'Poor Judgment': NM Lawmakers React to Governor's Decision During Pandemic

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Posted: Feb 03, 2021 9:40 AM
'Poor Judgment': NM Lawmakers React to Governor's Decision During Pandemic

Source: AP Photo/Morgan Lee

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has reportedly rewarded her staff $10,000 raises as residents struggle during the coronavirus pandemic. The news comes as New Mexico has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, according to recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Grisham's spokesperson Nora Sackett defended the pay increases, arguing that their work is critical, particularly during the current health crisis.

KOB 4 reports:

According to the sunshine portal, the following employees received raises:

Comm. Director Tripp Stelnicki ($18,600), Director of Boards and Commissions Melissa Salazar ($12,000), Chief of Staff Teresa Casados ($10,800), Chief of Staff Matt Garcia ($10,600), Cabinet Director Dominic Gabello ($10,600), Policy Advisor Diego Arencon ($10,000), Director of Cabinet Affairs Caroline Buerkle ($10,000) and Director of Legislative Affairs Victor Reyes ($7,500).

Sackett said, “Governor's office staff play a critical role in the operation of the state's executive branch and the governance of the state – all of which is amplified during a yearlong crisis. They coordinate state departments and agencies, all of whom operate under the executive's leadership, as outlined by the state constitution. This work has been particularly critical during the ongoing pandemic, as governor's office staff have worked 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to direct the state's COVID-19 response and continue to provide important information to the public.”

The raises range from $7,500 to $18,600, according to the New Mexico Sunshine Portal.

New Mexico legislators sounded off the pay increases.

“I feel like it was poor judgment, poor timing—these could have waited until we had our feet underneath us,” state Sen. Greg Baca (R-Belen) reacted.

A dumbfounded state Rep. James Townsend (R-Artesia) said, "you can’t make this stuff up."

“And I know every one of those hardworking men and women in New Mexico are working as hard as they can to provide for their families and I know they wish they got these kinds of raises,” he added.

The New Mexico House Republican Caucus said they shouldn't be the only ones outraged.

As they note, their Democratic counterparts had no comment when KOB reached out to them about the report.

Power the Future, a group that prides itself on defending energy workers, is also fuming about Grisham's decision.

"It’s beyond pathetic that just as Joe Biden launches an all-out assault on New Mexico’s energy workers, apparently our Governor feels her personal staff deserves a raise funded by those same workers," said Larry Behrens, Western States Director for Power The Future. "I can’t think of anything more insulting than a Governor doling out massive raises to her staff while leading New Mexico to one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. Even worse, those out-of-touch raises are made possible by the hardworking men and women of New Mexico’s energy industry who are under constant threat thanks to this Governor and a hostile administration in Washington."