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Clear path ahead for Governor Lujan Grisham

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Commentary:

In a year of national political turmoil and upheaval, it proved to be a status quo election in New Mexico.

The only real changes came as a result of redistricting, most notably in the Second Congressional District. The victory by Gabe Vasquez flips a seat that has been reliably Republican ever since the state gained a third district following the 1980 census.

Vasquez won by a little more than 1,000 votes. If Democrats can hold the seat, and much of that may depend on a challenge to the new district maps now pending in the state Supreme Court, that would be a significant change.

But, it would be the only significant change to come from this election.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham won re-election without having to promise any changes to her governing approach or priorities.

All of the other statewide officeholders who will govern alongside Lujan Grisham will also be Democrats. They will serve with her on the state’s most important boards and commissions. And, while there may be disagreements on specific issues like bail reform, all will share the same basic philosophy, and appeal to the same voters.

Republicans picked up one seat in the House, but that won’t change much. One of the seats they gained was in Luna County, where the Democratic representative has traditionally been one of the most conservative members of that caucus.

Democrats will have new leadership, with Javier Martinez taking over for Speaker Brian Egolf, who did not seek re-election. But that doesn’t likely mean a change in direction. Rather, it will mean reaching that same destination more quickly.

The Senate was not up for re-election this year. And, one of its most vocal critics of the governor, former Democrat Jacob Candelaria, has resigned.

Add to that a state budget that just keeps growing, and it looks to be clear sailing for Lujan Grisham as she heads into her second term.

The most recent consensus revenue estimate for the state shows recurring revenue for fiscal year 2022 of more than $9.2 billion, an increase of $1.1 billion from the previous fiscal year. Severance taxes from oil and gas production are higher than expected, resulting in more money for education. And, voters just approved a constitutional amendment to pump even more money into our schools and preschools.

This comes after four years of steady budget growth in her first term. The budget has increased from $6.1 billion to $8 billion in the last five years, and there is room for more growth this year.

Lujan Griasham has yet to announce her agenda for the upcoming session, but there are several obvious issues that must be addressed.

A recent study by the Vela Law office in Texas, using FBI crime data, showed New Mexico is second only to Alaska in violent crime, with 778 crimes per 100,000 residents. We are third, behind only Mississippi and Louisiana, in the percentage of residents living in poverty. And, we ranked last in education in the most recent Kids Count national survey.

The challenges are great, but there would appear to be few financial or political impediments as the governor begins her second term.

Walter Rubel can be reached at waltrubel@gmail.com