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Congressional vacancy bill faces time crunch

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The chairman of a Senate committee said Tuesday that a bill that would change the procedures for filling congressional vacancies in New Mexico will be voted on, a day after a Democratic sponsor of the bill expressed concern about it being intentionally delayed.

Interest in how U.S. House vacancies are filled has surged after U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., was nominated by President Joe Biden as interior secretary.

Haaland is awaiting a U.S. Senate confirmation hearing and has not stepped down, and about a dozen candidates have already launched campaigns for her Albuquerque-based 1st Congressional District seat.

Given that backdrop, Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, and Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, have filed legislation that would require Democrats, Republicans and other major political parties to pick their candidates for a vacant congressional seat in a special primary election.

Under the bill, Senate Bill 254, winning candidates in the primary election would then face off in a general election, which would be held at least 63 days later.

However, the bill would need to be approved by a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate and signed into law by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to be implemented in time for the looming congressional vacancy.

It was not debated Monday despite it being on the Senate Rules Committee’s agenda, causing Ely to express concern the bill would be “killed by delay.”

“They should be taking a hard vote on this bill right now,” Ely said in an interview, citing local-level political party elections happening this weekend.

However, Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, the Senate Rules Committee’s chairman, said those elections would be occurring even without the potential for a vacant congressional seat.

He also told the Journal he is not trying to stall the bill, saying, “We’re going to give it a hearing.”

Under New Mexico’s current law, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver would have to call a special election to fill Haaland’s seat no later than 91 days after it is vacated.

The state’s major political parties would hold central committee meetings behind closed doors to nominate their own candidates before such an election.

Four Democratic legislators – Sen. Anoinette Sedillo-Lopez and Reps. Georgene Louis, Melanie Stansbury and Patricia Roybal-Caballero are among the candidates who have launched campaigns for the congressional seat.

A recent state Ethics Commission advisory opinion concluded that state legislators running for U.S. House seats are not subject to a prohibition on soliciting campaign contributions during a legislative session.

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