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Gov.-elect names first three Cabinet members

December 15, 2018

Gov.-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham named the first members of her Cabinet on Friday, tapping a doctor, a renewable energy advocate and a top budget official from Albuquerque for leadership posts in her new administration.

Coming more than a month after her election and just weeks ahead of her inauguration on New Year’s Day, the Democrat’s announcement at the Roundhouse landed smack in the middle of a whirlwind of speculation about who is in, who is out and what is in store for a governor coming to power with a big budget surplus and a lot of political capital.

At the end of a week when talk of how to use an anticipated windfall of tax revenue was also rampant at the Roundhouse, Lujan Grisham tapped Olivia Padilla-Jackson to head the Department of Finance and Administration and begin the work of piecing together a spending plan that accounts for an estimated $1.1 billion in new funds flowing from an oil boom in southeastern New Mexico.

The governor-elect named Dr. David Scrase to lead the Human Services Department, the agency with one of the biggest budgets in state government and responsibility for everything from Medicaid to food stamps. And the governor-elect chose Sarah Cottrell Propst to take over the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, which oversees the oil industry, mining and state parks.

Speaking to reporters, Lujan Grisham made clear she intends to submit her own budget, due Jan. 10, rather than accept proposals from legislative aides or from outgoing Cabinet secretaries.

“I want to make sure we hit our marks, and public education is a priority,” Lujan Grisham said.

“We have to be responsible,” the governor-elect went on to say. “The notion ‘We’ve got $1.1 billion; let’s spend every penny of it and see what happens next year’ means we’re not serious.”

Lujan Grisham suggested her budget might differ from the Legislature’s in how it fills vacant positions that have been particular problems with regard to social services and public safety. The state’s expected windfall could also be a chance to catch up on infrastructure projects, she said.

The money is an “unprecedented opportunity to do some amazing things,” said Padilla-Jackson, a native New Mexican who serves as budget officer for the city of Albuquerque.

But, she added: “We need to be cautious.”

Scrase also will have to make some quick decisions.

For one thing, the federal government on Friday approved several new Medicaid policies proposed by outgoing Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

That includes raising premiums and copays for some people enrolled in the health insurance program.

But Lujan Grisham said her administration may not go through with that plan, arguing that raising costs for patients would be a barrier to health care.

“The higher the copay you pay, the less likely low-income people are to access care,” said Scrase, currently a professor of internal medicine and geriatrics at the University of New Mexico.

Lujan Grisham said she wants to find other ways of expanding health care coverage, such as by recruiting more doctors for underserved areas and through a program that would let people who do not currently qualify for Medicaid buy a plan.

Cottrell Propst, meanwhile, will have the job of regulating much of the oil and gas activity driving New Mexico’s revenue growth while pushing the sort of advances in renewable energy that Lujan Grisham pledged on the campaign trail.

While the outgoing secretary was an oil industry executive, Cottrell Propst heads the Interwest Energy Alliance, a trade association for the renewable energy industry.

One of her jobs will be implementing a plan to cut methane emissions.

Lujan Grisham, Cottrell Propst said, “expects to get everybody at the table and work out something that’s going to work for New Mexico and be one of the strongest rules and protective rules for New Mexico’s air and human health.”

The governor-elect’s picks will take office with her at the start of the year but will face the state Senate confirmation process.

Lujan Grisham said she will name more Cabinet secretaries shortly.

Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce, who unsuccessfully ran against Lujan Grisham for governor, was quick to blast her choices Friday. Pointing to roles each of her picks played advising, advocating or working somewhere in the administration of the last Democratic governor, he accused Lujan Grisham of trying to recreate the Bill Richardson administration.

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