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GOP House candidate’s university leave denied

Gavin Clarkson

LAS CRUCES – A former Trump administration appointee running for Congress in a closely watched New Mexico race said his university has denied his request to extend his leave of absence.

Republican Gavin Clarkson told the Las Cruces Sun-News that a hearing officer recently ruled that he must return to his New Mexico State University business professor job or face termination.

The Republican said he requested a leave of absence until January 2020 after he was appointed to a Bureau of Indian Affairs position.

But Clarkson resigned from the agency last year following a harsh inspector general report into the loan program he directed. Clarkson said he stepped down to run for Congress in southern New Mexico.

New Mexico State spokeswoman Minerva Baumann said the university doesn’t comment on personnel matters.

When Clarkson announced his candidacy, he said New Mexico State rescinded his leave and told him he must either return to work or face termination. That was in violation of the established rules, Clarkson said.

“All conditions (of the leave) are in writing. It says I’m on leave until January 2020, period. It doesn’t say, if I leave the administration to run for Congress,” Clarkson said.

He said that even though they had cancelled his leave, the university took no steps to suggest he was returning to campus. They didn’t schedule him to teach classes or put him back on the payroll, he said.

“They did absolutely nothing until after I announced I was running for Congress,” he said.

Clarkson said he will appeal the hearing officer’s ruling to the faculty senate.

The congressional race in New Mexico is one of many expected to draw national attention in 2018 since it may help determine which party controls the U.S. House of Representatives.

Democrats have long targeted the heavily Hispanic district along the U.S.-Mexico border where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans. But it has remained in GOP hands largely due to the popularity of incumbent Rep. Steve Pearce, who is stepping down to run for governor. Pearce has attracted support from Hispanics and the region’s oil and gas interests.

Clarkson, an outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump, is one of four Republicans seeking the seat. The others are state Rep. Yvette Herrell, former Hobbs mayor Monty Newman, and Lovington resident Clayburn Griffin.

Las Cruces water attorney Xochitl Torres Small and U.S. Coast Guard veteran Madeline “Mad” Hildebrandt are seeking the Democratic nomination.