After more than a dozen years leading nonpartisan public-policy nonprofit New Mexico First, Heather Balas announced she is leaving her post.
Balas will begin work this month with the Santa Fe-based Thornburg Foundation to lead reform efforts in good government. As part of selecting Balas’ successor, board chair Valerie Romero-Leggott said the organization’s volunteer board members are already coordinating a national executive search. Former state Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish chairs the executive search committee.
“One of the many legacies that Heather leaves with the organization is a strong team that will continue the arc of progress that New Mexico First was founded to pursue,” Romero-Leggott said. “The board and I are confident there will be a smooth transition in leadership, in large part due to Heather’s fidelity to the organization from her first day to her last.”
Balas joined New Mexico First as its deputy in 2005, upon returning to the state after a dozen years working in the nation’s capital and California on public policy and voter education. By 2006, the Portales native was named New Mexico First’s president and executive director.
“It’s been one of my greatest honors to serve alongside dedicated New Mexicans who put the state’s well-being ahead of their own personal or partisan interests,” Balas said. “When we come together, and when we are reminded that we are not as different as we sometimes believe, New Mexico is the better for it every time.”
New Mexico First is known for its statewide town halls, where hundreds of New Mexicans from around the state gather to discuss challenges and opportunities facing the state, as well as develop policy proposals to address them. During Balas’ tenure, the organization influenced dozens of laws and appropriations in education, the economy, natural resources, good government and healthcare.
Balas said examples of those reforms of which she’s most proud include expansion of scholarships for nontraditional college students, statewide reductions in student testing time, expanded watershed restoration and state water planning, passage of the constitutional amendment to create a state ethics commission, loan repayment incentives to keep medical school students in New Mexico, as well as multiple conventional and renewable-energy reforms. All policies were advanced on behalf of the people of New Mexico, prioritized through nonpartisan public deliberations, she said.
“Engaging New Mexicans in the public policy process – giving their ideas and their voices access to the halls of the Roundhouse and beyond – is really our core competency,” Balas said. “Every day, New Mexico First sees proof that Democrats, Republicans and independents can and dowork together for the common good.”
New Mexico First’s senior policy director, Pamela Blackwell, will fill in as the interim executive director over the coming months while the executive search and selection processes are conducted. Romero-Leggott said the staff and board are grateful to Blackwell for her valuable experience and leadership during this time.
During the interim, New Mexico First will host its biennial First Forum Lecture Series, the theme of which this year is “Sustainable Journalism: Preserving the Fourth Estate.” The June 6 fundraiser will feature a panel of veteran New Mexico journalists discussing the need to sustain and grow New Mexico’s reliable news sources. New Mexico First will also present its Spirit Awards, which honor public officials, civic leaders and journalists who make positive impacts in New Mexico and put good policy or fair coverage above partisan politics.
Romero-Leggott said that the event will also recognize Balas’ tenure of service to the state.
“New Mexicans who have seen firsthand the impact that the organization has had under Heather’s leadership are encouraged to attend this year’s First Forum,” Romero-Leggott said, “which will be both important in its own right and an opportunity — a golden opportunity — to thank Heather for her tireless efforts, which we know will continue in her new role, as well.”.. Read More
Legislation that would establish a state ethics commission is under intense scrutiny by the media and public as two legislative proposals churn through the legislative process being considered by New Mexico legislators HB 4 (Ely/Steinborn) and SB 619 (Lopez) both entitled State Ethics Commission Act. ..Read More
NM SB81 - Increase Certain Scholarship Amounts (sponsored by Sen. Gay Kernan) passed the Senate Education Committee unanimously. This bill would begin to replenish New Mexico’s College Affordability Endowment Fund, helping to ensure that older, nontraditional and tribal students receive modest tuition relief when pursuing a degree or certificate program. ..Read More
The 2019 Spirit Awards honor public officials, civic leaders and journalists who make positive impacts in New Mexico! Nominate a leader who is advancing a stronger New Mexico. Nominees should address serious problems, attempting progress or education on major issues. All awardees put good policy or fair coverage above partisan politics. ..Read More
New Mexico First’s legislative platform comes from consensus‐driven town hall deliberations. The two‐day statewide town halls are typically comprised of 200 or more people representing urban, rural and tribal communities. Participants include students, parents, educators, nonprofit and business professionals, and government officials. New Mexico First is pleased to advance high priority legislation that is based on the 2018 higher ed town hall recommendations and the 2016 economy town hall recommendations. Additionally, New Mexico First supports legislation that is based on the Ag Plan. The plan was developed as the result of the Resilience in New Mexico Agriculture project that began in 2016 to address unprecedented challenges to the health of the industry. Track legislation with us! Download our legislative priorities brief. ..Read More
Heather Balas, New Mexico First's executive director, testified before N.M. State Legislature, House Education Committee about the role of the College Affordability Fund bill and the importance of reinstating funding, a priority of New Mexico First's 2018 statewide town hall on higher education. ..Read More