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Lujan Grisham sets ambitious agenda in State of the State address

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham opened her first State of the State address on Tuesday with a call to seize the “immeasurable opportunity” provided by a budget surplus to transform New Mexico’s school system and set a new course for generations to come.

In a 50-minute speech, Lujan Grisham showed off her sense of humor and outlined an ambitious agenda of left-leaning policy proposals touching on climate change, education and guns.

“In this moment, on this new day, we stand together on the precipice of immeasurable opportunity,” Lujan Grisham said. “I’m ready to begin the climb, and I believe that you are, too.”

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham delivers her State of the State address during a joint session of the House and Senate at the State Capitol in Santa Fe Tuesday. The legislative session started at noon Tuesday. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

The audience – filled with lawmakers, family members and other guests – gave the new governor a rousing welcome as she entered the chambers and erupted into a brief chant of “MLG” as she walked away from the podium.

It was an obvious reminder of the new political landscape in Santa Fe: Democrats flipped control of the Governor’s Office, swept every statewide race and expanded their House majority in last year’s general election.

Lujan Grisham’s speech came as lawmakers began a critical 60-day session – the first since a landmark court decision found that New Mexico is violating the rights of some students by failing to provide a sufficient education.

It’s also the first session for Lujan Grisham as governor. She succeeded Republican Susana Martinez on Jan. 1, putting Democrats in control of the House, Senate and Governor’s Office for the first time since 2010.

Security guards search people entering the House gallery Tuesday for the start of the 2019 legislative session and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s State of the State address.

Addressing both chambers of the Legislature for the first time, Lujan Grisham promised to be a good listener and said she would work to build a collaborative relationship with lawmakers.

Differing response

Many of her ideas drew applause from Democratic lawmakers, while Republicans sat quietly.

In contrast to her Republican predecessor, Lujan Grisham said she would pursue new gun laws – including stronger background check requirements and a ban on gun possession by anyone convicted of assault. She also vowed to support tighter restrictions aimed at keeping household guns away from children.

“With common-sense reforms,” Lujan Grisham said, “we can build a state where people who should not have firearms, don’t, simple as that.”

She also said she would direct the state Department of Health to study “gun violence” and develop data to guide future legislation.

Lujan Grisham said she would pursue universal prekindergarten to ensure students start school on equal footing, better pay for educators, and an end to “high-stakes testing” in New Mexico.

Educators, she said, should “know this state will support them and treat them with the respect they deserve and have always deserved.”

She also encouraged lawmakers to reshape the criminal justice system to focus on repeat offenders, “not the low-level and nonviolent kids caught in a bad spot.”

Other priorities, she said, include making opioid addiction a qualifying condition for the medical marijuana program and expanding the reporting requirements on spending by lobbyists.

Lujan Grisham also pledged to direct state agencies to develop a plan to combat climate change and pollution, and she said she will push to ramp up the money available for economic development.

The new governor didn’t call for legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, a priority of some Democrats. She has said previously that she would support legalization with certain conditions, including safeguards against use by children.

She touched on the long-standing proposal to amend the state Constitution to authorize withdrawing more money from New Mexico’s largest permanent fund to support early childhood education and services. Lawmakers, Lujan Grisham said, should explore taking a “responsible pinch” of additional money from the permanent fund.

Republicans warn

House Republicans criticized the governor Tuesday for promoting what they described as unrestrained spending and cautioned that the plan could lead to future budget problems.

“There seems to be no end to the appetite to spend money,” said House Minority Leader James Townsend, R-Artesia, who pointed out that the governor made no mention in her speech of massive unfunded liabilities facing the state’s two pension funds.

House GOP Whip Rod Montoya of Farmington described Lujan Grisham’s spending plan as a “budget based on hope” that could put the state on shaky financial ground if oil prices go down.

“We’re following a repeat, basically, of the Richardson administration,” Montoya told the Journal, referring to former Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat who served from 2003 through 2010.

Budget priority

One of the priorities of the session, of course, will be crafting a new state budget.

Because of an oil boom in southeastern New Mexico, lawmakers and the governor expect to have about $1.1 billion in “new money” next year, or revenue beyond this year’s spending levels.

“We are aiming high, and I invite you to aim high right alongside me,” Lujan Grisham said. “We are going to deliver a moonshot for public education in the state of New Mexico.”

She peppered her speech with the occasional self-deprecating joke, including about the length of her speech, her own “wind capacity” as a speaker and the number of lawyers in the Legislature.

“In this room, there are educators, there are public safety officers, coaches, doctors, lawyers – a lot of lawyers,” she said, as the audience laughed.

Lujan Grisham referred to her fiancé, Manny Cordova, as the “first Manny.”

Democrats jumped to their feet a few times, showering her with ovations. Some or all of the Republicans joined in occasionally, such as when Lujan Grisham offered thanks to veterans and their families.

Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, described the new governor’s State of the State address as “refreshing.” He said he was pleased to hear Lujan Grisham embrace renewable energy, in contrast to her predecessor.

“I thought it was a bold and forward-looking speech that laid out several extremely important policy priorities for the state and our citizens,” Steinborn said.

Extra measures

The gallery overlooking the House floor – where Lujan Grisham spoke behind a wooden lectern – was already at capacity about an hour before the session began.

Extra security measures, including a ban on firearms in the House gallery, led to some long lines as security personnel and State Police checked people for weapons.


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