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Governor's legacy: Progress or pals

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In June the New Mexico Film Museum closed after a short, unproductive life. It was a cost-cutting measure, said the Governor’s Office.
The museum rarely offered a program and had no operating budget. It did pay its directors, each one politically connected, rather well ($80,000 a year for the last two). There was a flap in 2007, when the governor attempted to appoint former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron as director, because she had no relevant experience. But none of the museum’s directors had any film experience.
And so it went.  
When Bill Richardson took office, it wasn’t just patronage as usual. Every governor has appointed some friends and cronies; Richardson reached deep into each bureaucratic warren with his appointments. The result was to politicize state government down to its toenails. In doing that, observed former Gov. Gary Johnson, we got people who were loyal to Richardson and not necessarily to the taxpayers.
For a surprisingly long time, nobody seemed to mind. The Albuquerque Journal published a long list of appointments and noted their political ties and/or contributions, and the revelations raised little dust.
Richardson said he liked to hire politicians because they knew how to get things done. The trouble was, they didn’t. The first hint was the rapid rise and disappearance of former Taos Mayor Fred Peralta, dethroned as Tourism Secretary by demand of the tourism industry and farmed out to the State Fair, where he became one in a series of unqualified political pals, joined by a gaggle of lower-level appointees, to mismanage the venue – this despite calls for professionalism of fair management from a task force.
Their fitness for office became a recurring issue for Richardson’s political appointees.
Contrast this with the experience of former Gov. Garrey Carruthers, who made one mistake in hiring the inexperienced son of a political contributor as Economic Development and Tourism Secretary. The protest was loud and the response quick; the young appointee evaporated, replaced by businessman John Dendahl, who did a good job.
Why the difference? Carruthers didn’t enjoy the magic carpet ride of popularity that floated Richardson’s first six years. Ironically, it was Dendahl, later the Republican candidate for governor, who predicted that cronyism and the resulting poor morale in state government would dog Richardson.
We pause here to acknowledge the competent appointees who, without fanfare, have worked hard for the state. The governor’s appointments weren’t all awful, but the worst of the lot stand out.
Lately the fires of controversy have enveloped the 59 appointees supposedly laid off and the quiet transition of others into civil service jobs. I find both issues harder to get excited about than the damage wrought for 8 years by incompetents in high positions. We still don’t know the identities of the 59, but I have to believe that most of them accepted positions in good faith and don’t deserve to be hounded while they try to find new jobs.
As for the new civil servants, every administration’s end has seen a similar scramble to security. This is hardly new.
Gov.-elect Susana Martinez has named former Congresswoman Heather Wilson to lead her transition team, and they want to find “highly qualified individuals of character who want to commit themselves to Susana’s vision for New Mexico,” Wilson said. She promised fresh faces.
It’s a good start. Members of the search committees are varied and knowledgeable.
In the beginning, Richardson also had an impressive transition team. This time around, the process and the appointees will be scrutinized. It’s probably unrealistic to think politics will be absent, but hopefully, we’ll get a smaller, better crop of appointees. We have Bill Richardson to thank for that.    

Sherry Robinson
NM News Services