New Mexico First director leaving for Thornburg Foundation

April 13, 2019

Heather Balas, who headed public-policy nonprofit New Mexico First for more than a decade, is leaving to join the Thornburg Foundation.

Balas, a native of Portales, had been the organization’s president and executive director since 2006.

Since its inception, New Mexico First has conducted dozens of statewide town hall meetings to discuss the state’s major issues and develop policy initiatives to deal with them. The organization has been influential in developing legislation and funding proposals that touched on education, natural resources, good government and health care.

Balas, who worked in Washington, D.C., and California on public policy and voter education issues before returning to New Mexico, will lead good-government reform efforts in her role with the nonprofit Thornburg Foundation. She has a bachelor’s degree from Eastern New Mexico University and a master’s from the University of Maryland.

New Mexico First board Chairwoman Valerie Romero-Leggott said the organization is coordinating a national search, and former Lt. Gov. Diane Denish will head the search committee.

“The board and I are confident there will be a smooth transition in leadership, in large part due to Heather’s fidelity to the organization from her first day to her last,” Romero-Leggott said in a news release.

As the organization searches for a new leader, officials said New Mexico First senior policy Director Pamela Blackwell will serve as the interim executive director. In June, New Mexico First will host a lecture series on “Sustainable Journalism: Preserving the Fourth Estate.”

The fundraiser will feature a panel of veteran state journalists discussing challenges to the industry in New Mexico. In addition, the Spirit Awards — honoring public officials, civic leaders and journalists — who’ve made contributions to New Mexico — will be presented.