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Denish Prepares To Take State Reins

By Dan Boyd
Journal Capitol Bureau
       SANTA FE — Meetings between staff members of Gov. Bill Richardson and Lt. Gov. Diane Denish are taking place on a nearly daily basis as New Mexico readies for a transition in power.
    But even with Richardson possibly in his final month at the state's helm before becoming the new U.S. commerce secretary, there are few outward signs that change is in the works.
    Denish's transition team spokesman said Monday there won't immediately be "major changes" in the numbers or status of exempt employees, who serve at the governor's pleasure, once she becomes New Mexico's first female governor.
    And the issue of whether Denish plans to retain the entire State Police security detail used by Richardson — a total of 17 officers according to top state legislators — hasn't come up yet, Denish's transition team communications director Chris Cervini said earlier this week.
    Meanwhile, Richardson is retaining his decision-making authority until he officially leaves New Mexico.
    "I wouldn't call it power sharing because the governor is still making the decisions," said Richardson spokesman Gilbert Gallegos. "I'd say we're going about our legislative agenda the same as usual."
    Richardson and Denish met face-to-face on Monday to discuss the transition and aides from both camps say there's been regular phone contact between the two.
    Denish has also met with North Carolina's governor-elect Bev Perdue to trade notes and has spoken with both Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano.
    Within 10 days of Richardson's appointment, Denish had assembled a two-person paid transition staff and 120 volunteer transition advisers, who will report to her on specific issues in upcoming weeks.
    But Cervini declined to discuss how vigorously Denish might push or defend a legislative agenda crafted largely by Richardson.
    "I think it's premature and not constructive to draw those distinctions now," Cervini told the Journal. "The lieutenant governor is the lieutenant governor until the governor is no longer the governor."
    Denish also doesn't intend to announce her new lieutenant governor until Richardson is confirmed by the U.S. Senate and vacates his current position, Cervini said.
    Most of the governor's staff has remained in place since Obama announced on Dec. 3 that he planned to nominate Richardson to head the Department of Commerce, Gallegos said.
    A Senate vote on confirmation of Richardson as commerce secretary can't happen until after Jan. 20, Obama's inauguration day and the first day of the New Mexico legislative session.



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