SANTA FE – The ranking Republican member on a New Mexico Senate committee in charge of holding confirmation hearings has criticized Democrats for not scheduling meetings this summer to address a lingering backlog of appointees, but a top Senate Democrat said Tuesday the panel will meet at least once before the 2018 legislative session.
Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican whose second term in office ends next year, has repeatedly accused the Democratic-controlled Senate of stalling her appointments, especially when it comes to university regents.
And the issue has flared up again in recent weeks with leadership changes on the horizon for the state’s two largest universities – the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University.
University regents, who are appointed by the governor, have come under scrutiny at NMSU after university chancellor Garrey Carruthers said last week he’d been told by regents that they did not intend to extend his contract. That prompted an outpouring of support for Carruthers from lawmakers and student leaders.
At UNM, regents will pick a new president to succeed interim president Chaouki Abdallah after a search committee recommends candidates. That could happen by as soon as this fall.
While the Senate acted during this year’s 60-day legislative session on 10 of the 18 regent nominees the Governor’s Office had submitted to the Senate Rules Committee, it did not act on all six of the regent nominees for UNM and NMSU.
Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, said Tuesday she thinks the Senate Rules Committee will meet at least once this summer, though no date has apparently been set yet.
“We know there’s some people out there (who haven’t been confirmed), and we’re going to try to get some of this cleaned up,” said Papen, who is a member of the committee.
However, she also bristled at criticism from the Governor’s Office and others about the Senate’s pace on confirmation hearings, pointing out the Senate did confirm regent nominees for six different institutions during this year’s regular session.
Meanwhile, Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, the Senate Rules Committee’s ranking GOP member, said earlier this week he hasn’t been told of any planned hearings.
“I’m very disappointed – it seems like the powers that be have decided we’re not doing anything until there’s a new governor,” Moores told the Journal. “We could have easily done all those confirmation hearings this summer.”
The Senate Rules Committee can hold hearings on appointees and other matters 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.
New Mexico’s confirmation system is based on the federal model and requires that high-level officials be appointed by the governor, with the consent of the Senate. In addition to university regents, the list of those subject to Senate confirmation includes Cabinet secretaries and appointees to a wide range of boards and commissions.