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Lujan Grisham one of two top candidates for health secretary

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – National news outlets identified Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham as one of the two top contenders this week to join President-elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet as the secretary of health and human services.

Politico, a media company that covers U.S. politics and policy, described Lujan Grisham and former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy as leading candidates to head the department, although a few others are also in contention. The outlet cited as sources more than a half-dozen people on or close to the transition team.

The New York Times on Wednesday also named those two as the top picks for the post.

Both news organizations said the nominee could be named as early as next week.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham

Lujan Grisham, a Democrat who was elected governor in 2018, has repeatedly brushed off the speculation in recent weeks.

But she serves as one of the co-chairs of Biden’s transition team, and she has a background in health care policy, contributing to the speculation that she might join the new administration.

Lujan Grisham is a former health secretary at the state level and led New Mexico’s Aging and Long-Term Services Department. She served six years in the U.S. House and two years as a Bernalillo County commissioner.

The governor has repeatedly attracted national attention this year for her aggressive steps to address the COVID-19 pandemic, including the two-week shutdown order in effect through Monday.

Politico reported that the Congressional Hispanic Caucus – a group Lujan Grisham once led – is lobbying Biden to pick Lujan Grisham as secretary of health and human services and that other Latino advocacy groups have also weighed in.

Supporters say Lujan Grisham has strong political skills and experience leading a complex bureaucracy. Murthy, in turn, is a physician and already a top adviser to Biden on the pandemic.

U.S, Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., said Wednesday that Lujan Grisham is a “strong leader who can help put HHS back on track after President Trump’s four years of failed leadership.”

The congressman and governor are not related.

“Since Day One of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Luján said in a written statement, “Governor Lujan Grisham has followed the science to protect the health and wellbeing of New Mexicans. She has a long track record of building consensus in both Santa Fe and Washington, having also served as Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.”

Biden will be sworn in Jan. 20, the day after New Mexico’s 60-day legislative sessions starts. He has already revealed some of his nominees for top jobs – with more announcements expected throughout this month and December. Cabinet appointees must win confirmation by the U.S. Senate to take office.

If Lujan Grisham left office, Lt. Gov. Howie Morales, a former state senator and Democrat from Silver City, would serve the final two years of Lujan Grisham’s term. Other prominent Democrats and Republicans would almost certainly give extra consideration to running for governor if Lujan Grisham left.

Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswoman for Lujan Grisham, told the Journal on Wednesday that she had no comment. The “governor is focused on the COVID-19 crisis at hand in New Mexico,” Sackett said.

Other prominent New Mexicans are also the subject of Cabinet speculation. U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland and Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich have been mentioned as potential nominees to head the Interior Department.

If Haaland left Congress, New Mexico would hold a special election to fill the vacancy. If Heinrich left the Senate, the governor would appoint his replacement.

Udall is already retiring, and Luján has been elected to replace him.

The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post also have named Lujan Grisham as a top contender for the Health and Human Services position.

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