SANTA FE – A recently retired Secretary to the State Cabinet who oversaw New Mexico’s first major foray into electric vehicles for government fleets has gone to work in a lobby group for auto dealerships as they protect state-authorized control over direct sales of new vehicles against electric incursions – automaker Tesla and other potential rivals.
Ken Ortiz retired in June as Secretary of the General Service Department. He began working as president of the New Mexico Automobile Dealers Association publicly defending New Mexico’s ban on direct sales of motor vehicles and highlighting local employment provided by them. car dealerships.
Tesla forged a route around the state’s direct sales ban last month by opening a store and repair shop on self-governing Native American lands in Nambé Pueblo, northern New Mexico. It marked a new approach in Tesla’s long-standing struggle to sell cars directly to consumers and exclude dealers from the process.
The company run by business mogul Elon Musk can freely sell and service its vehicles in just a dozen states.
In a comment delivered to news outlets this week, Ortiz claimed that new car dealers – not direct car makers – are best equipped to deploy electric vehicles and accelerate the transition to cleaner transportation in response to the climate change.
Contacted by phone, Ortiz said Tesla “isn’t really the problem.”
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He added: “We just think that with the existing franchise law, outside of sovereign countries, the dealers are there for a reason. We are anchored in local communities, we contribute to state taxes, with payroll.”
Heather Ferguson, executive director of government accountability group Common Cause New Mexico, said Ortiz’s rapid transition from cabinet secretary to industry spokesperson smacked of crony capitalism.
“The perception this creates, in the wake of the Tesla deal, is concerning,” said Ferguson. “Each of these things shakes the state’s national reputation as to whether businesses can come in and get a fair hit. It is hurting our economy.”
Proposals to allow the direct sale of vehicles without a dealer were rejected by the state legislature as late as 2019.
New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said Thursday through a spokesperson that she would support reforms to the state’s legal ban on the direct sale of new vehicles if initiated and approved by the legislature.
Ortiz has earned a reputation as a trusted and competent public administrator in state government under the leadership of elected Democratic and Republican leaders, with roles ranging from director of the motor vehicles division to secretary of the state labor agency.
Appointed in 2019 by Lujan Grisham, Ortiz guided the General Services Department in contracting multi-million dollar improvements to government buildings aimed at greater energy efficiency, integrating solar power and reducing utility bills. electricity.
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Under Ortiz, the agency also introduced plug-in electric vehicles to the state’s fleet – and negotiated standardized prices for government agencies with local car dealerships for electric models Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf, chosen for compatibility. .
Ortiz said he was at least two steps away from these dealership negotiations.
He said the New Mexico Automobile Dealers Association has contract lobbyists.
“So far, I haven’t yet registered as a lobbyist because I haven’t worked with lawmakers,” Ortiz noted.
Ethics laws in most states provide for a mandatory waiting period before someone leaving public office can lobby or register as a lobbyist.
New Mexico does not have a “cooling off” period before former officials can lobby lawmakers. The state’s Government Conduct Act provides for a one-year waiting period before a former public official can lobby the agency where he worked.
Concerns about the revolving door between government and industry surfaced in 2016 when Ryan Flynn became executive director of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association weeks after stepping down as secretary of the Department of the Environment under the government of the day. Susana Martinez, a Republican.
Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett said on Thursday the governor would support some kind of additional “cool-down” period if introduced and approved by the Legislature.