Some Democratic legislative leaders are urging Gov. Susana Martinez to stick to party lines when naming a replacement for recently deceased Democratic Rep. Stephen Easley.
The Republican governor must choose from nominees recommended by the county commissions of Santa Fe, Bernalillo, Valencia and Torrance counties, all of which share a portion of the vacant state House District 50.
But Martinez will likely have at least one Republican nominee to choose from on that list, because Torrance County is led by a Republican-majority commission. The county commissions of Santa Fe, Bernalillo and Valencia counties each have Democratic majorities.
Easley, of Eldorado, was considered one of the state House’s more progressive Democrats. He won 56 percent of the district vote in 2012.
House Speaker Ken Martinez, D-Grants, said Martinez should appoint a Democratic representative out of consideration for voters in the district who elected Easley.
“I think the process should honor the will of the people, the electorate, to try and seamlessly transition into governing as quickly as possible, and to try to remove the politics of it,” Speaker Martinez said.
“… That’s a Democratic district, has been as long as I can remember,” he said.
The possibility of a Republican appointment does not threaten the Democratic majority in the state House, but the shift would narrow Democrats’ advantage to three votes. Before Easley’s death, the state House comprised 38 Democrats and 32 Republicans.
Asked whether the governor feels obligated to fill Easley’s seat with another Democratic representative, spokesman Enrique Knell said Martinez would choose the best candidate.
“As she does with all nominations, the governor will look for the most qualified candidate to serve and represent this district,” Knell said in a statement.
Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said that in addition to party considerations, the governor should give more weight to Santa Fe County’s nominee because a majority of the district’s population is within Santa Fe County.
“She could find someone to do a good job by finding someone from Santa Fe, which is probably more closely connected with the biggest majority of people in the district,” Egolf said.
House Minority Leader Donald Bratton, R-Hobbs, said the governor’s priority in naming the new representative should be choosing the best-qualified candidate.
“There’s a lot of ways that this can play out,” Bratton said. “I would hope that the governor would weigh very heavily the quality of the candidates’ names … and make a choice that’s in the best interest of the state of New Mexico.”
Legislators from both parties said they hoped a replacement would be selected within the a couple of months to help the new lawmaker be prepared before the state’s 2014 legislative session beginning in January.