Q&A: Lujan Grisham pledges to ‘produce results’ for New Mexicans

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Michelle Lujan Grisham

Courtesy photo

Michelle Lujan Grisham

Governor-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham says she and Lt. Governor-elect Howie Morales will hit the ground running when they take office on Jan. 1. She pledged to find success in bettering New Mexico that has eluded past governors.

In an extensive Q&A with NMPolitics.net, Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, said she is “ready to take my dogged determination to make things better for our children, families, seniors, veterans, and small businesses to the next level.”

Asked how she’ll succeed when other Democrats and Republicans — including her old boss, former Gov. Bill Richardson — have failed to raise New Mexico from the bottom of many important rankings, she responded, “New Mexicans didn’t elect a Democrat or a Republican to the governor’s office.”

“…they elected a fighter and independent thinker who has never shied away from a fight for New Mexicans,” Lujan Grisham continued. “… I take the honor and responsibility New Mexicans have entrusted me with extremely seriously, and I will produce results for all New Mexicans.”

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Her interview with NMPolitics.net, conducted by email, is the latest in our Q&A series with people involved in New Mexico politics and government.

I asked Lujan Grisham about addressing climate change, border and immigration issues, New Mexico’s dependence on private prisons, legalizing recreational marijuana, Spaceport America, gross receipts tax reform, diversifying our state’s economy, and the importance of government transparency.

I made clear my belief that every New Mexico governor during my journalistic career has failed to keep a promise to be transparent. In response, Lujan Grisham promised to be open.

“Transparency in government is paramount for earning the trust of the public and the media,” she said.

Here’s my full interview, with questions in bold and Lujan Grisham’s complete and unedited answers immediately following:

NMPolitics.net: Tell us what your first days as governor will look like. What will be your first official act? What will you be doing to prepare for the legislative session? Outgoing Gov. Susana Martinez signed several executive orders immediately after being sworn in. Should we expect any from you? If so, can you share details?

Lujan Grisham: New Mexicans can expect us to be very busy, and I have already shared many of our plans for the first thirty days in office on my website, http://www.newmexicansformichelle.com/policy/leadership-in-action-initiatives. New Mexicans should expect Lt. Governor-elect Howie Morales and me to begin our term by focusing on the many challenges within our public education system, staffing up CYFD to protect our kids, raising wages for New Mexicans, attacking crime across New Mexico, working to ensure all New Mexicans have the access to quality, affordable healthcare — including behavioral health and addiction services — they deserve, and beginning the process of diversifying and growing our economy for the long-term.

NMPolitics.net: Democrats have controlled our state’s government for most of its history, and yet we still suffer from extreme poverty, reliance on the boom-and-bust cycle of the oil and gas industry, and other problems that consistently make ours one of the worst states to raise children. We’re coming out of a period of several years in which Republicans held greater control of state government than at previous time in New Mexico history. That also didn’t improve our rankings. What about your tenure as governor will be different? How will you succeed, where other Democrats and Republicans have failed, in substantially improving the lives of New Mexicans?

Lujan Grisham: New Mexicans didn’t elect a Democrat or Republican to the governor’s office, they elected a fighter and independent thinker who has never shied away from a fight for New Mexicans. As a mother, grandmother, caretaker to my mother, Congresswoman, and now the next governor of the state I love, I am ready to take my dogged determination to make things better for our children, families, seniors, veterans, and small businesses to the next level. We won a resounding mandate to make dramatic change — invest in clean energy, raise teachers’ salaries, provide pre-K to every New Mexican and build a thriving, diverse economy and I believe we have the people, resources and enthusiastic support across our state to make theses changes a reality and forever transform our state. I now have two million bosses, my New Mexico constituents, and the future of millions more to protect as I work to build a prosperous New Mexico for the long run. I take the honor and responsibility New Mexicans have entrusted me with extremely seriously, and I will produce results for all New Mexicans.

NMPolitics.net: With recent reports highlighting the immediate and long-term damage being caused by climate change, how should New Mexico respond to this critical problem? What will you do to help our state adapt to climate change and also mitigate it? How will the state’s financial dependence on the oil and gas industry affect your actions related to climate change?

Lujan Grisham: I will sign the Paris Agreement, work to pass legislation that puts us on a path to 50% renewable energy by 2030 and 80% by 2040, work with the oil and gas industry on commonsense methane mitigation, and reduce State government’s carbon footprint. As we diversify our economy and promote alternative renewable energy sources, we will continue to depend on oil and gas development for good jobs and for revenues that we will invest in education and needed infrastructure — roads, airports, water systems, broadband internet-throughout the state.

NMPolitics.net: In the absence of federal immigration reform, what do you see as New Mexico’s role in border and immigration issues? Will you look for ways to resist the President Donald Trump’s agenda, such as opposing further construction of a border barrier or making it illegal for state and county prisons and jails to contract with federal immigration enforcement agencies?

Lujan Grisham: President Trump’s proposal is a 1st Century solution to a 21st Century problem and is a massive waste of taxpayer funds. I will focus on growing our trade with Mexico and building a true border and international economy in southern New Mexico to capitalize on our unique geographic location and cultural identity. And as a border state governor, I will work with our neighbors on both sides of the international border to address these issues to best protect New Mexico’s interests. New Mexico law enforcement will focus on the critical mission of targeting the most dangerous, violent offenders at the border such as drug and human traffickers, cartels, and gun smugglers. I urge the President to shift the focus of Homeland Security back to combating terrorism and international criminal activity, not building obsolete walls or separating children from their mothers and fathers.

NMPolitics.net: Before he left office, former President Barack Obama was taking steps to reduce the federal government’s use of private prisons, which we now know are more violent and problematic than those run by government and suffer from issues like medical neglect. Of all states, New Mexico is the most reliant on private prisons. What is your view of private prisons? Should the state continue to utilize them?

Lujan Grisham: New Mexico must move away from our reliance on these facilities, but we must do it in a way that does not threaten public safety or our local economies. I will be appointing a committee to evaluate the best way to achieve this goal.

NMPolitics.net: You’ve said you will work with the Legislature to legalize recreational marijuana but made clear that the details of such a proposal matter. What do you want to see included in such legislation before you’ll back it? Do you support commuting the sentences of people who have been convicted in the past of marijuana-related crimes that would no longer be crimes under a new law?

Lujan Grisham: New Mexico has a real opportunity to get recreational cannabis right after learning from other state’s implementations, both what they’ve done right and what they’ve done wrong. I am proud to have brought medical cannabis to New Mexico, and as such, my first concern with legalization is protecting medical cannabis patients. The legislation must ensure that supply and access to medical cannabis products are not harmed or interrupted, address prevention for underage use, put forth a plan for workplace intoxication and public safety matters, and compensate the taxpayers appropriately from the revenues. If the legislature sends a bill to my desk that thoroughly addresses all of those issues, I am inclined to sign it.

As for commutations, I think that needs to be on a case by case basis and I will review them as such. However, I am very much looking forward to working with the legislature on larger criminal justice reform matters including cannabis-related offenses.

NMPolitics.net: What’s your view of Spaceport America? Do you support the continuance of this economic development project? Are you supportive of the Spaceport Authority’s request in the upcoming legislative session for a funding increase? Do you support the secrecy Spaceport America says it must have in order to attract customers?

Lujan Grisham: New Mexico has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Spaceport America and as governor I am going to make sure that investment starts to bear fruit. We are on the cusp of turning New Mexico into a real leader in aerospace and technology, and the Spaceport is one of our many tools to achieve that goal. Last week’s news of Virgin Galactic’s successful flight is great news for the Spaceport and we intend to capitalize on that success. There will be a robust business plan and marketing strategy to capitalize on the investments we continue to make in the Spaceport and I will be reviewing the request for additional funding.

We must find a balance that absolutely protects the corporate strategy and intellectual property rights of the corporations bringing jobs to the Spaceport, but that also provides transparency to taxpayers and the media. Corporate espionage is very real, and is especially a threat from other nations, so we must create an environment that protects the companies who consider bringing high-paying jobs to southern New Mexico. I look forward to working with transparency groups, the public, media, and the Spaceport to determine the best course moving forward.

NMPolitics.net: Reforming the state’s gross receipts tax, which has hundreds of exemptions, seems to have widespread support in concept, but that support falls apart when you start talking about eliminating specific exemptions. Is GRT reform one of your priorities? How important is such reform?

Lujan Grisham: New Mexico’s tax laws are absurdly complex and in many cases don’t properly serve the residents and businesses of our state. I am open to comprehensive tax reform, but it is not a process that can be rushed or rubber stamped. There are many stakeholders that need to be a part of the process and careful and prudent analysis must be done to ensure we build a tax system that promotes fairness and economic growth for our citizens and businesses.

NMPolitics.net: What other reforms do you believe are important to improve and/or diversify the state’s economy?

Lujan Grisham: I will be overhauling the entire Regulation and Licensing Department by filling critical positions, eliminating counter-productive practices, and making sure all divisions are communicating with each other to quickly and effectively assist entrepreneurs and businesses so they can succeed. I proposed two comprehensive plans to jumpstart and build the state’s economy and will be aggressively pursuing these initiatives — from eliminating the film industry cap to promote our film and digital industries to creating an office of Outdoor Recreation to developing a series of Centers of Excellence at our Universities — expanding industries like Bio Science, Cybersecurity and Agriculture, just to name a few. It will be all hands on deck to create jobs and improve our economy.

NMPolitics.net: Finally, I have to ask about transparency. Every governor during my journalistic career has pledged to be open and transparent with New Mexicans. None of them have actually done it, in my view. How important is government transparency? Will you be open and honest with New Mexicans, and if so, how?

Lujan Grisham: Transparency in government is paramount for earning the trust of the public and the media. Our administration will strive every day to inform the public and make departments available to the media. The governor’s office and all departments will have public information officers and records custodians who work quickly, effectively and accurately with journalists and the public.

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