Whatever your opinion on Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s policies, serving in her Cabinet can be a challenge. Just witness the turnover in top spots in her administration.

Last week the governor announced her latest Cabinet shuffle — appointing new secretaries for the Public Education Department and Department of Public Safety.

She’s also missing a Department of Health secretary (Human Services boss Dr. David Scrase is running both departments) and a Department of Information Technology leader. Dr. Tracie Collins — the second to serve in the Department of Health post — resigned from the job to return to academia while technology’s John Salazar retired last month to care for an ailing wife.

The top job at Workforce Solutions is filled by an interim appointment, too; former Secretary Bill McCamley quit over safety and security concerns — although the crush of unemployment claims during the pandemic and the department’s lagging response likely played a role.

And this is just turnover in recent months.

Lujan Grisham famously has been a taskmaster as a boss, demanding of both herself and her employees.

Her first Public Education Department secretary, the late Karen Trujillo, barely made it six months before being pushed out. Then came Ryan Stewart, recruited from out of state to run PED and criticized for not moving his family here. He managed to last more than two years in the job.

The latest pick for secretary, retired Los Alamos Public Schools Superintendent Kurt A. Steinhaus, 67, will bring to the position both a record of accomplishment and an understanding of New Mexico’s complex system of funding and running schools. That gives him a head start on continuing important reforms that direct money and programs to help at-risk students receive the best education possible.

The new Department of Public Safety secretary, 49-year-old Jason Bowie, has almost 30 years of law enforcement experience. Some of his work in the Rio Rancho Police Department includes supervising the training of officers and ensuring a diverse and inclusive force. Those are important skills given the concern over too-aggressive policing against civilians.

He’ll need all his skills, considering the first DPS appointee, Mark Shea, was fired with little explanation last fall.

However solid the appointments are, watching appointees come and go is unsettling. Part of leadership is creating stability so employees can do their jobs. Rapid turnover can be a sign of high standards — and don’t forget, the state lived through a pandemic, adding to the stress — but it also can be a signal the boss needs to allow people room to do their work.

Lujan Grisham is running for reelection in 2022, and one issue on the table will be her record of managing state government bureaucracy. She needs to be able to explain turnover in her administration. Already, GOP critics are calling the latest departures a sign of “chaos” at the top.

That’s too harsh. Lujan Grisham can point to stability, too, with Economic Development Secretary Alicia J. Keyes; Environment’s James Kenney; Energy, Mineral and Natural Resources’ Sarah Cottrell Propst; and Tourism Secretary Jen Paul Schroer, to name just some of the original appointees still in place.

On the other hand, Lujan Grisham might have to explain why Brian Blalock remains in charge of Children, Youth and Families, considering a whistleblower lawsuit, his endorsement of secrecy apps for phone messages and questions about the department’s process for purchasing a new computer system.

She can make a case that whatever the personnel problems are, others have seen worse. When Gov. Susana Martinez was in charge, her first Corrections Department secretary had an abrupt, embarrassing exit — forced out after her live-in boyfriend fired a gun on state prison grounds. Former Gov. Toney Anaya went through six Department of Health secretaries in one four-year term. That’s a record — for now, anyway — Lujan Grisham isn’t close to topping.

(9) comments

Khal Spencer

"...The latest pick for secretary, retired Los Alamos Public Schools Superintendent Kurt A. Steinhaus, 67, will bring to the position both a record of accomplishment and an understanding of New Mexico’s complex system of funding and running schools..."

Well, let's see how Kurt does now that he is running a statewide system that struggles to get kids to graduate knowing how to read or do math. Running the school district in the richest county in New Mexico, "where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average", is quite different than running a statewide system plagued by low salaries, absentee illiterate parents, and other deeply embedded problems. I wish him luck and hope he can raise our PED out of its perpetual morass but suspect it takes a village rather than an individual to raise a school to excellence.

Good luck, Kurt!

Stefanie Beninato

Yes, the paper continues to speculate about the turnover rather than taking the former secretaries' reasons for departure. And duh, of course, the pandemic may have had an effect on some of these decisions. How many regular people have not returned to jobs because of the changing workscape due to COVID? If a Republican had been governor, we would have had a massively high COVID infection/death rate. And I never saw this paper report on the bullying tactics of Bill Richardson and how he required his staff to forego the lunch hour...

Khal Spencer

Of course we speculate, given these "family reasons" rationales are often enough in public life a euphemism for something else. If you want sheeple, don't support a prying press.

Patricio R. Downs

I worked as a contractor for NM Dept of Health when she was secretary there. For employees, it was like a reign of terror. I remember several people who had fallen out of favor "called to the fourth floor" on a Friday and then I never saw them again. That, or they'd mysteriously get reassigned to HR. (This was back when each department had their own HR) I would imagine it's similar, but times ten, with cabinet secretary.

Chris Mechels

That's why Richardson finally fired her in 2007. Michelle excuses it as having "high standards" but it simply that she's a meddler, and micro manager. Some who should be replaced, but hang on, Lucero at Corrections, Dr. Scrase whose "credential" is being gerontologist, and treating Michelle's mom. The Dept of Health has been dysfunctional under Michelle, because she can't keep her hands off it. The chief epidemiologist at DOH also quit. MLG is just, as always, a loud, pushy, little woman who should NOT be in a leadership position. U.S. Representative was perhaps the best she could do, no power, and lots of PR. As Governor, she's a wrecker.

Maria Bautista


Khal Spencer

Some of these revolving door cabinet secretaries need to come out of the closet and tell us if they actually left for conflicting family obligations or if it was just too much of a PIA to work for Madame Governor.

Chris Mechels

NM is a small state, and you don't need too many enemies. Jackie White, the very competent Secr of NM Homeland Security, quit when pressured by Michelle and Brian Egolf to do something objectionable. She went off to take care of her family, and then recycled. She currently serves as SF County Fire Chief, and we're luck to have her. We are NOT lucky to have Brian and Michelle.

Problem is; we seem to have lost the capacity, esp since the 1990's, to prosecute our crooks, via charging them with Malfeasance, and the Grand Jury. Our AG is corrupt, so can't go there, our DA the same. So, its just save yourself, and your integrity, and resign and recycle. We really MUST deal with this corruption, but the current Trifecta IS the corruption

Maria Bautista

You are brave and I agree. Add Alan Webber and it is putrid.

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