What I have learned in these months after the election is that my lifelong love affair with New Mexico, her people, her needs, and her politics won’t end. I promised to stick around and fight for our families and I intend to do so.
It’s not been a particular stellar period of my life. In a span of just eight months I lost both an election for governor of New Mexico and my prized bicycle.
Replacing the bike was easy. The new one is better, faster, and features an improved lock to foil the thieves who stole the first one. And when I pedal hard I can sometimes forget the need to decide what to do with the next four or more of my life when I had expected to be governing New Mexico.
Susana Martinez has a huge challenge on her hands. It is a time of soaring costs, declining revenue, stifling unemployment. Add impending redistricting and its opportunistic politics to the mixture and you have enough to spoil a girl’s day.
Do I think I could have done a better job handling these challenges? Of course I do. That’s why I ran for governor. It’s a moot point, however. Susana won the race, and it behooves me and every New Mexican to hope she does well.
The job of the lieutenant governor
It is stating the obvious to say I disagree sharply with most of the governor’s positions. More recently, I had to chuckle when I saw her narrow definition of the lieutenant governor’s job. She imposed strict limitations on Lt. Gov. John Sanchez in her apparent peeve over his announcing candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat in opposition to Heather Wilson, the Martinez favorite.
After eight years of sitting in the lieutenant governor chair, I can attest to the fact there is a lot more to the job than chairing the Senate and casting tie-breaking votes. If one cares to use the prestige and power of the position to make a difference in the lives of New Mexicans, the field is wide open – and you don’t need anyone’s permission to do it.
At least that’s how I saw it. I didn’t need or ask permission to focus on issues I deemed crucial to New Mexico, collaborating with advocates and legislators, building bipartisan support and getting things done. It was about getting into communities and listening – not talking – to find out what is important to New Mexicans.
That’s how we were able to pass and implement voluntary pre-K for 4-year-old children, get capital to thousands of small businesses, pass the Home Loan Protection Act, and pass the Sunshine Portal law to increase transparency.
Issues that need our attention
Early into her term, Governor Martinez has continued her tough talk and law enforcement focus and released a variety of executive orders to grab power as governors are prone to do. And we can all rest easy now that we have the notary publics under a watchful eye, dogs on restaurant patios legally, and a lieutenant governor with no responsibility.
But let’s face it: The issues that will make it possible for New Mexico and her families to succeed desperately need our attention. Among them:
- New jobs for New Mexicans. Incentivize and reward job creation and use our existing assets and strengths (technology, arts, culture, film, Labs, and human capitol to name a few) to target job creation. Support rural, location-neutral employment efforts and micro-lending for entrepreneurs.
- Workforce training to make our workers more competitive today and tomorrow. Focus on a three-pronged cooperative education strategy to produce a strong qualified workforce for the future and to advance and retrain the current workforce.
- Thoughtful education improvement that works for everyone, especially students. Find proven experts (not political consultants), and recommend investments that work. Stop finger-pointing and name-calling, which only delays the real work.
- Shoring up our fiscal health by looking for solutions including smarter tax policy, government reorganization, proposals that protect and revise retirement funds, reigning in health care costs, and emphasizing the need for fiscal expertise in government sector.
- Dealing with our environmental challenges for air, land and water. The most glaring example: water protection and supply for now and into the future.
Sure, there are more, but I’m willing to wager almost everything falls in one of those categories. How to do it? For starters, move away from the “us-vs.-them” approach that pervades our politics. Find long-term solutions, not just regulatory changes to be set aside by the next administration.
What I’ve learned
What I have learned in these months after the election is that my lifelong love affair with New Mexico, her people, her needs, and her politics won’t end. I promised to stick around and fight for our families and I intend to do so. Just how that will play out, perhaps in seeking another office or just participating in the public debate, is to be determined.
Maybe it will become clear during my next bike ride. Many miles to go, much to accomplish.
Diane D. Denish was lieutenant governor of New Mexico from 2003 to 2010.