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Lujan Grisham picks Bingaman to lead transition team

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

A day after winning a decisive victory to be New Mexico’s next governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham got to work laying the foundation for her administration.

Former U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman

Former U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman

The Democratic governor-elect announced that former longtime U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman will serve as chairman of her transition team, a job that will involve helping shape policy and identifying possible Cabinet picks.

At a Wednesday news conference in Albuquerque, Lujan Grisham told reporters she had made no job offers and would consider holdovers from outgoing Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration if they share her goals.

“We really want to send a message that we want the best and the brightest to engage with us so we can make those decisions,” Lujan Grisham said.

After defeating Republican Steve Pearce in the general election Tuesday, Lujan Grisham will take office on New Year’s Day – less than two months from now – and will have to move quickly to assemble a Cabinet and prepare a budget plan. A 60-day legislative session will start Jan. 15.

The three-term congresswoman said she received a congratulatory phone call late Tuesday from Martinez, a Republican who was barred from seeking a third consecutive term in office and will step down at year’s end.

Lujan Grisham described the phone call as a productive conversation and said Martinez pledged to help make the transition a smooth one. The two also plan to meet in the coming days.

“She made it clear that whatever we need for a successful transition we could count on her administration to (provide),” Lujan Grisham said. “New Mexico is making history with two women elected as governor back to back … and I’m looking forward to that meeting and that cooperation.”

She also said Martinez administration officials would have the opportunity to apply for jobs under her regime – Lujan Grisham already has a transition website – but said appointees would have to share similar views on alternative energy, changes to New Mexico’s public education system and more.

“There is something to be said for productive continuity,” said the governor-elect, who was previously a Cabinet secretary herself under three governors before being elected to Congress.

However, Lujan Grisham also said she was concerned about high employee vacancy rates in several New Mexico state agencies, including the Children, Youth and Families Department and the Human Services Department.

“Those positions will hold a priority for our administration,” she said.

For her part, Martinez told the Journal in a statement that she was proud to be preparing to hand over the reins of state government at a time of unprecedented projected incoming revenue – due primarily to record-high oil production levels – and dropping unemployment rates.

“As I told the Governor-elect last night, I sincerely want her to succeed and I encourage all New Mexicans to come together and support the Governor-elect, as her success will be New Mexico’s success,” Martinez said.

Meanwhile, Lujan Grisham’s decision to tap Bingaman as her transition team chairman came as somewhat of a surprise, because Bingaman did not have a role in her campaign for governor.

A former New Mexico attorney general who did not seek re-election to the U.S. Senate in 2012 after 30 years in Washington, D.C., Bingaman touted Lujan Grisham’s plan to meet with legislative leaders from both political parties in the coming weeks.

“I think inviting both the Republican and Democratic legislators to come together and talk about what the agenda is going to be for the next four years is a clear sign” of how Lujan Grisham plans to governor, Bingaman told reporters.

The only other announced member of Lujan Grisham’s transition team is Dominic Gabello, who was her campaign manager during the election cycle and will direct transition efforts.