Gov. Lujan Grisham’s administration faces major changes

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Major leadership changes are coming to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration.

Public Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus is out the door, and so is the doctor who helped guide the state through the pandemic, Human Services Secretary David Scrase. Both recently announced their retirement from state government.

Steinhaus served a little over a year, and is the third appointee since 2019.

“In some sense, this is normal, kind of cabinet-level staff turnover. There have been a lot lately, which isn’t particularly normal, but right around this time we do see fluctuations in an administration,” said Tim Krebs, a University of New Mexico political science professor. 

On Friday, Scrase also announced plans to step down and retire from state government in late February.

Scrase became the face of the pandemic, not only for the Human Services Department, but he also took on the Department of Health in the middle of its own transition – following the departure of secretaries Kathy Kunkel, and Dr. Tracie Collins.

Lujan Grisham announced in December that Patrick Allen would take over at the state’s Department of Health.

“Government administration jobs at the highest level are really, they’re challenging, the policy challenges are large, the stakes are high. So I don’t think anyone should be surprised at that,” said Krebs. 

Krebs says cabinet-level leaders are under intense pressure, and departures are par for the course.

The following list shows appointment and release dates for state staff:

  • January 2023
    • Public Education Department- Kurt Steinhaus (Retires)
      Human Services Secretary- Dr. David Scrase (Retires)
      General Services Department Secretary- John Garcia (Departs)
      Veterans Services Secretary- Donnie Quintana (Appointed)
  • December 2022
    • Department of Health Secretary- Patrick Allen (Appointed)
    • Department of Finance and Administration Secretary- Wayne Propst (Appointed)
  • November 2022
    • Department of Finance and Administration Secretary- Deborah Romero (Retire)
      Indian Affairs Department- Secretary Lynn Trujillo (Depart)
  • October 2022
    • Veteran Services Secretary- Sonya Smith (Departs)
  • July 2022
    • Department of Workforce Solution Secretary- Sarita Nair (Appointed)
    • NM Department of Transportation- Ricky Serna (Appointed)
  • June 2022
    • Information Technology Secretary- Peter Mantos (Appointed)
  • May 2022
    • Department of Homeland Security- David Dye (Appointed)
  • April 2022
    • NM Department of Transportation- Secretary Michael Sandoval (Retiring)
  • August 2021
    • Children Youth and Families Department Secretary- Barbara Vigil (Appointed)
    • Children Youth and Families Department Secretary- Brian Blalock (Departs)
  • July 2021
    • Public Education Department- Kurt Steinhaus (Appointed)
    • Department of Public Safety- Jason Bowie (Appointed)
    • Department of Health Secretary- Tracie Collins (Departs)
  • June 2021
    • General Services Secretary- Kenneth Ortiz (Retires)
  • April 2021
    • Department of Workforce Solutions- Bill McCamley (Departs)
  • January 2021
    • Veteran Services Department- Sonya Smith (Appointed)
  • November 2020
    • Department of Health Secretary- Tracie Collins (Appointed)
  • September 2020
    • Department of Public Safety Secretary- Mark Shea (Dismissed)
  • July 2020
    • New Mexico Department of Health Secretary- Kathy Kunkel (Retired)
  • May 2020
    • Department of Homeland Security- Bianca Ortiz Wertheim (Appointed)
  • February 2020
    • Secretary of Information and Technology- John Salazar (Appointed)
  • November 2019
    • Department of Homeland Security Secretary- Jackie Lindsey (Resigns)
  • August 2019
    • Public Education Department Secretary- Ryan Stewart (Appointed)
  • June 2019
    • Dept. of Corrections Secretary- Alisha Tafoya Lucero (Appointed)
  • January 2019
    • Dept. of Corrections Secretary- Julie Jones (Appointed)
    • Public Education Department Secretary- Karen Trujillo (appointed)

The governor’s press secretary provided the following statement:

It is not uncommon that many administrations see turnover after the first term, especially given the extreme demands of cabinet-level positions – for context, five cabinet secretaries left the Martinez administration following her reelection in 2014. These are not your average “9 to 5” jobs – they require a high level of dedication and come with the highest level of responsibility. It’s also important to consider the unique challenges outside of anyone’s control that were faced during the governor’s first term.

State agencies have strong leadership teams and are staffed by the many hardworking state employees that are the backbone of state government, and these essential staff continue the work of the state and the governor’s administration day in and day out. The governor is grateful for the service of her cabinet and fully recognizes the sacrifices made by both them and their families in service to the people of New Mexico. She knows that New Mexicans have high expectations for state government to deliver on our promises and improve the lives of New Mexico families, and she finds it a privilege to work with the cabinet to achieve those goals.