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Committee passes measure calling for regent elections

SANTA FE – A proposal to restructure the boards of regents at New Mexico’s two largest universities cleared its first committee Friday over the opposition of Republican members.

The measure would weaken the governor’s control over regents, and GOP Gov. Susana Martinez doesn’t like it.

Majority Democrats on the House Education Committee outvoted GOP members 7-5 to approve the proposed constitutional change, which would put some elected regents on the boards at the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University.

House Joint Resolution 9 would next have to pass the Voters and Elections Committee before it would reach the full House for a vote.

Currently, the governor has unfettered authority to appoint college and university regents, and supporters of restructuring say the political appointees aren’t responsive enough to the universities’ communities.

Under the proposal by Rep. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, the NMSU board would be bumped up to seven members – the same as UNM. Three members would be elected, one from each congressional district, in a nonpartisan election. Two others – from the counties where the main campuses are located – would be appointed by the governor. A student member and a faculty member, both appointed by the other regents, would round out the boards.

Republicans objected that it singled out UNM and NMSU and created a “different playing field” for them. And they suggested it might be difficult to find qualified candidates interested in running for the positions.

Education Committee Chairwoman Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, said the proposed revamping would give the public and university faculty – which she said was a “forgotten voice” to regents – more input into governance.

Steinborn has a separate proposal that would require the governor to make her regents appointments from lists recommended by nominating committees that would screen candidates.

Constitutional amendments require voter approval after they pass the Legislature, and they don’t require the governor’s approval.
— This article appeared on page A4 of the Albuquerque Journal