3 Questions

3 Questions with Incoming Northern New Mexico College President Hector Balderas

Hector Balderas has been in elected office since 2005—that’s two years before fellow Democrat and former Gov. Bill Richardson launched his ill-fated presidential campaign, for you longtime New Mexico politics watchers. Balderas, 49, served one two-year term in the state House of Representatives, then two highly visible four-year terms each as state auditor and attorney general. That’s some ride for a dude from Wagon Mound. (And Balderas has never been shy about discussing his childhood in rural Mora County.)

The political merry-go-round is coming to an end, for now, when the calendar turns to 2023. That’s because last week, Española’s Northern New Mexico College Board of Regents unanimously voted to make Balderas the school’s next president, selecting him over three other finalists for the post, all of whom came from the world of academia. His term as AG ends Dec. 31, and he’s negotiating a salary and a start date with Northern as you read this.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Most readers know you from your time as an assistant district attorney, or more recently, your two terms each at the auditors and attorney general’s office. Moving to Northern will obviously mark a pretty significant shift for you career-wise. What makes you the right guy for this job?

So, you know, obviously, I’ve developed a lot of professional experience in accountability and oversight. But my motivation was that I have lived the life story that many of those students are living, so I feel very closely connected to that type of student. And then number two, that it’s an under-resourced institution. So in essence, I’m at the height of my career, and I want to use my passion and experience to build more equitable funding for some of those forgotten communities and institutions. And Northern is clearly an institution that I think I can secure additional resources for those students…One of the reasons I emerged from the pack of academics and a highly qualified pool of candidates was my experience in strengthening board governance. And so my proposal to the Board of Regents was to build a partnership, and as AG I’ve advised nearly 100 boards and commissions on effective governance. So I think that piece was very appealing to them, that we would raise the standard of accountability and operational excellence.

What, from your perspective, are the most pressing issues facing the school now, and what are your plans to address them in the early stages of your tenure?

I think the K-12 crisis in education is dramatically impacting small institutions like Northern. So, for instance, it’s already an under-resourced institution, but making sure that those students have the opportunities when some of them are already coming from the K-12 system behind. And so they need additional academic support and, quite frankly, those services need to be available to all students so that they can succeed. And so an institution like UNM or New Mexico State gets substantially more funding to provide support services. But the top part for me is to get more resources to increase support services to also complement excellent academic instruction…A lot of education institutions are being forced to become more optimized, use more online learning, create virtual experiences. And due to the rural, frontier nature of that institution, I have a real vision to transform the way we deliver education. We have to meet students where students are at…and it’s important to have leadership that’s very forward-looking as opposed to trying to preserve old institutions of higher education that are dying.

We’ve all obviously seen the large staff turnover and de-prioritizing of certain units when a new administration comes into the AG’s office. Which units or initiatives during your eight years do you hope will survive and thrive in the [incoming AG Raúl] Torrez era?

I have already been meeting with the attorney general-elect, and I met with the [Legislative Finance Committee] just recently, and I’m very proud of the fact that I’ve built the most robust civil and criminal litigation shops in the country. And the Legislature was commenting that I brought in record revenues. And I’ve also successfully litigated and indicted corruption on a historic level. And so I think the attorney general-elect is going to keep those systems very strong…I’m hoping the Legislature will give Raúl Torrez more funding to do [Inspection of Public Records Act] and Open Meetings Act violation cases. Those have been severely under-resourced.

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