SANTA FE — Sidonie Squier, cabinet secretary of the state Human Services Department, said Friday the governor had not asked her to resign over her comments about hunger, and she intended to remain in office.
Squier has spent the last several days retreating from an email she wrote that said hunger was not a problem in New Mexico.
"Since there has never been and is not now any significant evidence of hunger in N.M., I would offer that the focus of the report should be on getting proper nutrition to children (and adults)," Squire wrote.
She appeared Friday at a legislative hearing on her department's budget, but she started her presentation by telling lawmakers her comments on hunger were "poorly worded."
"I do agree that there are hungry children in New Mexico," Squier said.
In a later news conference, Squier said she had always believed hunger was a problem, despite what she wrote.
She said obese children are in fact malnourished. In her email, she said, she was trying to make that point. But her writing was poor, Squier said, and she came across as dismissive of hunger being a problem.
Democratic state Sen. Michael Sanchez of Belen, the majority leader, has said Squier should resign. Sanchez said her comments showed that she is tone deaf to the state's poverty.
The national Kids Count survey released earlier this year by the Annie E. Casey Foundation rated New Mexico 50th among the states in child well-being.
Squier told reporters on Friday, "I do understand that there's hunger."
"There should be no children in New Mexico that go hungry," she said. "But we also have to attack the obesity and malnourishment that are also present."
She said her boss, Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, had not asked her to resign.
"I serve at her will. ... I have not been asked to step down," Squier said.
State Sen. Howie Morales, a finance committee member who heard Squier's comments, said she did not convince him that she had done nothing more than write an awkward email.
"I think she said what she felt," Morales, D-Silver City, said of her original comments.
As for her what she told the committee, "It was all staged," Morales said.
This summer, Squier walked out of a legislative committee hearing when questioned about her decision to cut off funding to 15 mental health agencies that she said could be guilty of fraud.
She was combative, and said at least some of its members were out to get her.
There was no such friction Friday.
Squier remained calm and said she was contrite.
Morales said that if any good came from the episode it was in Squire acknowledging the obvious.
"The bottom line is that hunger is a problem in New Mexico, and she is saying that now," Morales said.
Milan Simonich, Santa Fe Bureau chief of Texas-New Mexico Newspapers, can be reached at 505-820-6898. His blog is at nmcapitolreport.com.