Michelle Lujan Grisham, the current governor of New Mexico who delivered a rousing endorsement of Hillary Clinton at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, is making a repeat appearance at this year’s convention.
The governor, who has been lauded for how she has handled the coronavirus pandemic in her state and who has a history of working successfully in healthcare, comes from a long legacy of political leaders from New Mexico. Grisham is expected to deliver another energetic speech, this time, in support of the Biden/Harris ticket.
Here’s what you need to know about the politician once rumored to be Biden’s possible vice presidential pick and now rumored for another cabinet position, should Biden win:
1. Grisham Came From A Long Legacy of New Mexico Leaders
Someone needs to write a book about how the Lujan family has transformed NM politics. For example, Manuel Lujan Jr was Secretary of the Interior, and cousins Ben Ray Lujan and Michelle Lujan Grisham were US Rep's from NM until recently when the latter became Governor.
— Derek SharkyShark 🏺 (@SharkyShark19) April 28, 2019
According to Al Dia News, Grisham was born in Los Alamos, New Mexico in a family with name recognition and roots for twelve generations. The paper reported that, at one point, “the saying on the street was that in New Mexico, there were three political parties: the Democrats, the Republicans, and the Lujans.”
Grisham started her political career with the blood of trailblazers in her veins; her grandfather was the New Mexico Supreme Court’s first Hispanic chief Justice and her cousin, Manuel Lujan, worked for George H. W. Bush’s Secretary of the Interior and also became a congressman, Al Dia News reported. Later on, Grisham would become the first female Democrat and Latina Democrat to be the head of New Mexico.
According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, Grisham was the daughter of Sonja, a housewife raising three children and Llewellyn “Buddy” Lujan, a dentist who did free work for children who were disabled and underprivileged as well as their families. Grisham earned a reputation for being confident, funny and a natural leader; she also earned a reputation for being fearless, having cornered a 300-pound heavyweight wrestling champion in high school despite being so small in stature that she would remain under 5 feet even at the age of 60.
Grisham told the New Mexican, “I was a practical joker as a teenager and I still am today — you can ask any of my staff. I think growing up in Santa Fe or Northern New Mexico, in general, instills a sense of humor in people, a sort of easygoing sense of not taking yourself too seriously, while still being very proud of where you come from, and that’s something we all share. But I also knew my parents were deeply connected to this community and had a real sense of community and looked out for their neighbors — I wanted to make them proud.”
Grisham earned a bachelor’s and then a law degree from the University of New Mexico in 1987. She would go on to serve three different governors – Bruce King, Gary Johnson and Bill Richardson – at the Department of Aging and Long Term Services, Al Dia News reported.
2. Grisham’s First Job Was Advocating For Elders
Grisham’s first job after graduating from law school was heading the Agency on Aging, Searchlight New Mexico reported.
Her first move was to consolidate funding requests and present them to legislators and she also took hundreds of seniors with her; the system she developed helped increase the agency’s budget by more than half. There is also a famous story about what a frustrated Grisham did to go behind the scenes and investigate senior care at elder-care facilities, according to Searchlight.
According to Searchlight, she faked a stroke while her ombudsman, Doug Calderwood, faked alcohol-related detention. After checking into facilities, Grisham said that her treatment left much to be desired; her teeth weren’t brushed, aides failed to introduce themselves and some of her items were stolen, Searchlight and CNBC reported.
Grisham, who said, “I only stayed for three days, but it was a long damned three days,” would become the health secretary in 2004, according to Searchlight.
3. Grisham Has Had To Deal With Her Share of Personal Loss
The Holy Week pilgrimage made by so many New Mexicans to El Santuario holds a special place in my heart. My father completed the walk every year in honor of my sister, Kimberly. May all those traveling to Chimayó today have a safe and meaningful pilgrimage.https://t.co/eirwJZdWz3
— Michelle Lujan Grisham (@GovMLG) April 19, 2019
According to CNBC, Grisham’s closeness to healthcare was because she had experienced the painful cost of hospital bills and death, even from a young age.
Grisham’s sister, Kimberly, was diagnosed with a brain tumor at the age of 2, CNBC reported. Although Grisham’s parents would struggle to pay off the debt from her care for decades, Kimberly died at the age of 21. When she was older, Grisham’s husband suffered a brain aneurysm and died in 2004, leaving her to raise two children on her own. Weeks later, Grisham assumed the position she had earned of New Mexico’s Secretary of Health, where she stayed until 2007.
But six years later, tragedy would strike again, this time, touching her mother. Grisham said that she had assisted with her mother, but still the balance was a tightrope, CNBC reported.
4. The Governor Has Earned Praise For Her Response To The Pandemic
Today's #COVID19 update:
– 95 new COVID-19 cases, totaling 23,500 cases statewide
– Four additional deaths, totaling 718 deaths statewide
– 119 individuals currently hospitalized with COVID-19
Keep up the great work, New Mexico. Your efforts are making a difference. pic.twitter.com/i0ruCoTt58
— Michelle Lujan Grisham (@GovMLG) August 17, 2020
New Mexico had roughly 23,500 cases and 718 deaths by August 17, according to the New York Times, with McKinley County being the biggest hotspot for cases.
However, compared to other states, Grisham has been considered an excellent leader because – due to her experience as a health secretary and having handled a flu outbreak early in her career – she too proactive measures, Al Dia reported. Grisham told the Washington Post that her past experience guided her:
I had dealt with a pandemic before and the earlier you start, the more aggressively you start, the better control and management efforts you have. And this is the problem: because you can’t see the pandemic, everyone, I think, falsely assumes it won’t come here.
Grisham instituted guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (including a mask mandate; click here to find out if your state has one.) and later on, she closed down much of the New Mexican economy after only four cases were reported in the state, the Post reported. And despite severe coronavirus outbreaks in regions with the Navajo Nation, her management of the issue has been considered largely successful.
5. A Local News Station Suggested Grisham Might Be Eying A Spot In Biden’s Cabinet
Grisham was once being floated as a potential vice president pick, multiple outlets reported. However, with Kamala Harris rounding out the ticket, local news station KRQE-13 as well as the Santa Fe New Mexican reported that she might want be pursuing the cabinet post as Health and Human Services Secretary.
However, Grisham’s spokeswoman, Nora Meyers Sackett, told the New Mexican, “I will continue to answer this question as many times as you would like to ask it and play this game and engage in this speculation no matter the hypothetical or imaginary premise — but know that the answer will not change. The governor has a job. She loves her job. She worked very hard to get this job. She has no plans to change jobs.”
The governor echoed those words to Al Dia, telling reporters that even though the news was flattering, it wasn’t her main priority: “I want Biden to pick the person who gets his ticket elected, and allows him to do the kind of leadership renewals and efforts in this country that are so badly needed,” she said.