I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
Merger or no merger, rebranding the state is the goal
On the same day that Governor Susana Martinez’s administration went before members of the Legislature’s Economic and Rural Development Committee in Santa Fe to again propose merging the Tourism and Cultural Affairs agencies, state Tourism secretary Monique Jacobson was down in Albuquerque telling attendees of the Tourism Association of New Mexico’s Research and Marketing Conference about her desire to rebrand New Mexico as a top-ten tourist destination — despite popular perceptions of the Land of Enchantment as dull, artsy, arid, and barren.
“We suffer from low awareness and damaging misperceptions,” Jacobson told attendees, after showing the tourist association a video of reactions about New Mexico from focus groups in Chicago, Houston, and Los Angeles.
Reactions among members of an interim legislative committee were hardly more encouraging, despite Gregory Baird of the Department of Finance and Administration, the governor’s budget arm, saying that the merger would save the state an estimated $1.2 million over the next three years by reducing management positions.
Sounding like one of the focus-group members, Sen. Mary Jane Garcia (D-Dona Ana) said, “I’m trying to understand the rationale behind putting these agencies together.”
It’s that type of quizzical resistance that has dogged one of Governor Martinez’s major restructuring proposals — all as a way to increase efficiency and trim state spending. The governor pitched the idea to the legislature last January during its 30-day session, and again during its special session in September and she plans to bring it up again this next January. In her two previous attempts to gain traction for it, though, the idea didn’t even get brought up for a vote. Despite the two agencies already sharing legal counsel and an administrative services division directory.
Secretary Jacobson has argued that the merger makes sense philosophically, in that the new agency could capitalize on the state’s rich cultural traditions as a way to market New Mexico to potential tourists. At the tourism conference in Albuquerque, she talked about rebranding the state as an “adventure steeped in rich culture.”
As it now stands, the tourism industry serves as a major state employer and economic engine, employing some 55,000 people and contributing about $5.5 billion to the economy in 2009. But despite whichever “distinct but complementary missions,” in Baird’s words, the two agencies currently appear to share, House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Nambe, characterized the two as very different nonetheless, perhaps foreshadowing a level of continued resistance among lawmakers that has long plagued the governor’s proposed merger.
Merger or no merger, Jacobson vowed to forge ahead with her plans for reformulating her department from a “tourist service agency” to a “tourism generating agency.” “Putting the traveler first,” she stressed to the tourism crowd. “That’s the approach we all need to take.”