow cost-of-living increases for retired police officers who return to work as school security personnel.
“There’s no incentive for retirees with 20 or more years’ experience in law enforcement to take those jobs,” Brandt said in an interview. They’d lose 2 to 3 percent a year, compounded, in retirement pay.”
No controversy bogged down his bill to entice retirees onto school security staffs.
His proposal cleared the Senate on a 29-0 vote, and the House of Representatives approved it 66-0. Both chambers are controlled by Democrats.
“Nobody was against the bill. It was about protecting our schools, and people saw that,” Brandt said.
Lujan Grisham let Brandt’s bill die by not acting on it. This maneuver allows the governor to kill legislation without having to provide any explanation.
Brandt never heard from Lujan Grisham regarding the bill.
He said he would have appreciated the opportunity to renew his case for the measure at Lujan Grisham’s safety summit. Brandt wasn’t invited, though.
The governor asked legislative leaders to take part in the meetings. That left Brandt out.
He is one of the Legislature’s more conservative members. He’s also an independent thinker who’s unafraid to buck his political party.
Brandt risked being ostracized in 2017 by trying to override Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s veto of a bill to provide more sick leave for teachers.
Republicans might have carped about Martinez in private, but it was unusual for them to challenge her publicly. She had been in office more than six years when Brandt led the first movement to override one of her vetoes.
Senators supported the override 34-7. House members favored it 36-31, but that fell short of the two-thirds majority necessary to erase Martinez’s veto.
Even though Brandt lost his battle with Martinez, he became more popular in certain circles for speaking his mind at the risk of seeing his legislation killed.
Gridlock afflicted state government as Martinez’s second term wound to a dismal conclusion.
Her relationship with Democrats in the Legislature was never good. Toward the end, it had deteriorated so much that she vetoed their bills and refused to provide any explanation, even when the law required her to do so.
This led Democrats to sue Martinez. The state Supreme Court ruled that 10 of her vetoes were improper. Bills she thought she had spiked became law, an embarrassing defeat for her.
Martinez was a district attorney before winning election as governor. That experience left her ill prepared for higher office.
As a prosecutor, she gave orders and subordinates rushed to follow them. As governor, she spouted demands and legislators rolled their eyes.
Lujan Grisham should do better. She learned about the give and take of public life as a Bernalillo County commissioner and as a member of Congress.
The new governor has Martinez’s failings as a road map. Read it, then veer in the opposite direction.
Lujan Grisham and Brandt see the world differently. They won’t share many hugs.
Detente, though, should replace this failure to communicate.
Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at email@example.com or 505-986-3080.