A new name surfaced Wednesday – and another dropped out – as Gov. Susana Martinez prepared to appoint a replacement for Phil Griego, a Democrat who resigned from the state Senate last week.
Bernalillo County commissioners on Wednesday unanimously nominated Liz Stefanics to fill the vacancy in Senate District 39.
Stefanics, a Santa Fe County commissioner, said it’s unlikely she’ll win the appointment, given that she’s a Democrat and Martinez is a Republican. But she said she plans to campaign for election to the seat in 2016.
In Lincoln County, meanwhile, Republican Tom Stewart withdrew his nomination after learning he might not be allowed serve in the Legislature and as a county commissioner at the same time. He said he didn’t want to trigger any litigation over the issue.
Senate District 39 stretches through parts of six counties, each of which is submitting names.
• Torrance County on Sunday nominated Ted Barela, a Republican and the former mayor of Estancia. But county commissioners there called a special meeting for late Wednesday to reconsider the appointment, amid legal questions over whether they’d acted too quickly on Sunday.
• Lincoln County earlier this week nominated Stewart. But the commission there has called a special meeting for today to reconsider the nomination.
• Three other counties – Santa Fe, Valencia and San Miguel – won’t hold meetings to pick names until Friday, the day before the session ends.
• Bernalillo County’s nomination of Stefanics on Wednesday was unanimous, drawing bipartisan support. But there was plenty of debate over the timing of the decision.
Republican commissioners said the vacancy had left Griego’s constituents without a representative in the Senate amid a series of crucial votes in the past few days.
Representation “has been denied the people of Senate District 39 since Saturday,” Republican Wayne Johnson said. “Some would say it’s not an emergency. … But since Saturday, the people of Senate District 39 have been disenfranchised and denied a vote” on a variety of bills, including reduced marijuana penalties.
Democrats shot back that they were acting in accordance with Open Meetings Act requirements for 72-hour notice of special meetings.
“The Open Meetings Act is fundamental to openness and transparency,” said Maggie Hart Stebbins, a Democrat and chairwoman of the Bernalillo County Commission. “It can’t just be shoved aside when it’s not politically convenient. To accuse me of being partisan and (motivated by) pure politics is offensive, and I resent it.”
The appointment is also subject to litigation. A petition filed with the New Mexico Supreme Court seeks to speed up the appointment process. A complaint in state District Court aims for the opposite – a guarantee that counties can’t violate the standard provisions of the Open Meetings Act by moving too quickly on nominations.