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Lujan Grisham gives cabinet secretary raise while many New Mexicans remain unemployed

On Saturday, it was reported that embattled Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who was accused and later settled $62,500 in campaign cash for sexual assault, gave her energy secretary, James Kenney, an 8% raise, adding up to $12,480. That boosts Kenney’s salary from $156,000 to $168,480, making him the highest-paid member of Lujan Grisham’s cabinet. Kenney is responsible for overseeing the Governor’s “Green New Deal” implementation by creating anti-energy laws to cripple the oil and gas industry.

Nora Sackett, Lujan Grisham’s spokeswoman, said the Environment Department “has been tasked with ensuring the health and safety of workers and customers statewide, including carrying out tens of thousands of rapid responses, running the state’s wastewater surveillance testing program, and coordinating with businesses to ensure safe practices and establish mobile testing programs, all of which Secretary Kenney coordinated and executed.” 

Sackett is referring to the Governor weaponizing the Energy Department to close down establishments and fine businesses for alleged non-compliance with her extreme public health orders that have locked the state down for over a year. One establishment in Grants was fined $60,000 at the start of the pandemic while churches had $5,000+ fines, and O’Reilly Auto Parts in Santa Fe was fined $79,200. 

The news of Kenney’s pay boost comes just days after Kenney gave an employee, Justin Garouette, an ex-staffer on porn actor-turned state Rep. Roger Montoya’s campaign, a $32,000 raise.

The raises come just three months after it was discovered the Governor’s office handed eight of her own staff members raises totaling $92,000 over the past year, a 10% bump on average, far outpacing the raises more broadly granted state employees.

The raises were as follows:

Comm. Director Tripp Stelnicki ($18,600), Director of Boards and Commissions Melissa Salazar ($12,000), Chief of Staff Teresa Casados ($10,800), Chief of Staff Matt Garcia ($10,600), Cabinet Director Dominic Gabello ($10,600), Policy Advisor Diego Arencon ($10,000), Director of Cabinet Affairs Caroline Buerkle ($10,000) and Director of Legislative Affairs Victor Reyes ($7,500).

New Mexico’s unemployment rate is 8.3% and is the third-worst in the nation. It is also at its worst point in 30 years, outpacing even the Great Recession following the housing bubble crash of 2008. State employees generally did not get raises in this year’s budget, while teachers received a 1% raise.

NM GOP victorious in legal battle to correct absentee voting drop box violations

On Thursday, the Republican Party of New Mexico (RPNM) announced that they were victorious in their lawsuit regarding absentee voting drop box violations in Taos and Guadalupe Counties. The counties “had failed to provide mandated security measures at their absentee ballot drop box locations,” says the Party.

The New Mexico Secretary of State agreed to reissue guidelines to all counties regarding drop box supervision and procedures. “The Secretary has made assurances that she will inform all counties that drop boxes must be supervised at all times and under surveillance to protect against any kind of fraud or other problems,” said RPNM’s press release.  

“We are pleased that Taos and Guadalupe Counties have corrected the drop box violations,” said Steve Pearce, Chairman of the Republican Party. “Our legal action was to simply ensure that there’s election integrity everywhere and that all counties follow the law. It’s gratifying to know that the state is also taking action to tell county officials that they must enforce this critical part of our election law. We all want fair and honest elections.”

“While this problem has been resolved, the lawsuit filed by RPNM, GOP leaders and four County Clerks against the Secretary of State over the certification of absentee ballots is still being pursued. That case involved poll challengers being denied access to the certification process. Although the New Mexico Supreme Court declined to hear that case, RPNM has discussed the issue with the Department of Justice. The violations in that lawsuit are too egregious to ignore,” the announcement continued.

On Wednesday, the New Mexico Supreme Court refused to hear a case filed by RPNM regarding poll watchers being allowed to watch the counting of absentee ballots. It is unclear at this time if the Party will try to have the case heard in a higher Federal court.

This is a developing story. 

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