The question of the day is not rhetorical, although at first glance it may seem so.
Can the democratic governor Michelle Lujan Grisham lose her application for re-election in a mostly light blue state?
Probably not, but she gives everything.
Two announcements last week helped keep an uninspiring rally of Republican candidates for governor alive.
The first came from WalletHub, a Washington-based financial website. It rated the New Mexico public school system as the worst in America.
Two days later, Lujan Grisham hired her third cabinet secretary for public education within 31 months.
Teachers, principals, and the governor herself can poke fun at WalletHub, which ranks New Mexico 51st in education behind all other states and Washington DC. Lists of the best and worst schools are always the subject of discussion.
What Lujan Grisham can’t deny is the instability at the head of her public education department. Three top administrators in less than three years is a governor’s failure.
Lujan Grisham fired her first public education secretary, Karen Trujillo, after just six months. The reason given by the governor was that Trujillo had not met expectations.
Trujillo was puzzled by Lujan Grisham’s criticism. At the time of Trujillo’s release, she said no one in the governor’s government had spoken to her about deficiencies.
Trujillo revived her career as a school principal in Las Cruces. She died in an accident in February when she was hit by a minivan while walking her dogs.
Lujan Grisham’s next choice to lead the public education department was Ryan Stewart, who was only 38 when she hired him in August 2019. He came from a nonprofit whose job it was to improve schools in part of Philadelphia.
Stewart made a commitment to New Mexico children during his hearing before the Senate Rules Committee.
“I take the pressure of delivering this moment home with me every day,” he said.
The location of Stewart’s house soon became a controversial issue.
Stewart once admitted spending four months in 2020 in Philadelphia with his wife and son. That took him 1,900 miles from schools in New Mexico trying to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
At least seven state senators, five Democrats and two Republicans, questioned Stewart’s commitment to the job and, with it, Lujan Grisham’s wisdom in his appointment.
The Senators put forward a Stewart-inspired bill. To do this, the State Secretaries of the Cabinet would have had to live in New Mexico. In reality, the bill expressed dissatisfaction with Stewart and the governor.
Stewart knew Lujan Grisham would veto the law if the legislature passed it. It stopped. He decided to refute the bill anyway.
He contradicted his previous comments about staying in Philadelphia for a 2020 period, stating that he had lived in New Mexico since his appointment. Despite the pandemic, Stewart said he attended 70 schools in every area of New Mexico.
Stewart says he will be leaving his job on August 20 for family reasons. His stint in the New Mexico Public Education Department lasted two years, including on the east coast.
Lujan Grisham has hired Kurt Steinhaus, 67, to succeed Stewart. Steinhaus is coming out of a brief retirement to take the job. Until his resignation in May, he was the director of the Los Alamos public schools.
He enters a pressure cooker. Lujan Grisham needs stability in the public education department to allay criticism of mismanagement as she campaigns for re-election.
More than politics is at stake for New Mexico residents. Good jobs and good schools are always linked. Employers do not want to locate their companies in a state with an inferior education system.
If the New Mexico Republicans had a leader in place of Amarillo Steve Pearce, Lujan Grisham could be more at risk of anger in the elections.
Pearce, chairman of the New Mexico Republican Party, identifies with ruby-red Texas. He moved a New Mexico Republican Congress to Amarillo that year and named it Operation Freedom.
Pearce had more than one Lone Star misstep. After the defeat of Donald Trump and an uprising by his supporters in the US Capitol, Pearce stood up for the defeated candidate.
“God bless President Donald J. Trump. He will be our president forever and no one can take that away from us, ”Pearce wrote in a tweet.
Pearce deleted the tweet maybe because he realized that presidents have term limits or that Trump is unpopular in most parts of New Mexico.
Amarillo Steve’s biggest mistake is his thin bench. He has not compiled a list of Republican candidates to win national elections, the operating state is New Mexico.
Lujan Grisham can’t afford to have Pearce defected to Texas. Your side needs him.