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133 of governor’s nominees await confirmation

SANTA FE – With the clock ticking on this year’s 30-day legislative session, a growing backlog of Gov. Susana Martinez’s appointees are awaiting confirmation hearings in a key New Mexico Senate committee.

A total of 133 of Martinez’s appointees to state agencies, board and commissions were awaiting confirmation as of this week, according to the Governor’s Office.

Sen. Linda Lopez is head of the Rules Committee, which holds confirmation hearings. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Sen. Linda Lopez is head of the Rules Committee, which holds confirmation hearings. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Nearly half of those nominees – 61 of the 133 – were still pending from the 2013 legislative session, in which 57 appointees were approved by the Senate Rules Committee.

“We need to get to work,” said Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, one of four GOP committee members.

But Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, the committee’s chairwoman, said Thursday that the panel won’t rush through confirmation hearings on Public Education Department chief Hanna Skandera and a pair of State Fair commissioners.

“We’re going to do as best we can,” Lopez told the Journal. “It’s important we do our due diligence. It’s not just an ‘in and out.’ ”

Lopez, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor this year, said the committee will hold its first meeting of this year on Monday. She was still mapping out when certain hearings will be held, including Skandera’s.

Skandera has become a political lightning rod, with New Mexico teachers unions staunchly opposing her initiatives and members of the state’s business community supporting her. During the 2013 session, committee members spent 10 hours over three days holding confirmation hearings for Skandera, but no vote was taken.

Meanwhile, Lopez has said she also plans to question the two unconfirmed State Fair commissioners over the 2011 awarding of a new 25-year racino lease for the Downs at Albuquerque.

A Martinez spokesman criticized that plan Thursday, citing the “tremendous number” of nominees awaiting confirmation.

“The chair should focus on the task at hand and hold swift and fair hearings for these appointees – instead of wasting her committee’s time, and taxpayer resources, to play politics,” Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell said.

However, another reason for the current backlog in the Senate Rules Committee is turnover in the Martinez administration. The Republican governor has made 72 new nominations since the 2013 session, according to the Governor’s Office.

The confirmation process begins in the nine-member Senate Rules Committee, then, after a vote is taken, moves to the full Senate.

It’s rare that appointees are voted down. Since 2009, the Senate has confirmed 284 appointees and rejected just one, according to the Legislative Council Service.

Unlike most other standing committees, the Senate Rules Committee can hold meetings while the Legislature is not in session.

However, the panel did not convene between the end of last year’s session and now. Lopez said Thursday that she was unable to find meeting times that suited all members.

In addition to confirmations, the Senate Rules Committee will also be a key battleground for bills and proposed constitutional amendments during the 30-day session.