Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Michelle Lujan Grisham invoked the legacy of her late father Tuesday while outlining a future New Mexico with more job opportunities for young people, universal prekindergarten for 3- and 4-year olds, higher wages for workers and an overall “revolution of attitude” when it comes to the state’s self-image.
On her first day as New Mexico’s governor, the 59-year-old former congresswoman said she’s got the energy and work ethic to take on systemic issues such as high poverty rates and low education rankings that previous governors have had a hard time addressing.
“We will go big – really big,” Lujan Grisham told roughly 1,250 people who braved wintry conditions to attend the governor’s inaugural address at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center.
With a 60-day legislative session set to begin in two weeks, Lujan Grisham vowed to push for elimination of the state’s annual $50 million cap on film incentive spending, seek salary increases for teachers and state workers, implement new renewable energy standards and promote an increase in the state’s $7.50-per-hour minimum wage.
She also said the time is right for a “responsible pinch” of money from the state’s largest permanent fund for early childhood programs, a proposal that could put her at odds with prominent Senate Democrats who have described the idea as fiscally imprudent.
“There is no more time to lose,” the governor said. “There is no argument to be had, frankly, about whether we can afford it. The point is, we can’t afford not to.”
Two members of the state’s congressional delegation – U.S. Sen. Tom Udall and U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján – were present for Tuesday’s inaugural ceremony, along with the mayors of Albuquerque and Santa Fe, state Supreme Court justices, tribal leaders, dozens of Democratic lawmakers and even author George R.R. Martin, a Santa Fe resident who wrote the “Game of Thrones” books.
Two former governors,Toney Anaya and Garrey Carruthers, also attended. The state’s two most recent governors, Democrat Bill Richardson and outgoing Republican Susana Martinez, were not there.
The masters of ceremonies were Jill Cooper Udall, the senator’s wife, and twin sisters Jazmín Coronel and Yazmín Irazoqui Ruiz, who came to the United States from Mexico as children and qualified for an Obama-era immigration policy that temporarily protects some individuals brought to the country as children from possible deportation.
In a speech, Supreme Court Chief Justice Judith Nakamura pointed out that the transition from Martinez to Lujan Grisham marked the first time in New Mexico history that a woman has handed over the reins of state government to another woman.
She also drew laughs by thanking Lujan Grisham for not holding an outdoor ceremony, saying, “We are grateful to be inside.”
Lujan Grisham’s day started when she and Lt. Gov. Howie Morales were sworn into office shortly after midnight in front of roughly 200 friends and family members in the Capitol rotunda.
Before attending Mass with her fiancé, Manny Cordova, at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, she attended an early morning service at the Carmelite Monastery in Santa Fe, where the new governor received a private blessing from one of the cloistered nuns and reflected about her late father, Buddy Lujan.
Lujan Grisham would recall later in the day that her father set up a dentist’s chair in the family’s garage in which he provided free or discounted services to low-income New Mexicans.
A former state Cabinet secretary under three governors, Lujan Grisham dedicated much of her own career to making health care accessible and said Tuesday that she would continue that work as governor.
She also cited single mothers – Lujan Grisham became a single mom after her husband died in 2004 – and said she would ensure that food and health care assistance programs are available to those who need them most.
“We will create that New Mexico – a state where every child, every family, has everything they need every single day to succeed,” Lujan Grisham said.
However, Lujan Grisham also acknowledged that building a stronger economy in a state long reliant on the federal government and the oil and natural gas industries will be a difficult task. She said she’s not daunted by the possibility of missteps or discord.
“I’ve been in this arena many times, and I’m not afraid to stumble,” Lujan Grisham said.
In addition, she said she would increase state spending on roads, airports and broadband internet service to help bolster the economy, while touting more stringent environmental standards – such as a new rule regarding methane emissions – as job-creation measures.
Before getting down to work today, the governor and her supporters were planning to dance the night away at two inaugural balls in Santa Fe on Tuesday night. Both of the balls were closed to the media, an inaugural spokeswoman said.
For Democrats who felt stymied for eight years under Martinez, the first day of the Lujan Grisham administration represented relief and excitement.
“We’re all excited because we finally have someone we can work with,” said Santa Fe County Commissioner Anna Hansen, who pointed to Lujan Grisham’s positions on solar energy and the film industry as particularly promising.
Alray Nelson, a member of the Navajo Nation, told the Journal that Lujan Grisham’s call for expanded early childhood programs aligns with Native American views and said he thinks the state’s new chief executive will have a positive relationship with tribal leaders.
“I think Michelle is going to be a champion for people who don’t have a voice in state government,” said Nelson, who heads a nonprofit advocacy group for same-sex marriage on the reservation and previously did work for Lujan Grisham’s gubernatorial campaign.
Lujan Grisham won last year’s race for governor, getting more than 57 percent of the votes cast to defeat Republican Steve Pearce in a hard-hitting contest. She also defeated two fellow Democrats in the June 2018 primary election.
But the new governor said she does not intend to bask in her triumph, saying in her Tuesday address, “We’re not here to celebrate a political victory, but to remind ourselves a political victory is only as good as the work ethic of the victors.”
And there’s undoubtedly work to be done.
Lujan Grisham has appointed most members of her Cabinet, though top positions in high-profile agencies such as the Public Education Department, the Health Department and the Children, Youth and Families Department have not been filled.
She also plans to release a spending plan before the legislative session begins Jan. 15 and has met with both Republican and Democratic lawmakers before taking office.
“I want to show we can prioritize the miles of agreement that we share over the inches of disagreement that separate us,” Lujan Grisham said in her Tuesday address.
The diminutive governor, who joked that she would order all lecterns in New Mexico to be lowered, is taking office at a time of unprecedented state revenue, due primarily to a surge in oil production in southeastern New Mexico.
She said more money will help make some of her agenda more attainable but suggested that money alone won’t solve all the state’s problems.
“The state has suffered from a lack of investment, but also a lack of imagination,” Lujan Grisham said, before later adding: “The opportunity we share has never been greater, because our collective will has never been stronger.”