It’s Always Susana in New Mexico (at least when it comes to oil and gas)

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ProgressNow New Mexico has published a number of articles about the deep ties the oil and gas industry has with former Governor Susana Martinez’ administration. But when you stop and look at the makeup of top lobbying groups like the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association (NMOGA), so-called Power the Future, and top lobbyists for other extraction industry titans, the numbers are truly stunning.

At least nine top lobbyists currently working in the extraction industry (or lobbyist adjacent) came directly out of the Martinez administration. The big problem? New Mexico doesn’t have a law that requires a “cooling off” period for officials once they leave the public sector and return to private life. This applies to both elected AND appointed officials. 

The issue with elected officials has its own clear problems, which was well documented in an Albuquerque Journal story from earlier this year.

But those appointed officials, who came into the Martinez administration with no public oversight process still became very close to the machinations of power during their time in the government. And as soon as they leave? *Poof!* They return to the same halls and offices they worked in just a month ago, this time trying to peddle their influence with former colleagues and friends but for the benefit of the corporations they work for, rather than serving the citizens of New Mexico. 

Ryan Flynn, the current Executive Director for NMOGA, is probably the person you’ve heard of most. A former Secretary of the Environment Department under Martinez, he quit in the summer of 2017 to take the reins over at NMOGA. Of course, in interviews, he claimed he’d follow ethical standards and not register as a lobbyist for two years yadda yadda yadda. But that same year he not only filed two requests with the Attorney General’s office for communications from his old job, but he also gave that now famous speech to his Association’s members where he literally said: 

“Susana Martinez, my former boss, she’s embraced an all-of-the-above approach to energy policy. Probably the most consistent benefit to our industry over the last 7 years is that we don’t have to worry when we walk into each legislative session about a harmful piece of legislation getting signed into law.” 

So yeah, it’s problematic that Flynn was allowed, and still  is, to be in the position he is with the kind of insider knowledge we all know he has. 

And then there’s Larry Behrens. The former spokesperson for Martinez turned spokesperson for the Republican House during this year’s legislature drew pay from the state until the end of the session, then immediately took a job with (likely) Koch-funded Power the Future, a DC based lobbying firm that openly advocates for the fossil fuel industry. Behrens also has a sketchy past while in the Martinez administration, having once compiled a list of non-union teachers using state resources he has access to during his time with the PED. 

But as we mentioned at the outset, it’s not just these “usual suspects” that you’ve seen us write about before; here’s a breakdown of the folks we KNOW came out of the Martinez administration and are currently (or until very recently still were) working FOR Big Oil and Gas using who knows what connections without any oversight:

  1. Ryan Flynn, Executive Director of NMOGA, served as the Secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department
  2. Patrick Padilla, Deputy Director of NMOGA, served as the Assistant Commissioner of Mineral Resources (NOT MARTINEZ, but during her time in office, has since left NMOGA to work elsewhere in oil and gas)
  3. Ryan (Andrews-Armijo) Chavez   Chavez, Director of Community Affairs of NMOGA, was a policy analyst for the Office of the Governor
  4. Trais Kliphuis, Director of Regulatory Affairs of NMOGA, previously headed up the Water Protection Division (left NMOGA this month)
  5. Robert McEntyre, Director of Communications of NMOGA, served as a spokesperson for the Public Education Department
  6. Aimee Barabe, Director of Government Affairs of NMOGA, worked as the Director of Marketing Outreach and Partnerships for the NM Tourism Department; as Director of Public Outreach for the PED; and as the Public Information Office for the NM Dept of Health
  7. Jim Winchester, former Communications Director for both the New Mexico Energy, Minerals & Natural Resources Department and the New Mexico Environment Department, is now the Executive Director for the Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico
  8. Keith Gardner, a former Republican lawmaker who later served as chief of staff under Martinez, registered as a lobbyist for Select Energy Services, which provides water management for fracking. 
  9. Former Martinez Communications Director Larry Behrens now serves as Western States Director of Power the Future, an energy advocacy organization founded by Daniel Turner, formerly of the Charles Koch Institute
  10. Nick Piatek, Deputy Chief of Staff 2016-2018, Office of the Governor, now Government and Public Affairs Manager for Hilcorp, oil and gas company

ProgressNow New Mexico remains committed to keeping our state’s governmental processes as transparent as possible. As we move into this new era of governance under the Lujan Grisham administration and enlarged Democratic control of the Legislature (at least the House), we’re still seeing the same influence peddling as we did under Martinez. It’s important we remain vigilant in our public spaces to ensure that policies and policy-making are fair, open, and made with the best intentions for ALL New Mexicans.