Columns appear here a week after they're published in print.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 9/11/23
Lawmakers take the low road on cultural affairs confirmation
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Long-time education leader Viola Martinez said that in her 15 years as a museum trustee, she never felt compelled to take a stand until now.
“I always supported leadership” while serving on many boards, she told the Senate Rules Committee last week. But so many New Mexico people across the state are concerned about the Department of Cultural Affairs, she had to speak against reappointing Secretary Debra Garcia y Griego, who had removed multiple directors in “a chaotic and unprofessional manner.”
Margie Marino, director for six years of the Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque, said she “was given five minutes to decide if I wanted to retire or get fired.” Marino, who had decades of experience, brought stability to the museum, Martinez said. These leaders and senior staff across the state “are the assets of any organization.”
Joining Martinez in opposing reappointment were four heavy hitters who spent their lives protecting the state’s heritage.
On the other side of the ledger were the secretary’s supporters, who say her running controversies indicate a strong leader, somebody willing to make the tough decisions. Garcia y Griego herself cites improved numbers for attendance, construction and new exhibits. The department’s vacancy and turnover rates are below the average for state agencies, she said.
Supporters led with Jenelle Roybal, governor of Pojoaque Pueblo, who said former State Archeologist Eric Blinman had ignored pueblo wishes during a project and removed human remains and other materials and kept them at the Office of Archeological Studies (OAS). The pueblo complained to Garcia y Griego.
“Our experience is she is an adept and skilled listener,” Roybal said. The secretary immediately responded. In February she fired Blinman, who had held the post for 17 years, took his phone and laptop, and forbade him to enter OAS again or speak to OAS employees. Hundreds of fellow professionals protested in writing, and Blinman has sued in federal court.
Roybal neglected to tell the committee some key details. The work began some 20 years ago when the state transportation department contracted with OAS to do archeological clearance related to a highway project. Archeology practices and laws have changed since then, Tom Wilson, former director of the Museum of New Mexico, told me. Nobody who knows Blinman believes he would have acted unlawfully or unprofessionally.
In testimony, 28-year former employee Tisa Gabriel and respected historian Thomas Chavez took Roybal to task for her inappropriate personal attack on Blinman, who wasn’t present to defend himself. Gabriel told me afterward that Roybal’s statement was loaded with misinformation.
Chavez, former director of the Palace of Governors, testified, “The Department of Cultural Affairs is in its most dismal state since its inception.” The secretary’s departmental reorganization created a “top-heavy monolith” in which pay increases “do not reach the worker bees.” He questioned the accuracy of the secretary’s attendance and revenue numbers.
Wilson testified that under Garcia y Griego there had been “persistent complaints of toxic work environments and retaliation. If this was the norm… in prior administrations, then why have we not heard this outcry before?” He warned that this instability risks museum accreditation, makes recruiting top candidates more difficult, and troubles donors.
Before the meeting, Kent Jacobs, a Museum of New Mexico regent for more than 17 years, and his wife Sallie Ritter, cut $2 million from their bequest to DCA, citing firings, instability and poor morale.
Lawmakers were more impressed by the secretary’s crowd of employees and friends. The committee chair, Sen. Katy Duhigg, D-Albuquerque, never informed the opposing camp they could bring anyone other than designated speakers, changed her mind a few times about how many would be allowed to speak and for how long, and shifted days.
Thomas Chavez had argued, “The status quo is not an option.”
The committee voted 7 to 2 to recommend confirmation to the full Senate, proving once again that the status quo is the preferred option so far.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 9/11/23
Richardson worked hard to improve women’s lives
By Diane Denish
Corner to Corner
As we say goodbye to former Gov. Bill Richardson, there will be a lot written. Since his death last week almost everyone I see has a Richardson story to tell.
And there have been some wonderful obituaries written about his service in Congress and New Mexico. Some underscore the great work he did as U.N. ambassador, U. S. Energy Secretary, and most recently as a negotiator for Americans detained abroad.
There is no doubt he touched many lives.
One of the missing ingredients in most obituaries is a look at the work he did to support women who worked with him and the legislation he passed to improve women’s lives.
I have known Bill Richardson for almost 40 years – before he was a congressman or governor. During that time, he supported me in diverse ways. In the early ‘90s he contracted with my voter contact firm to do work for his re-election, telling me he wanted to support my small New Mexico business. He nominated me for two national small-business boards. He supported me when I ran for Democratic Party chairwoman in 1999.
The most important thing he did came after we were elected in 2002. Traditionally, the lieutenant governor is shoved to the sidelines after an election. Bill Richardson brought me into the spotlight.
Early on, he agreed that I should have my own agenda, much of which I spoke about during the campaign: Early childhood services, access to capital for women-owned business, and working to provide affordable insurance for more New Mexicans.
In the transition he helped me secure a budget to have the resources and staff to do the work. This helped establish the role of lieutenant governor as an office that was engaged, responsive and not just procedural in nature.
In visiting with other women in the administration I heard comparable stories. We began our administration with 10 women cabinet secretaries and grew that number in the second term. We had the first woman secretary of the Department of Transportation, Rhonda Faught. When the Public Education Department was established, the governor chose a seasoned teacher and school administrator, Veronica Garcia. Joanna Prukop, a Republican and longtime Game and Fish employee, was secretary of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources.
At the same time, he supported policy changes that impacted women in every corner of New Mexico:
· Establishing voluntary four-year-old pre-K in 2007 was a game changer for women in the work force and their children.
· Securing a slight change to the Small Business Investment Corporation Act allowed for more access to capital for small businesses. At the time, women-owned businesses were one of the fastest growing segments of the state’s economy.
· Groundbreaking healthcare legislation was passed creating premium assistance programs for pregnant women who didn’t qualify for Medicaid and couldn’t afford health insurance. Data consistently show it provides for healthier mothers and babies.
We became a model state for gender-sensitive policies for women in incarceration, allowing for rehabilitation. At the same time, he established a statewide system addressing how children are cared for when parents are arrested, impacting many single women.
Gov. Richardson was a believer in fairness and equity, and it showed in his work for and with women. Every woman I spoke with from his campaign, Congressional team, governor’s office, and his U.N. team agreed. He hired women, paid them fairly, listened to our views, gave us what we needed to be successful, trusted us to do our jobs and had our backs. And he expanded our horizons.
I am grateful to have served with Gov. Richardson. If not for him, the successful work of improving the lives of women and children in New Mexico might never have happened.
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Sherry Robinson won a first place in column writing in 2022 from New Mexico Press Women.
Merilee Dannemann won a first place in blogging from NMPW and a third place from the National Federation of Press Women