On May 21, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announce the appointment of Bianca Ortiz Wertheim, chief of staff under U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, as the new cabinet secretary for Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. The appointment does require State Senate confirmation but she can serve in the position until her Senate Confirmation. Cabinet secretaries are paid $150,000 to $156,000 a year.
Ortiz Wertheim has worked as chief of staff under United States Senator Tom Udall who is not running for another term and who is retiring from the United State Senate. Prior to being employed for Udall, Ortiz Wertheim worked for then-Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chávez as his Chief of Staff. She also served in Governor Bill Richardson’s administration and as a strategic manager for the American Cancer Society. Bianca Otiz Wertheim is the wife of prominent Santa Fe trial attorney John Wertheim who is a former Chairman of the State Democratic Party.
JACKIE LINDSEY RESIGNATION
The cabinet position of Secretary of Homeland Security has been vacant since November 26, 2019 when Jackie Lindsey resigned. The Lindsey resignation came just a day after Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, Attorney General Hector Balderas, members of the state’s congressional delegation and House Speaker Brian Egolf met with her on efforts to combat potential domestic terrorism in New Mexico. The timing of her resignation raised questions as to the real reason for it.
Lindsey said in her resignation:
“After careful consideration, I have decided to resign as the Cabinet secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management to focus on my family and my health.”
Former Secretary Jackie Lindsey was clearly highly qualified and considered by many at the time as one of the Governor’s better appointments. Before becoming a Cabinet secretary, Lindsey was captain of homeland security and emergency management for the Albuquerque Fire Department, where she had worked for 17 years. She was captain of fire investigations for the department before that, and she served 10 years on the former New Mexico Urban Search and Rescue Team unit. Sources have confirmed that Jackie Lindsey is back with the City of Albuquerque under contract working as a liaison assisting the city with the pandemic.
Analysis And Commentary
The appointment of Bianca Ortiz Wertheim is raising more than a few eyebrows in Santa Fe. It is also raising questions within law enforcement of why the Governor is making the appointment now and why this person. The Cabinet Position of Secretary of Homeland Security has been vacant since late November when secretary Jackie Lindsey stepped down.
According to the State Website, Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management coordinates the State’s response to all hazard type events and supports local response. Emergencies and disasters are something caused by natural or human-made events or any other circumstances determined by the Governor. When necessary, the State assists local jurisdictions whose capabilities are overwhelmed serving as the conduit for assistance from the Federal government. The Department coordinates around the mission areas of the National Preparedness Goal: Prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery.
Bianca Ortiz Wertheim is very personable, she and her husband John Werthheim are well liked within the Democratic Party and she has served essentially as Chief of Staff to two elected officials. The positions she has held in city, state and federal government have had very little or absolutely nothing to do with Homeland Security.
The Governor’s appointment appears to have been made based strictly on taking care of a political operative in search of a new job, a job that the Governor could not find nor create that would pay $150,000 a year. Bianca Ortiz Wertheim’s immense talents and abilities would be better suited in a position that she is in fact qualified to hold and more like Chief of Staff or Deputy Chief of Staff to the Governor. Bianca Ortiz Wertheim’s meager qualifications or lack of qualifications to be Secretary of Homeland Security will no doubt be an issue in any State Senate confirmation hearing.
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