Washington Notebook: Udall names chief of staff; ads oppose lifting of oil export ban - Albuquerque Journal

Washington Notebook: Udall names chief of staff; ads oppose lifting of oil export ban

WASHINGTON – Bianca Ortiz Wertheim, a longtime Democratic policy adviser from northern New Mexico, will take over as Sen. Tom Udall’s chief of staff in Washington beginning Tuesday.

Ortiz Wertheim has served as Udall’s state director for the past six years, and previously worked as director of Cabinet affairs for then-Gov. Bill Richardson. She is the wife of Albuquerque attorney and former New Mexico Democratic Party Chairman John Wertheim, who is also moving to Washington.

Ortiz Wertheim, a Nambé native, takes over Udall’s top job from Mike Collins, who hails from Taos. Collins worked for Udall for 15 years, starting as a low-level House staffer who eventually became the Democratic senator’s chief of staff, a position he held for the past three years. Collins is leaving for a job in the private sector, but on Tuesday he declined through a spokewoman in Udall’s office to say where he’ll be working until his new employer announces the hire.

“I want to thank Mike Collins for all of his years of service to New Mexicans – he joined my House staff fresh out of college and worked his way to chief of staff in the Senate office,” Udall said in a statement. “While I’m sad to see him go, I’m proud of the work he has done for our state and happy for him as he moves on to a new career challenge. At the same time, I am thrilled that Bianca Ortiz Wertheim will move to Washington and serve as my new chief of staff. Bianca has headed up the state offices for six years, overseeing constituent service and community representatives. She has deep roots in New Mexico, and her experience and knowledge of the state will help me continue to provide excellent service to New Mexicans. We’re all excited to have her step into this new role.”

Ortiz Wertheim graduated from the University of Oklahoma and earned an MBA from the University of New Mexico.

Collins is the second New Mexico U.S. Senate staff chief of staff to leave the job this summer. Last month, Sen. Martin Heinrich’s longtime chief of staff, Steve Haro, took a position with the U.S. Commerce Department. Washington political veteran and Nebraska native Joe Britton took over for Haro in Heinrich’s office a couple of weeks ago.

OIL EXPORT BAN: A new Washington lobbying group called Allied Progress opposes lifting the long-standing crude oil export ban and is airing television ads asking Democratic Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, as well as lawmakers in four other states, to vote against the looming legislation.

The federal government has prohibited crude oil exports by domestic producers since the 1970s to ensure adequate national supplies in the face of shortages from an Arab oil embargo that has in the past caused gas rationing and bottlenecks at pumping stations.

But some New Mexico oil producers have said the ban is hurting them and is no longer needed, given the huge surge in U.S. production. The Allied Progress spots contend oil exports would cost U.S. jobs, raise gasoline prices and make America more dependent on Middle Eastern oil.

Heinrich, a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, in June voted against lifting the ban but suggested he would be open to changing his vote if some clean energy tax breaks were added to the bill.

“I think the proponents are making some very persuasive arguments on this front,” Heinrich said at the time of the vote in June, according the Hill newspaper. “But I think before we make such a monumental shift in U.S. policy, I hope we can agree to expand our existing policy incentives for carbon-free energy sources.”

Udall has not taken a public position on the legislation, which could come up for a vote this fall.

“Sen. Udall is studying the economic, environmental and national security issues involved,” said Jennifer Talhelm, his spokeswoman.

Michael Coleman: mcoleman@abqjournal.com.

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