January 19, 2021

In Half Defense of the Governor

Posted on 06. Jan, 2011 by Administrator in Politics

I never thought I’d be defending the man who eliminated my job as Director of the Office of Science and Technology (I was one of the ’59′ governor’s exempt employees whose job was abolished by the Governor back in January), but I am… though not for the reasons you might think. In an op ed yesterday, remarks were made about our Governor that fell a little short of their target. Let me take them one by one. First, Governor Richardson earned the respect of many international leaders and members of the U.S. Foreign Service for his successes in negotiations with foreign countries and for improving relations with ‘rogue’ nations to boot. This he did over the course of many years. In fact, I would say that he’s a ‘natural’ when it comes to the fine art of schmoozing.

Though he didn’t have a long run as our Ambassador to the U.N., he made a lot of friends for America. I know, as I was in the Foreign Service overseas when he was in New York. Say what you will about our governor (and many of us do), he left his mark on the foreign community, and that mark was largely a positive one. That said, every Governor (and every Cabinet Secretary, Congressman, Senator, Agency Head and President) who can travel DOES TRAVEL. Some go on the taxpayers’ dime, others use their own checkbook, and another group has those trips paid for by lobbyists and friends who see some benefit coming their way in exchange for a plane ticket, a hotel and three squares.

The op ed writer is correct when he questions the overarching need to make some of those trips, and here I agree with him. We have a governor who has galavanted around the nation (as a Presidential candidate) and overseas on behalf of the current administration. Some of his trips were invited events and others were in ‘support’ of our State’s agenda AND our international trade efforts. My first encounter with New Mexico’s International Trade Division goes back to 1993 when I was stationed at our U.S. Mission in Germany. Back then, the Division and the Department had a plan. I know they had two outstanding Trade Specialists: Rainer Wollmann and Edward Herrera. Both knew their stuff and worked wonders with the pittance they had at their disposal. Kudos to whoever hired them.

Things started to come unraveled in 2008/09. Funds for ‘pure’ trade development shriveled or were moved to travel, instead. The Division Director left, leaving two employees behind – without a plan. As a result, their budget became vulnerable when holes in the EDD’s budget had to be plugged or trips for political reasons had to be scheduled. I use the term ‘political’ to describe a decision made to bolster an administration’s ideology or long-term goal rather than a practical short-term decision made as part of a plan with definite expected outcomes). No aspersions being cast here. It’s all in the eye of the beholder. The next shoe to drop was the departure of a very political Trade Division employee who left to work for a gubernatorial candidate (initially on a sabbatical until the 
Governor weighed in and told her to choose one or the other). This left one solitary person to work the Division. Whatever made anyone think that an important function like promoting New Mexico’s products overseas could be handled by just one person? Budget cuts do strange things to people.

Now to the exciting part. Many in- and outside state government have suspected for a long time that the Governor’s trips to Cuba are the first stages of the Obama Administration’s plan to normalize our relations with that country. I believe that our globetrotting governor may become the First U.S. Special Envoy to Cuba. Based on his experience and his international success, he may be the absolute right man for the job. If it happens, I wish him Godspeed. In his absence, somebody better get a good GRIP on the Economic Development Department’s International Trade Division. A good plan would be a great place to start.

Stephan Helgesen is former Director of the New Mexico Office of Science and Technology and retired U.S. Foreign Commercial Service Officer who served in twenty foreign countries. He is CEO of 2nd Opinion Marketing, an Albuquerque-based international high-technology consultancy company.

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