Tuesday night was the celebratory moment for Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham. She had the time to thank the people who made it possible, a few hours to enjoy the applause. Then, it was off to sleep …
Tuesday night was the celebratory moment for Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham. She had the time to thank the people who made it possible, a few hours to enjoy the applause. Then, it was off to sleep and rest because now it gets real.
Now comes governing.
The key to a successful term as governor for Lujan Grisham – something New Mexico needs desperately – is to choose a great transition team and begin assembling a Cabinet, immediately set policy and legislative priorities and reach out to legislative leaders from both parties to form common goals.
On Jan. 1, 2019, she must be ready to lead.
For top posts, whether in the transition or in the Cabinet, we urge choices who are savvy about how the state works. These need to be hard workers, not political hacks – people who can implement the governor’s policies and fill the vacant positions that are causing state agencies to fall short.
Most important, we need people who believe in the power of government and public service to improve life for all.
But smart people can’t do the job without knowing the priorities. That’s the governor’s job: to set those priorities and goals, winning buy-in along the way. Don’t lose focus, whether by getting too involved in the weeds or paying too much attention to political noise.
Priorities include funding education properly: A district court judge gave the Public Education Department an April deadline to lay out what it will do to meet the constitutional mandate of ensuring “adequate” dollars for schools. That means not just spending more, but targeting populations who are at risk.
Education will be at the top of the new governor’s to-do list. The challenge will be figuring out how to remove bureaucratic obstacles to teaching and learning, such as too many evaluations and tests, without abandoning completely systems that are beginning to work. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, in other words.
And don’t take this on alone; the state has plenty of smart people who have been working on improving education. Call them together – Democrats, Republicans, educators, parents, community members – and get moving.
Also a priority? Improving the condition of children. Finding a professional to head the Children, Youth and Families Department is essential.
This agency literally has lives hanging in the balance. We need an agenda that lays out how the state will assist parents, families and our communities to make children’s lives better. This is another bipartisan issue. Tackled correctly, without rancor or partisanship, New Mexico can set the example of how political opponents can work together to put children first.
Another area where cooperation is necessary will be on the issue of water, especially as we balance agricultural, urban and other needs in the face of the changing climate.
As a state, we have a narrow window remaining to come to grips with our water realities. The Río Grande nearly dried up this year.
New Mexico likely owes water to Texas, a payment that will be coming due. We don’t know how much water has been allocated and how much remains to be handed out. Key to the future is discovering what water we need for sustainability and growth as well as understanding what still is available.
Improving public safety, especially tackling the opioid epidemic, also is a priority. Again, reaching out and forming partnerships will help the governor.
Mayors of New Mexico cities and towns like Taos can offer advice and knowledge. Legislators have worked on the issue as well as chiefs of police, substance abuse experts, doctors and nurses out in the communities. All of these people know what works, and what doesn’t. They will be valuable resources. This is going to take a team effort.
We need similar team efforts on helping the state enjoy the booming oil and gas economy while transitioning to renewable forms of energy. Dollars from the booming energy sector put New Mexico in an enviable position – for now, at least.
It will take a partnership with lawmakers to target the spending of the expected $1.2 billion to $2 billion annually the oil boom is expected to bring in.
This term, our governor needs to get down from the fourth floor and work with lawmakers as an equal, not an autocrat.
The surplus can’t be frittered away – even to the best causes – but must be invested strategically in infrastructure, everything from roads and bridges and broadband internet to education. Expanding early education, for example, will need investments in classrooms and buildings and must be rolled out strategically and with a plan.
Truly, that’s the bottom line. Our new governor needs a plan.
Be ambitious without tackling too much. Take time to build teams of respected partners who will work through four years, possibly eight, to tackle New Mexico’s challenges. Be in this for the long haul, out of a desire to create a period of prosperity and growth that will leave New Mexico poised for the bright future all its residents deserve and desire.
You’ve won. Now get to work.
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