Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Gov.-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham on Friday announced her first Cabinet appointments since being elected last month, turning to in-state faces with proven track records to run three state agencies.
Two of the appointees have previous state government experience, and the third has extensive experience in the health care industry.
With just over two weeks until she’s sworn into office, Lujan Grisham said her Cabinet search has focused on qualified individuals who can get to work immediately on implementing her policy initiatives.
“Our goal is to be the most prepared administration in the history of New Mexico,” the governor-elect told a press conference Friday at the state Capitol.
Her first round of Cabinet appointees include Olivia Padilla-Jackson as the next secretary of the Department of Finance and Administration, which functions as state government’s central budget office.
Padilla-Jackson last month was named Albuquerque’s top budget officer. She is a former director of the state Board of Finance.
She will take the reins of the Department of Finance and Administration at a time of unprecedented revenue levels – a total of $1.1 billion in new money is projected for the coming budget year – due primarily to surging oil production levels in southeastern New Mexico.
“It’s an unprecedented opportunity to be able to do some incredible things,” said Padilla-Jackson, who added that she would carefully review recently released state revenue estimates. “That being said, we need to be cautious.”
Lujan Grisham also appointed Dr. David Scrase as the next leader of the Human Services Department, one of the state’s largest agencies with more than 2,000 employees. It administers the state’s Medicaid program and programs for New Mexicans with mental illness and addiction issues.
Scrase is a professor at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine and the section chief of geriatrics at the UNM Health Sciences Center.
A former Cabinet secretary herself, Lujan Grisham said her administration will look closely at the Medicaid Centennial Care program implemented by outgoing Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration but indicated she opposes ideas like mandatory co-pays and health insurance premiums for some Medicaid recipients.
“There are things in that proposal we don’t agree with and don’t think are viable,” she said.
Meanwhile, Lujan Grisham appointed Sarah Cottrell Propst secretary of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, which oversees the State Parks division and regulates oil and natural gas drilling in New Mexico.
Cottrell Propst, executive director of the Interwest Energy Alliance and the former energy and environmental policy adviser for ex-Gov. Bill Richardson, said she has been tasked with trying to work with energy industry officials to come up with new rules governing methane releases.
She also said she will work to expand opportunities for export of renewable energy.
“New Mexico has far more renewables than we’ll ever be able to use with our population here,” Cottrell Propst said.
New Mexico Oil and Gas Association Executive Director Ryan Flynn tweeted after Friday’s announcement that he looked forward to working with the secretary-designate, saying growing the state’s economy can go “hand in hand” with protecting the environment.
The three Cabinet appointees, who are each subject to Senate confirmation, will take the reins of their respective state agencies on Jan. 1, when Lujan Grisham is sworn into office.
Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, said she plans to unveil her own budget blueprint shortly after taking office, instead of relying on a legislative budget recommendation.
More Cabinet appointments are expected to be announced in the coming days.