What exactly is the ‘Status’ of the New Mexico Commission on the Status of Women, Governor?

A search of the internet regarding the New Mexico Commission on the Status of Women suggests a lack of direction from Governor Lujan Grisham despite the Legislature providing $285,000 for a rebirth of a critical advocacy agency de-funded by her predecessor.

Meanwhile, her staff fails to respond to questions about Commission’s membership.

So, what are we missing here?

(The Candle will provide an update from the Governor or her staff should they finally decide to respond to our query.)

Early in her administration, Republican Governor Susana Martinez, decided to eliminate the role of the New Mexico Commission on the Status of Women in the lives of New Mexicans. With the stroke of her veto pen, Martinez wiped out all state funding of the Commission’s budget – effectively eliminating an agency with more than three decades experience – an agency that was created in the 1970’s.

Women advocacy groups, women legislators, and progressive community leaders criticized Martinez’s arbitrary action.

According to a story published by the Santa Fe New Mexican in January 2011, then executive director of the Commission Mary Molina Mescall fought the cuts.

Mescall told New Mexican reporter Kate Nash,“When people come in the office and see the activity and the clients in the workroom and the profile of the women we are serving, they are very impressed.”

Nash also wrote: “Among other things … the group does workshops for elderly women and financial planning, workshops on post-divorce finances and life-skills sessions. It often helps women who are homeless or near homeless, Mescall said.”

“The kind of services we provide [the Commission] isn’t for somebody like the governor or me or even you,” she [Mescall] told a reporter. “It’s for someone who has had the rug pulled out from underneath them.”

Despite protestations, the Commission lost its funding and was essentially dormant for the duration of Martinez’s eight year’s as governor.

In January of 2019, with Michelle Lujan Grisham succeeding Martinez, the Commission was expected to be revived.

The new governor proposed funding for the Commission on the Status of Women in her first budget proposal in 2019. The legislature approved her proposal through a series actions which totaled about $285,000, which covered the balance of fiscal year 2019, and the upcoming fiscal year of 2020.

Having reestablished a budget for the seemingly dormant Commission, the next logical step would be for the governor to appoint members to the Commission.

According to NM Stat § 28-3-1 (2019) “…The commission consists of fifteen members, including one member of the human rights commission, representative of all fields of interest to women. Members shall be appointed by the governor…”

In researching this story, The Candle attempted to find the names of the current members of the Commission through an internet search of the state’s various websites.

More than two years after Lujan Grisham took over as the state’s chief executive, despite the $285,000 appropriation, The Candle was unable to find any current, updated information relative to the Commission operations, its members, its staff, or any studies, research, or services it provides – services that were available particularly to women and girls who have had “the rug pulled out from underneath them,” as previous executive director Mescall stated the Commission provided in the past.

The Candle looked to the Governor’s website and found a page referencing boards and commissions overseen by the governor’s Director of Boards and Commissions, Melissa Salazar, and linking to a page where one can apply to become a member of a board or commission.

Despite there being more than 25 boards and commissions listed on the webpage, the Commission on the Status of Women is not among them. While the boards and commissions listed on that page had to do with licensing and regulations, it is the page linked from the Governor’s main page connection for “Boards and Commissions.”

The Candle sent an email to Ms. Salazar late Friday afternoon, May 28, 2021, writing: “Could you please forward me the list of members of the New Mexico Commission on the Status of Women, or in the alternative send me a link as to where one would find those commission members on an official website?”

On the following Tuesday, late in the morning, The Candle called the governor’s office, and received a recording to leave a message. One was left for Ms. Salazar to please note our request of the previous Friday, and asking for a response.

No return call, or email.

So, early Tuesday afternoon, we left another email reminding her, “It should not be that difficult to provide a list of members of the New Mexico Commission on the Status of Women, particularly as the Governor is the appointing authority, and you are listed as the Director of Boards and Commissions.”

Still no response from the director of boards and commissions – a position for which Ms. Salazar is paid $90,000/year (having received a $20,000/year pay increase since being hired in January of 2019).

The Candle has become accustomed to hearing crickets when seeking a response from the governor’s staff, other than responses to official Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) requests, yet we are still hopeful for a response.

For now, here are the results from some of our research of public budget documents on the Sunshine Portal, documents from the State Personnel Office, and links to documents from the legislative website:

  • There have been no personnel listed as employees of the Commission on the Status of Women since 2011, that being the last year the Commission even appears as an agency on the employee section of the website.
  • In the two and a half years since Governor Lujan Grisham has taken office, and with the appropriation of at least $285,000, it appears that no individuals have been hired to carry on the work of the Commission – despite the state statue NM Stat § 28-3-4 (2019) which reads: The commission shall appoint a director, who is the administrative officer of the commission. The director shall employ other necessary employees under the provisions of the Personnel Act [Chapter 10, Article 9 NMSA 1978].
  • The last record of any expenditure by the Commission on the Status of Women was made on November 7, 2013, to CLIFTON LARSON ALLEN LLP for audit services – maybe closing out all previous spending?
  • The legislature and Governor Lujan Grisham have authorized the spending of $285,000 for the fiscal years 2019 and 2020 – according to the Sunshine Portal on-line records, during each of those years none of the appropriated funds appears to have been expended.
  • The general appropriation act passed in 2020 allowed for the rolling over of un-expended Commission funds to the next fiscal year – during which it appears that once again, nothing was expended.
  • So far, in fiscal year 2021 – due to end on June 30, 2021 – there are no reported expenditures for the Commission.
  • The recently passed general appropriation act for fiscal year 2022, provides again for the rolling over of un-expended funds into the new fiscal year.
  • The governor’s website for boards and commissions has nothing listed indicating the existence of the Commission on the Status of Women, despite the state law that states one is created under the law and she has the responsibility to appoint members to the Commission.
  • If there are members the governor has already appointed, why is the director of boards and commissions refusing to respond to The Candle’s request for a list of the names?

This is a very important commission.

Below is yet another example of how out of date information about the New Mexico Commission on the Status of Women is, despite the legislature authorizing Governor Lujan Grisham to expend up to $285,000 over the past two years to revive the agency that was crippled by the Martinez administration almost ten years ago. Click on the audio file:

The above Commission on the Status of Women office recording appears to be about 10 years old. Listen closely, as the greeting refers to the Commission moving its offices on July 1, 2011. This recording was made of the greeting on Wednesday, June 2, 2021. The phone number with this message is (505) 222-6600 and can be found by doing a simple Google Search for the words “New Mexico Commission on the Status of Women” and clicking on one of at least two of the search results which list the number.

This is an ongoing report.

(NOTE: To be clear, Governor Lujan Grisham delivered on her promise to protect women’s reproductive rights – particularly the right to a safe abortion – a critical achievement accomplished during her term of office in conjunction with the efforts of legislators and advocacy groups. This article however is about the status of other matters affecting the quality of life for women and girls.)