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Gov. assails Dems for stalling confirmations

SANTA FE – Entering the final year of her tenure, Gov. Susana Martinez has stepped up her criticism of Senate Democrats for stalling her appointments, especially when it comes to university regents.

However, the chairwoman of the Senate panel that handles confirmations said the committee plans to meet next week – before the full Legislature convenes for a 30-day session – to hold hearings on some low-profile nominees.

Tension between the Republican governor and the Democratic-controlled Senate over a lingering backlog of nominees has been building for several years.

There are currently 74 gubernatorial nominees awaiting Senate confirmation – including 11 university regent nominees – and the Senate Rules Committee has not met since this year’s 60-day session ended in March.

The Governor’s Office has accused Senate Democrats of being untruthful about its confirmation plans, as Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, said in August that she thought the panel would convene before the end of summer.

“At this point, it’s pretty clear why they are never able to get anything done – they’re more interested in playing petty political games than fulfilling their constitutional role,” Martinez spokeswoman Emilee Cantrell told the Journal.

But Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, chairwoman of the Senate Rules Committee, said this week that the committee is following its traditional schedule. She said confirmation hearings for higher-profile nominees are typically held only during regular legislative sessions.

An agenda for next week’s meeting includes five nominees, including appointees to the state Human Rights Commission and Commission for the Blind.

Lopez also said the committee will likely discuss at its meeting the governor’s decision in March to withdraw – at least temporarily – the nominations for more than 50 appointees to various boards and commissions in an attempt to make the Senate act more quickly on higher-profile appointees.

“The individuals continue to exercise the powers and duties of their appointment, even though they have been withdrawn by the governor,” Lopez told the Journal.

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. Those subject to Senate confirmation include Cabinet secretaries, university regents and appointees to a wide range of boards and commissions.

Appointees who are not confirmed can, in most cases, continue serving. However, any nominee who is voted down by the full Senate is immediately removed from the appointed position.