New Mexico Department of General Service Cabinet Secretary is hard to classify | Local News
During his first semester at the University of New Mexico, John A. Garcia missed every one of his classes.
He improved in the second half, but not by much.
âI got a D. Everything else was an F,â recalls Garcia, who was eventually kicked out of UNM.
Garcia managed to get his college career back on track with the help of a restaurateur who called him his son, and he ended up graduating from the Anderson School of Management at UNM with honors.
Since then, Garcia, 63, has built an impressive resume that will include a new entry for 2021: Secretary of the Cabinet of the New Mexico Department of General Service.
Garcia, a Republican, joined the administration of Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham earlier this month. It’s the latest in a long line of career developments that make it hard to categorize – although wherever he’s gone, his colleagues say he was easy to like.
âIt is a great honor to be invited to serve, and I respect that,â he said. “Do I agree with [Lujan Grisham] above all? Probably not. But she is the governor, and I hope she will continue to want my opinion on things, and I intend to give it to her if she wants it.
Garcia describes himself as a moderate Republican. He said he is a budget conservative but open-minded on social issues.
âI saw my son’s difficulty being gay and how difficult it was and the stigma of that,â said Garcia, a father of two grown children. “I know my son better than anyone in the world, and in my opinion he is gay because he is.”
Garcia said his son was in charge of cybersecurity for a large software company in Seattle and his daughter worked as a doctor at the University of New Mexico hospital.
Garcia said the only reason he signed up as a Republican was because his late father was a Democrat.
âMy father used to say to me, ‘When you are 18, you get out of here.’ It was like that back then, âsaid Garcia, one of seven siblings.
Garcia said his party affiliation never surfaced during his talks with the governor.
“She wants me to be John Garcia, and she gives me responsibility for this agency – its people, its budget, its service to the public, its service to it,” he said.
Lujan Grisham called the Department of General Services the backbone of state government.
It includes a mishmash of divisions, including purchasing, risk management, transportation services, facilities management, printing, and back office services. Garcia described the department as “a lot like the Walmart” of goods and services for state agencies, which he called its customers.
“I am confident that under John’s leadership and with his vast experience, the department will continue to improve the way the state government works and the way it serves the people of New Mexico,” said Lujan Grisham in a release last month.
Garcia and Lujan Grisham have a long history.
Both served as Cabinet Secretaries under former Gov. Gary Johnson, then a Republican who has since changed his affiliation to a libertarian party.
Lujan Grisham announced his appointment of Garcia at a large gathering of an influential commercial real estate group last month.
Politically, it was a smart move. Garcia, who recently worked as executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Central New Mexico, is an ex-officio member of the group’s board of directors, and Lujan Grisham has reported that she is bringing one of their own to her administration.
âI’m really excited to have him join this team,â she told the crowd. “I hope you are too.”
The couple, both full-fledged jokers, highlighted their jovial relationship that day. During the presentation of Garcia, who is 5ft 3in tall, the pint-sized governor told the crowd that there was at least one person in his cabinet who was his “same height.”
In an interview that day, Garcia called Lujan Grisham a friend.
“She’s tough-minded and [has] lot of energy; I don’t know if I will be able to keep pace, âhe said with a smile.
Garcia has held a similar role in the past. His mix of experience in the private and public sectors includes serving as Cabinet Secretary for two different departments – tourism and economic development – under Johnson.
Bridgette Madrid, communications and membership specialist for the Home Builders Association, said Garcia is dedicated.
âWhatever the task, it will put in 110% effort,â she wrote in an email. âHe is loyal to his friends, staff and family beyond words. He tells horrible daddy jokes that have now turned into grandpa jokes.
Madrid called Garcia a supportive, hardworking and fair boss.
âHe knew exactly what his employees could accomplish and he pushed us further because he trusted us so much,â she wrote. âIt was really easy to work with John. One of the best things about John is that he would ALWAYS take âdifficultâ phone calls. He was never afraid to have difficult conversations and would stand up for his staff no matter what.
Garcia was born and raised in Albuquerque. Her father, Tom, who died 10 years ago, worked as an electronics technician for Sandia National Laboratories, and her mother, Jean, now 85, stayed home to raise their children.
âI know what it’s like to have Levi’s after the third patch on my knees,â said Garcia, who has twin brother Jim, a well-known Albuquerque entrepreneur.
Garcia described himself as “unreasonable” as a child.
“We were five boys in a row before [my parents] had two daughters, âhe said. “My dad settled disputes between us with boxing gloves on, so I learned to box early.”
Garcia said he sometimes forgot about his small size.
âLike the governor in this regard, I think I am taller than I am,â he said. âYou don’t learn to fight until you learn how to get beaten up, that’s what I think I learned growing up. “
His professional life includes a mix of business and government experience. After starting out as a room service waiter for Marriott International, Garcia said he became “pushy” and insisted he could do more.
Marriott placed Garcia in a management program after graduating from UNM with a bachelor’s degree.
He worked for Marriott for about three years before joining the Bennigan’s restaurant chain in 1983. He started as an intern and worked his way up to regional manager, then moved to New Jersey, where he said. that he “worked all the time” but “good enough money for a neighborhood kid.”
After his ex-wife returned to New Mexico to be closer to his ailing mother, Garcia also returned. In 1990, he became executive director of the New Mexico Restaurant Association, where he worked until 1994 before joining the Johnson administration as secretary of tourism. Garcia said he and Johnson were friends before Johnson ran for governor.
âWe were just kind of yahoo skiers,â he said.
During his tenure as secretary of tourism, he said he ran the New Mexico State Fair for a year. The fair was administratively attached to his department, he said.
âWe had problems; we had a debt of $ 8 million, âhe said. âWe had problems with the general manager of the fair. He has been involved in a few scandals.
After telling the governor that the state should run the fair like a business, Johnson tasked Garcia with overseeing operations, he said.
âWe made a profit [of] $ 1.2 or $ 1.4 million, âhe said.
Garcia has said he is ready to return to the private sector after Johnson’s first term. But after being re-elected, Johnson asked him to become economic development secretary.
“I was kind of bitten by the challenge of economic development,” he said.
After Johnson’s second term, Garcia worked as an economic development consultant for Grubbs and Ellis Commercial Real Estate in Albuquerque before working at UNM as a senior economic development manager. During this time, he was appointed by former President George W. Bush to serve on the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, where he continued to serve an additional two years under former President Barack Obama.
In 2009, he joined the City of Albuquerque as Director of Economic Development under former Mayor Richard J. Berry, a Republican. Garcia did this work until he joined the Home Builders Association in 2013.
âThey made me a really nice offer to go there because of my experience in government and lobbying and things like that,â he said, adding that he hadn’t planned to stay in there. ‘Berry administration only for a term, then to return to the private sector. .
Garcia said he and Lujan Grisham have kept in touch. When asked to lead the General Service Department, he said he was “really honored”.
âThe people I have met in Cabinet so far are good people,â he said. “They came here because they deserved it too.”