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Senate panel kills regents selection plan

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Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, left, and Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, speak on the Senate floor last year. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A Senate committee on Monday narrowly rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have reshaped the process for appointing university regents in New Mexico.

The proposal, Senate Joint Resolution 1, called for the creation of a bipartisan nominating committee that would have evaluated the qualifications of potential regent appointees, before sending the names of three finalists to the governor.

The governor would then appoint one of the finalists, subject to confirmation by the Senate, as happens now.

But the proposal died on a 5-4 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

It wasn’t a party-line decision. Two Democrats and two Republicans supported the idea, while three Democrats and two Republicans voted against it.

Opponents said they weren’t convinced the proposal would succeed in taking the politics out of the process and improve on what’s in place now. They also noted that the governor and Legislature, even if the amendment passed, would still have to work out the details of how a nominating committee would work – a legislative process that would also be subject to political influence.

“We have a problem with the politicization of our regents and our universities,” said Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces. But “I don’t know that (this proposal) is the solution.”

Supporters, in turn, said a bipartisan nominating committee would help weed out political cronies and ensure that well-qualified regents are appointed. And it’s perfectly normal, they said, to have follow-up legislation that explains the details of a broad concept established in the state Constitution.

The goal is “just to get the very best folks out there, whether they’re politically connected or not,” said Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces.

He and Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, jointly sponsored the proposal. If it had passed the Legislature, it would have gone before voters in November.

Four senators voted in favor of the proposal: Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque; Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe; Greg Baca, R-Belen; and Moores.

Voting against the measure were Cervantes; Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque; committee Chairman Richard Martinez, D-Española; Ron Griggs, R-Alamogordo; and Senate Minority Whip William Payne, R-Albuquerque.

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