ALBUQUERQUE – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham reached into the ranks of the federal government and across state lines Monday to fill key Cabinet positions overseeing childhood well-being, environmental protection, public health, state police and more.
The Democrat’s appointees run the gamut from an anti-poverty campaigner in San Francisco to a former school-safety officer for Albuquerque public schools, and include veterans of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Obama White House.
The state’s embattled Children, Youth and Families Department will be led by Brian Blalock, the law and policy director of the nonprofit Tipping Point Community group that helps impoverished residents of the San Francisco Bay area secure housing, employment and a better education.
In appointing Blalock, Lujan Grisham said she wants to revamp the Children, Youth and Families Department to address chronic staffing shortages and transform the state’s foster care system. The state’s protective services system for abused or neglected children has struggled to keep pace with high rates of mistreatment, amid a string of high-profile child killings.
“We are not actively engaging to stop child abuse and minimizing the situations for those who are risk,” the governor said.
Blalock, an attorney with a degree in theological studies from Harvard and a law degree from Stanford University, said he welcomed the challenge. “I’m in listening mode, to find out what we are doing well and what we are not doing well,” he said.
At the Environment Department, James Kenney is stepping in as cabinet secretary from an EPA job as policy adviser on oil and natural gas regulation. The state is in the midst of a record-setting boom in oil and natural gas production, amid legal wrangling with neighboring states over rights to dwindling fresh water supplies.
Kenney will contend with issues surrounding the U.S. government’s only underground nuclear waste repository, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant located in Carlsbad.
“Science should be dictating our regulations and our policies,” Kenney said at a news conference.
Kenney’s prior work at the EPA includes investigations related to the Clean Air and Clean Water acts. Lujan Grisham promised Monday her administration will ensure opportunities for public review and public participation on environmental issues.
Kathy Kunkel, a deputy director and former general counsel to the state Department of Health, was chosen to lead the agency.
Leading Democratic lawmakers have begun drafting proposals to authorize recreational use of marijuana and ensure tax-free cannabis for medical patients. Lujan Grisham says state decriminalization won’t come without reliable measures to prevent child access and resolve safety concerns related to impairment while driving or while at work.
Kunkel is a former assistant state attorney general and started her career as a pediatric social worker at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center. Lujan Grisham herself served as secretary of health under former Gov. Bill Richardson.
The state personnel office will be led by Pam Coleman, who served under President Barack Obama as special assistant for leadership development. Lujan Grisham is seeking to fill a long list of vacancies at state agencies amid a surge in state government income.
Valencia County Undersheriff Mark Shea was appointed to lead the Department of Public Safety that oversees state police, law enforcement training, crime registries, emergency response efforts and more.