Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will not be leaving New Mexico for a Cabinet position in President-elect Joe Biden’s administration, the Biden transition team and the governor said Sunday.
The announcements put an end to incessant speculation about Lujan Grisham possibly leaving the state to run the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, a high-profile agency that will be key to implementing Biden’s plan for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The speculation had reached a crescendo in recent days with national media reports that Lujan Grisham had faded from consideration after turning down an offer from the Biden transition team to run a different federal agency – the Department of Interior.
A Biden transition source told the Journal the transition had in fact engaged Lujan Grisham about possible positions in the administration.
But the governor decided to stay in New Mexico, given the state’s own battle to slow the spread of COVID-19 – which has now killed 1,749 people statewide after a recent surge in cases – and her recent election as Democratic Governors Association chair for 2021, according to the Biden transition team.
The transition team source also said Biden thinks highly of Lujan Grisham and expects close cooperation with the governor after he is inaugurated next month.
The New York Times reported later Sunday that Biden plans to appoint California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to be health and human services secretary.
Lujan Grisham, who is a co-chair of Biden’s transition team, said Sunday that she was looking ahead to working with the Biden administration from afar.
“As I’ve consistently said, I have the best job in the world as governor of New Mexico,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “I look forward to working with the Biden administration as we tackle the challenges we’re facing here in New Mexico and also across the country; COVID-19, combating climate change, and rebuilding our nation’s economy are just a few of the areas where we need to make significant progress right now.”
Lujan Grisham, who was also mentioned as a possible Biden vice presidential pick before the Democratic presidential candidate selected U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California as his running mate in August, had not publicly campaigned for a Cabinet position in the Biden administration.
But she also had stopped short of saying she would not accept a role in the Biden administration if offered such a job.
“I think that Health and Human Services (secretary), which is the Cabinet post I’ve been identified for by advocates, is a testament to my being one of the only governors in a long time who has experience in public health, in health care, health care reform, and long-term care in the country,” Lujan Grisham said during a news conference last week. “That is a valuable thing for the Biden team to look at.”
The nation’s only current Latina governor, Lujan Grisham previously served three terms in Congress representing the Albuquerque-based 1st Congressional District. She also co-founded a health care consulting company in 2008 but divested herself from the firm, Delta Consulting, before running for governor.
If Lujan Grisham had been selected for a Cabinet post in the Biden administration, Lt. Gov. Howie Morales would have been in line to serve out the two remaining years of the her term as governor.
The four-year term that Lujan Grisham was elected to in 2018 runs through 2022, and she has suggested in the past that she plans to run for re-election.
Meanwhile, there could still be New Mexico representation in Biden’s administration.
U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., has been touted as a possible interior secretary pick and would make history as the first Native American Cabinet secretary if chosen.
New Mexico’s two U.S. senators – Democrats Tom Udall and Marin Heinrich – have also been mentioned as candidates for interior secretary, which plays a key role in managing public lands nationwide.