Today, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez announced two of her biggest cabinet nominations yet, naming Las Cruces pediatrician Catherine Torres to head the state's Department of Health and geologist, former astronaut and former Sen. Harrison Schmitt to lead the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.
At a press conference in the Roundhouse today, Martinez announced that, if the state Senate confirms the nominations, Torres' and Schmitt's salaries will be $122,500 and $105,000—down from $184,396 and $108,000 respectively.
Neither Martinez nor Schmitt, who told reporters he's been working as a consultant since his resignation from the NASA Advisory Council, a technical advice body, in 2008, took pains to conceal their plans for the EMNRD's role in energy policy.
"I think New Mexico's been ill-served in the past few years," Schmitt said. "It's very clear that energy-related jobs have been migrating away from the state of new Mexico, and it's time to make sure, in a rational way, that those jobs come back."
Martinez say evaluating the effectiveness of regulatory measures, such as the controversial "pit rule" designed to curtail pollution from oil and gas activities, "will certainly be one of his responsibilities immediately."
"This whole regulatory review is something that I think is going to go on throughout the country," Schmitt says. "The pit rule is just one that has to be looked at to see whether it's really accomplishing anything relative to what its intent was--and whether that intent really was a valid intent to begin with."
Along with environmental regulations, renewable energy subsidies may also be approaching the new administration's increasingly active chopping block.
"I have been involved in these so-called renewable resources for many, many years," Schmitt said today, in response to a question about developing a statewide renewable energy transmission authority. "You have to realize that most of these energy sources today, almost without exception, could not survive in a real economic environment," he continued. "They either require taxpayer subsidies or...increased fees." Schmitt named wind and solar as two examples of renewable resources that can't compete.
Martinez also responded to reporters' questions on a range of topics.
Medical marijuana: Still opposed to the program, but it's not her top priority.
DOH Secretary nominee Torres, Martinez said, is "very action-oriented," and her first assignment will be "to determine whether or not the exempt positions that exist within her department are even necessary, how many we need to cut back completely, the salaries and also to review the programs."
"I have been clear throughout the campaign that I oppose medical marijuana," Martinez continued. "I oppose it because of the position it puts state employees in [with] the distribution of narcotic and illegal narcotic [that] federal law prohibits."
(Except that state employees don't actually touch the marijuana themselves: Instead, private nonprofits are responsible for producing and distributing it.)
Still, Martinez said her main priority would be balancing the state's budget. Her office plans to release a budget plan on Monday.
Domestic partnerships: Thus begins the first rhetorical battle with the AG's office...
On Jan. 4, New Mexico Attorney General Gary King issued an opinion concluding that same-sex marriages legally conducted in other states are most likely also legal in New Mexico. But during today's press conference, Martinez offered her own view.
"I've made it clear that I do not support same-sex marriage," Martinez said today. No court, she said, has actually ruled on whether New Mexico must recognize same-sex marriages conducted in other states. She emphasized that she would support "any bill" prohibiting domestic partnerships in New Mexico.
As for recent talk about whether her administration would also rescind state employee benefits for domestic partners, Martinez said budget issues concerning state employees and reevaluations of former Gov. Richardson's executive orders are still underway.