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New Mexico considers new nominating system for regents

SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico would change the selection process for regents who oversee the state’s public universities and flagship medical center under a newly proposed constitutional amendment.

Democratic Sen. Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces and Republican Sen. Mark Moores of Albuquerque hope to ensure a broader initial search for qualified and energetic candidates to oversee the state’s major public universities by creating bipartisan nomination committees. The committees would provide a list of candidates for the governor to choose from when nominating university regents.

Steinborn said the current nominating system emphasizes loyalty to the governor and the governor’s policies over prior experience in higher education and accountability to local communities.

“We’ve got a lot of talented people serving on the boards of regents,” Steinborn said on Tuesday. “We’ve also got people who don’t necessarily bring a lot to the table other than support for the governor.”

New Mexico’s public university system recently has been wrestling with declining overall enrollment, steep cuts in state funding and the erosion of in-state student scholarships linked lottery proceeds.

The proposed nominating system would apply not only to the University of New Mexico and its Health Sciences Center but also New Mexico State University, Eastern New Mexico University, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, the New Mexico School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and others.

If approved by lawmakers, the amendment would go to voters for possible approval in November 2018 general elections — at the same time that a new governor is chosen. Second-term Republican Gov. Susana Martinez cannot run for re-election in 2018.

The amendment specifies that no more than half of a nominating committee can be affiliated with one political party. Detailed powers and responsibilities would be spelled out in subsequent legislation if voters approve the framework.

Sponsors of the changes said also they want to diffuse frequent stalemates as the Legislature considers political appointments by the governor to regent boards.

Moores condemned repeated clashes in the current nominating process between Martinez and Democratic Sen. Linda Lopez of Albuquerque, who sets the agenda for confirmation hearings — but said difficulties date back to previous administrations.

“It’s not a Republican or Democratic issue, it’s an issue of good governance,” he said.

The Legislature convenes on Jan. 16 for a 30-day session that leaves little time for major policy initiatives.

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