It sounded a bit suspect from the outset.
As speaker of the New Mexico House of Representatives, state Rep. Brian Egolf was allowed to pick one appointee to a panel that would screen and interview candidates to serve on the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission.
Egolf, D-Santa Fe, arguably the most powerful lawmaker at the Roundhouse, appointed himself to serve a four-year term on the newly formed PRC Nominating Committee.
“I was proud to play a role in the legislation that brought needed modernizations to the PRC and I want to see that process through, so I am volunteering myself for the Nominating Committee,” Egolf announced on July 1.
Not only did he nominate himself, but also Egolf leveraged his considerable influence in Santa Fe to become chair of the seven-member Nominating Committee.
On Friday, the Nominating Committee voted unanimously to forward nine candidates to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. The candidates include a top official in the state Attorney General’s Office, a policy expert with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington, D.C., an associate dean at the University of Florida’s law school and a lawyer from the Mescalero Apache tribe.
The governor will choose three of the candidates, subject to New Mexico Senate confirmation, to replace the formerly elected five-member PRC that, for a few more weeks, will represent districts around the state. The structural change is due to a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2020 after years of controversy surrounding the PRC.
Meanwhile, an attorney for the State Ethics Commission found probable cause that Egolf violated state law by appointing himself. The Ethics Commission notified Egolf Friday that he could either resign from the Nominating Committee or dispute a complaint before a hearing officer.
So, Egolf, who did not seek reelection to the House this year after serving 14 years in the body, resigned from the Nominating Committee later Friday, after the committee approved its nine recommendations. Egolf attempted to save face by saying he had always planned to step down after helping the committee get off to a good start. None of that was mentioned in the July 1 news release from New Mexico House Democrats that touted Egolf’s “extensive background” in utility regulation.
Talk about timing: The Nominating Committee voted on its recommendations to the governor Friday morning; Egolf resigns later that day. It’s too bad an ethics determination wasn’t made sooner.
But credit goes to fellow Democratic state Rep. Miguel P. Garcia for filing the ethics complaint, which accuses Egolf of “a gross and blatant violation” of the state Constitution, and also of violating the Governmental Conduct Act by appointing himself to the committee.
“It was a dereliction of his duties as speaker to self-appoint himself,” Garcia said.
Egolf contends the Legislative Council Service told him there was no prohibition against self-appointment.
Left in the fallout of Egolf’s overreach are the nine candidates recommended by the Nominating Committee last week. While many of them may be qualified to regulate utilities in New Mexico, their nominations now carry the taint of a compromised process.
Several interested parties, including former Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson, have raised concerns that the nine finalists include no residents of northwest New Mexico, which has been a center of energy production for decades, for better or worse, and also is home to the nation’s largest tribe, the Navajo Nation.
The shame of it all is that moving to a professional PRC instead of an elected one was supposed to inject newfound confidence in a regulatory body with a long history of ethical and legal problems. Nominations that emerged from the Nominating Committee helmed by a questionable representative are not the way to instill public trust in the process — something the governor might want to consider before she makes her final selections.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.