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2 of 6 counties meet governor’s request for Senate nominee

At least two county commissions in the sprawling Senate District 39, which includes parts of six counties, have met the governor’s request to give her a nominee by 5 p.m. Sunday to replace Sen. Phil Griego, who resigned Saturday.

Both names were Republicans.

But at least three commissions, all with a majority of Democrats, said they would not submit a candidate until later in the week.

Griego, a Democrat, resigned Saturday amid ethics complaints regarding his role in a property deal involving the sale of a historic building that the Senate had approved last year.

With this year’s legislative session slated to end Saturday, Martinez, a Republican, asked that county commissions send her names of candidates quickly so she could make a selection.

County commissions send names to the governor to choose as Griego’s successor.

The all-Democrat Santa Fe County Commission did meet Sunday but decided to hold another meeting Friday, the day before the end of the legislative session, to choose a nominee.

The San Miguel County Commission, also all-Democrat, met as well, but postponed any action until Friday. Bernalillo County, with a majority of Democratic commissioners, will hold a special meeting Wednesday at noon.

Torrance County on Sunday named Ted Barela, a Republican and the former mayor of Estancia.

The Lincoln County Commission, said vice chairman Dallas Draper, will post a notice of a meeting today. Commissioners did come up with a name, he said, but he didn’t want to release it.

“It really doesn’t matter,” Draper said, “because there will be another meeting.”

However, the Governor’s Office said in an email the nominee is Thomas Stewart, a Republican.

Enrique Knell, spokesman for Gov. Susana Martinez, said it’s a critical time during the session, as the Legislature is tasked with passing the budget, authorizing capital outlay projects and passing other pieces of legislation which makes it crucial for the 49,000 residents in Griego’s district to have representation.

He blamed the delay in submissions on politics on the part of Democrats.

“The governor’s hope was to be able to provide representation to this district by (today) but apparently that must wait until later in the week,” he said.

Meanwhile, the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government issued a strong statement Sunday that commission meetings to nominate a candidate must be public and counties should give 72 hours’ notice. The Opening Meetings Act makes some exceptions in the case of an emergency, but the organization’s statement said that should occur only in rare instance.

Santa Fe County commissioners set a 5 p.m. Wednesday deadline for applicants for the nomination.

Two commissioners – Liz Stefanics and Robert Anaya – put out word Sunday that they are interested in the appointment. Stefanics previously held the District 39 seat for a term and was beaten by Griego by just a handful of votes in the 1996 Democratic primary.

In a letter to the governor, the Santa Fe County Commission said it would not fulfill her request to provide a nominee Sunday, in part to help ensure a “deep applicant pool” for the appointment, noting that whoever fills the vacancy will serve through 2016.

The commission also said it wants to allow “robust public comment” on the nomination and that postponing the decision avoids “unresolved questions” about whether the situation constituted an emergency to need to waive meeting notice requirements under the Open Meetings Act.

Santa Fe County Democratic Party Chairman Richard Ellenberg sent county officials an email saying the need of an appointee didn’t constitute an emergency that could cause “injury or damage” to people or property, as required under the Open Meetings Act.

Likewise, Commissioner Rock G. Ulibarri said the San Miguel County body met Sunday and decided that it needed public input and that choosing a nominee did not constitute an emergency.

Meanwhile, the two Republican Bernalillo County commissioners, Wayne Johnson and Lonnie Talbert, issued a letter Sunday calling for quick action.

“To suggest that this situation (lack of a state senator) does not call for an emergency session is offensive and rooted in pure politics and partisanship,” the letter says.

“Our commission and others should have moved quickly to ensure that the interests of our residents are properly represented during this critical week of the legislative session,” it said.

In response, Bernalillo County Commission Chairwoman Maggie Hart Stebbins said in an email that Johnson and Talbert are not speaking for the commission and that if Martinez makes a decision before all six counties weigh in, “that is her choice.”

“As far as partisanship goes, these are the same two commissioners who complained about the nomination process moving too quickly in the past but who are now asking us to violate the Open Meetings Act.”

The other county in the huge district is Valencia, and members of that commission could not be reached.