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Regent confirmation a ‘distraction’

SANTA FE – Gov. Susana Martinez’s decision to include regent confirmations on the agenda of a budget-balancing special session has been dismissed as a “distraction” by the chairwoman of the Senate panel that vets gubernatorial nominees.

Sen. Linda Lopez

However, Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, would not say whether she intends to hold confirmation hearings for Martinez’s university regent appointees during the special session, scheduled to start May 24.

“The governor should be ashamed that after hearing the pleas from our institutions of higher learning and the students they serve she still continues to try to divert attention from the financial crisis she created by asking legislators to instead focus on her political appointments,” Lopez told the Journal earlier this week.

The Governor’s Office has accused Lopez and other top Senate Democrats of stalling on key confirmations, as the Senate Rules Committee did not get through the full backlog of gubernatorial appointees during the 60-day legislative session that ended in March.

Two appointees to the University of New Mexico Board of Regents – Alex Romero and John Ryan, who were nominated by Martinez earlier this year – were among those not confirmed during this year’s regular session.

As a result, two current UNM regents are still serving on the seven-member governing council despite having expired terms.

In all, the governor’s special session proclamation asserted that 8 of the 18 regent nominees the Governor’s Office submitted to the Senate Rules Committee – including the two UNM regent nominees – were not acted upon during the 60-day session.

The other unconfirmed regent nominees include two sitting UNM regents, two New Mexico State University regent appointees, and one each at New Mexico Tech and Northern New Mexico College.

All gubernatorial appointees are typically subject to background checks, and Lopez has previously said her committee’s work was delayed this year after the governor vetoed a “feed” bill funding session expenses. A separate bill was later signed.

The special session was called last week by Martinez to resolve a budget standoff between the executive branch and the Democratic-controlled Legislature. The governor vetoed all proposed funding – roughly $779 million – for legislative branch agencies and colleges and universities, prompting top legislators to file a court challenge with the state Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, it’s rare, if not unprecedented, for a governor to include confirmations on special session agendas.

That’s partly because the Senate Rules Committee can hold hearings between regular legislative sessions. However, nominees are approved only with the consent of the full Senate – meaning the 42-member chamber must be in session to vote.