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N.M. governor picks son of former senator as chief of staff

January 1, 2019
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New Mexico Gov.-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham announces more cabinet appointments during a news conference in Albuquerque, N.M., on Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2018. She will take office Jan. 1. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico’s incoming Democratic governor appointed the private-sector investment manager and son of former U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman as her chief of staff on Monday.

In her final hours as governor-elect, Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the appointment of John Bingaman, a 39-year-old managing principal at the Santa Fe-based software-sector investment firm Iron Creek Partners.

He will oversee policy development and legislation for the new administration as it embarks on major reforms to public education and efforts to modernize the state’s oil-dependent economy.

“I think the governor-elect’s choice of me is a signal to the business community that she’s looking for their input and looking for people to step up and contribute,” Bingaman said alongside Lujan Grisham at a news conference in the state Capitol.

At the same time, Lujan Grisham tapped a veteran of local and state government to help oversee state agency leaders with the appointment of 55-year-old Teresa Casados, who will leave her job overseeing senior services for Santa Fe County.

Casados’ new job title is chief operating officer, a post described by Lujan Grisham as “co-equal” with chief of staff.

Casados and Bingaman each will earn a $130,000 salary — more than the governor or state Cabinet secretaries. Lujan Grisham said the arrangement does not increase spending by the governor’s office.

Lujan Grisham delayed key Cabinet appointments to agencies overseeing public education, state prisons and environmental regulation. At agencies without new Cabinet secretaries, an “operation system” is being developed to ensure work goes forward after the New Year’s Day holiday, she said.

“We will be present at any department without a Cabinet secretary in the morning,” she said.

Lujan Grisham succeeds termed out Republican Gov. Susana Martinez on New Year’s Day, with a public inauguration and ballroom galas stretching into the evening to mark the transition of power from one Latina governor to another in the nation’s most heavily Hispanic state.

Jeff Bingaman, a five-term senator and former state attorney general, has officially led Lujan Grisham’s transition team since her election victory over Republican Steve Pearce.

Lujan Grisham said her confidence in John Bingaman has grown as she received separate guidance from him on investment issues that relate to oversight of New Mexico’s multibillion-dollar permanent funds, which help underwrite public education. Lujan Grisham campaigned on pledges to tap more of those holdings to fund early childhood education.

“Child wellbeing and getting public education right are incredibly important,” she said in response to questions about her plans for unfilled Cabinet positions at the departments of Public Education, Corrections, Environment, and Children Youth and Family Services. “We have some of those (appointments) ready to go, some we are still interviewing, but we are on the right path.”

Casados previously served as a deputy chief of staff to Democratic New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who served two terms ending in 2010.

She was director of operations at the North Central New Mexico Economic Development District for a two-year period ending in 2017.

An independent audit more recently flagged the agency for multiple accounting lapses in a federally funded program to expand high-speed internet access. Casados says she was not involved in that broadband project.

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