WASHINGTON – Michael Connor, a Las Cruces native who served as a water policy expert in the office of former Sen. Jeff Bingaman, was unanimously confirmed Thursday as deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Connor, 50, had been working as commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation. He will start his job as second-in-command at the Interior Department on Monday. Connor’s nomination sailed through the Senate on Thursday on a 97-0 vote. He will replace David J. Hayes, who was in the post for four years before accepting a position as a Stanford Law School professor.
Connor’s maternal grandfather was a tribal leader with Taos Pueblo, and Interior officials have said he is the first person with such Native American roots to serve in such a high-ranking post at Interior, which includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the National Park Service, Bureau of Reclamation, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and other agencies.
“Mike is exactly the right person to help lead this department – thoughtful, smart, organized and full of energy,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement. “His wealth of knowledge, experience and collaborative approach to complex challenges will be of great benefit to me and to this department. Mike is a true public servant, and this new role will tap all of his experiences for the benefit of the American people.”
As deputy secretary, Connor will serve as the agency’s chief operating officer and will help lead a department of more than 70,000 employees with an annual budget of about $18 billion. In a Journal interview Thursday, Connor said he was gratified by the strong show of support in the Senate.
“You couldn’t ask for anything more,” the former Senate aide said. “It’s indicative of our ability to work together with folks on the Hill.”
He cited water management and drought mitigation, energy production and Native American issues among the top priorities in his new job.
“We want to try to secure as much water as possible but also make sure we’re making investment to deal with these droughts as they continue,” Connor said.
Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, both New Mexico Democrats, cheered Connor’s confirmation and predicted he would make New Mexicans proud.
“Mike Connor is a dedicated public servant with the experience and background needed to help meet our nation’s goals for energy independence and our environment,” Heinrich said. “He is passionate about finding solutions on a range of issues important to New Mexico, including land and water conservation and addressing climate change.”
Udall said, “As a native New Mexican with about two decades of experience in the public sector, he possesses a wealth of knowledge about matters that are important to New Mexico and that will be invaluable in his position as Deputy Secretary in the Interior Department.”