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January 28, 2003

Senate Confirms First Cabinet Members

By Deborah Baker
The Associated Press
SANTA FE   —   The Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved the first batch of Gov. Bill Richardson's appointees to top-level positions.
    Confirmed were Human Services Secretary Pamela Hyde; Health Secretary Patricia Montoya; Children, Youth and Families Secretary Mary-Dale Bolson; and Environment Secretary Ronald Curry.
    Richardson said the Senate's quick action allows his cabinet secretaries "to turn their complete attention to key state departments that sorely need their leadership."
    By law, the Senate must confirm nearly all the governor's department heads.
    Typically, senators bow to the wishes of a new governor when he puts together his team, although occasionally they throw up a roadblock.
    Former Gov. Gary Johnson, for example, had his nominee for Human Services secretary rejected in 1995, the first time that had occurred since 1989.
    The Republican governor complained throughout his administration that the Democrat-dominated Legislature played politics with his appointees.
    Richardson's four nominees got a warm reception on Monday from the Senate Rules Committee, which unanimously endorsed them.
    "They seem to be people who are qualified for the job. They've had experience in the areas they were nominated for," said Republican Leader Stuart Ingle of Portales.
    "If they don't do a good job, certainly criticism will come," he said.
    The Human Services Department   —   which oversees Medicaid, welfare reform, child support enforcement and other difficult areas   —   has been plagued with problems.
    Nominee Hyde said Richardson asked her why she wanted to run an agency that was "such a mess."
    "When things are the biggest messes, it offers the greatest opportunity for change," said Hyde, a consultant who was formerly head of the Department of Human Services in Ohio, director of mental health in that state, and in charge of housing and human services in Seattle.
    New Mexico's Human Services Department, she said, is "a $2.5 billion enterprise we can't afford to run inefficiently, ineffectively, without vision," she said.
    Committee members told health chief Montoya that New Mexico is in desperate need of long-term programs for people with drug and alcohol addictions, and Montoya agreed there was "a major crisis in this state."
    "We have been in a decade where the push has been, ¹Let's lock people up,¹ ¹¹ said Montoya, a nurse who formerly worked for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under President Clinton as commissioner in the Administration on Children, Youth and Families.
    Bolson, the Children, Youth and Families secretary, said she is "a strong advocate for youth and families" who also is committed to improving employee morale at the agency.
    She has been principal at New Futures School in Albuquerque, which is for pregnant and parenting teenagers.
    Curry, a former deputy secretary of the Environment Department and a former Santa Fe city manager, has been a consultant for industry and environmental groups.
    He said the department had been "management-challenged" in the past few years. As a regulatory agency, it owes it to businesses to set clear guidelines and help them not pollute in the first place, Curry said.
    Sen. Rod Adair, R-Roswell, said that under Johnson, the department was too liberal, and he hoped that would change.
    "As odd as it may sound, the Johnson administration Environment Department has to have been among the toughest in America . . . practically radically pro-environmental," Adair said.