SANTA FE — What kind of governor will Diane Denish be? There are some signs that our current lieutenant governor may do us a rather good job.
Barring confirmation difficulties, it appears Gov. Bill Richardson will be leaving us sometime around the end of January to become the next secretary of the U.S. Commerce Department.
There shouldn’t be many surprises for Denish. She has interned as lieutenant governor for six years. During the first four years, she and Richardson were close and she was involved in much of what he did.
During the past two years, she hasn’t seen much more of him than the rest of us but she has served as acting governor during that period. Obviously Richardson still was in control through his top staff but Denish got to witness how things work.
She has done well presiding over the Senate, a sometimes unruly body, which has been known to confound previous lieutenant governors and to cause many problems for our current governor.
Denish gives the impression of being a well organized business woman who is interested in governmental efficiency and effectiveness.
She won’t have the opportunity to be as bold as Gov. Richardson because she won’t have the big state revenue increases he had. But she will have the opportunity to show her skills in cutting unnecessary expenses and helping government work smarter.
Richardson was pretty good at such things himself but his cost-saving successes got lost amid his grand initiatives. We wrote recently about New Mexico improving its report card in the Pew Center’s ranking of the states. In 1999, we rated a C-. By 1995, we moved up to a C+. And now in 2008, we have attained a B-.
Our improvements can be attributed to measures introduced by Gov. Richardson to strengthen management weaknesses. Those included steps to prioritize capital spending, which had been distributed almost totally through legislative pork projects.
Other improvements included a consolidation of information technology services, the installation of an advanced human resources system and a long-term planning system.
Obviously we still have a way to go before becoming a Grade A state in governmental efficiency and effectiveness. But Denish may be just the person we need to help get us there.
Denish definitely will have some initiatives of her own. Rural small business, women’s issues and the needs of children have been priorities and will continue to be. But she’ll have to implement them without loads of money.
Recently Denish gave evidence of her smarts when she appointed actor Val Kilmer to her gubernatorial transition team. Kilmer has given some indication of an interest in challenging Denish for governor in 2010.
His appointment by Denish could backfire by piquing Kilmer’s interest in running our government even more. But then it also could arouse an appreciation for Denish’s attention to him and a desire to help her administration in areas where he could be of service, such as the film industry.
And if Kilmer blows it off by not being an active participant but decides to challenge Denish in 2010, she has the perfect ammunition to point out that she offered him an opportunity to see the inner workings of our government and he wasn’t interested.
Denish’s likely ascendancy to the governor’s office does have its downside for me, however. For the past 14 years, I have felt truly blessed by having Govs. Gary Johnson and Bill Richardson to write about.
I woke up every morning knowing that if I couldn’t find anything else to write about that day, there always was another interesting angle to explore concerning two of the most colorful governors New Mexico has ever seen.
With Johnson, it was his unpredictability and irreverence about standard practice. With Richardson, it was his energy and ambition. We may not need another flamboyant governor like those two. But it surely would make some of our jobs easier.
Jay Miller is a syndicated columnist in Santa Fe. He may be reached by e-mail to email@example.com.