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.

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