Oh, to be governor of New Mexico in 2019.
Yes, the state has challenges.
Improving education. Creating more and better jobs. Repairing damage to the environment and better regulating pollution, since the federal government has abandoned its responsibility. Operating prisons that keep bad people behind bars without cruelty and that are run as a public responsibility rather than a private money-making scheme. Reforming the justice system so that only the worst cases end up behind bars. Reducing crime and improving public safety. Fighting the opioid epidemic before it decimates more lives. Protecting our children and preventing horrific cases of child abuse. Rebuilding the behavioral health care system. Expanding health care access for all citizens. Beginning the smart transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Repairing infrastructure, from roads to bridges to building broadband capacity and reinforcing the electrical grids. Treating the public like intelligent customers, rather than annoyances.
So much to do.
But in 2019, unlike so many other years, New Mexico also will have money, perhaps as much as $2 billion in new dollars thanks to an oil and gas boom in Southern New Mexico that is turning the Permian Basin into the next Saudi Arabia.
We are rolling in dough. For the moment, anyway. But booms are temporary and busts can be just around the bend. New Mexico deserves a governor who will manage this wealth for the long-term and not fritter it away. New Mexico deserves a governor who believes that together, we can solve these problems and create a better place to live for the children we hope to raise here and the young adults we want to woo back. New Mexico deserves a governor with management ability, an understanding of how to develop policy and pass laws, one who is optimistic, pragmatic and visionary.
And, hey, if she can roller blade or dance in a parade, that’s OK, too.
The governor New Mexico deserves for this moment, at this time, is Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat current serving as U.S. representative from the 1st Congressional District in Albuquerque.
She’s plenty serious, even if she knows how to laugh while she goes about her work. She is a leader with the kind of experience that will help her lay out a plan to invest the surplus so that we emerge stronger when the oil dollars fade. She has traveled the length and breadth of the state, not just in this campaign, but throughout her career. Being in touch with so many ordinary New Mexicans helps her understand where the problems are and how to address them.
She has plans to grow clean energy jobs in wind and solar by investing in transmission lines and increasing New Mexico’s renewable portfolio standard so we lead the nation in clean energy. She wants to raise the minimum wage, first to $10 an hour and then to $12 in four years, indexing it for inflation, which puts more money in the pockets of New Mexicans. She sees the film industry as an important economic driver and promises to increase or eliminate the cap on film tax credits while at the same time increasing production capability.
An easy, smart improvement she will carry out: Using state funds that are spent on buying goods and services for government with in-state vendors rather than sending New Mexico’s dollars elsewhere. In her policy briefing book are ways to invest in rural New Mexico; her plans for partnering with tribes and pueblos to bring economic development to all parts of the state; and especially important, her understanding of the need to increase access to broadband internet. This is a candidate who has thought long and hard about not just the problems but the solutions.
Lujan Grisham is that rare politician, a policy wonk who can speak without pause on the details of health care or immigration, but who can shake hands with the enthusiasm of a Bruce King. This combination will serve the state well.
Most of all, Lujan Grisham brings to the office of governor years of experience in dealing with the problems of this state, doing work that has improved the lives of New Mexicans. She helped grow the state Agency on Aging to the Department of Aging at the Cabinet level, moving on to oversee the state Department of Health, then becoming a Bernalillo County commissioner and now, serving in Congress, where she has led on immigration issues and serves as chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Lujan Grisham can take in the big picture while always keeping in mind how people in the cities and villages, or on the reservations or the ranch, are impacted. With this surplus, New Mexico has a not-to-be-wasted opportunity to start addressing its chronic problems — not by spending like a drunken sailor, throwing money away, but by setting a strategic spending plan that addresses the most urgent needs first. Only a smart, experienced leader can develop such a strategy.
Perhaps the biggest challenge is improving the condition of children in our state. Lujan Grisham has pledged to stop the appeal of the successful lawsuit against the New Mexico Public Education Department. Plaintiffs won their case that the state does not adequately fund public schools as required by the constitution. By accepting the judge’s verdict, the state can move from fighting the decision to planning how best to spend — again, it’s not only more money that is needed but targeting dollars to assist the children most at risk of failure. We can’t just spend more, we must spend more smartly and strategically. Lujan Grisham understands that education spending must focus on students and teachers, not bureaucrats or the corporations that make millions selling standardized tests.
The problems facing children start way before kindergarten, however, and Lujan Grisham knows we must invest in crucial preschool education so that all children are ready to succeed. Her experience at taming bureaucracies will help her focus the right attention on the broken Children, Youth and Families Department. We need more social workers, better tracking of cases, support for families and a Cabinet secretary who understands the child welfare system and can manage.
As we said earlier this year in endorsing Lujan Grisham in the Democratic primary — she gets that the essential issue facing the state is poverty. Fix that, and all else follows. To quote her inspiring speech to legislators from 2015: “It’s time that you declare war on poverty in New Mexico. It is time that the New Mexico Legislature flat-out declare war.”
For once, New Mexico will not go unarmed into this war. There is money to purchase necessary ammunition, in the form of the $2 billion. Now, the state deserves a commander on the field who understands the stakes, how to use those dollars and who believes that government run right will improve the lives of all New Mexicans.
Lujan Grisham has the experience, guts and intelligence to do the job. For governor, The New Mexican endorses Michelle Lujan Grisham.