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UNM regent, senator argue about exchange

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A newly confirmed University of New Mexico regent and a state senator from Gallup continued to spar Friday over their text exchange concerning UNM President Bob Frank.

Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, texted a series of messages to UNM regent nominee Rob Doughty during Doughty’s confirmation hearing last week, saying he would vote to confirm if the regent would work to oust Frank and Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer David Harris.

On Friday, Muñoz had much more to say, voicing concerns about the “management and direction of UNM.”

The senator described himself and Doughty as “friends,” then added: “Sadly, I have every reason to believe he is being influenced through political and financial inducements. Efforts to take recent communications between us out of context and to deceive the media and voters is quite frankly pathetic.”

Muñoz said it was Doughty who raised Frank as a subject of discussion “to myself and two of my colleagues in the New Mexico Senate during a social occasion at a Lobos basketball game.”

“It pains me that Mr. Doughty would buckle under the pressure of the governor’s political machine to mislead the media and the public regarding this fact,” he said.

After his confirmation, Doughty shared the text messages between Muñoz and himself with UNM administrators and members of Gov. Susana Martinez’s staff. The exchange was first reported by KOB-TV.

“His message to me was he would vote for me if I fired the university president and the CFO of UNM,” Doughty told KOB. “I was so taken back. I was in front of the whole Senate; my wife was next to me. I thought, ‘I’m being bullied by a particular senator.’ ”

In an email to the Journal on Friday, Doughty, a Republican attorney, said he visited with most of the senators during the confirmation process, including Muñoz. The discussions covered his experience and vision for UNM, as well as senators “expressing their ideas and opinions about various aspects of the University, including its current leadership – both positive and negative.”

During his public confirmation hearing, Doughty said, he was asked directly whether he had formed an opinion about replacing Frank.

“I addressed it directly that I was entering this post with an open mind and commitment to be independent,” he said. “Until I received that text from Sen. Muñoz, no one asked me to take a specific action in order to get their vote. The text exchange shocked me and after the vote I informed the Governor’s Office, as well as the university.”

Doughty was confirmed by a decisive vote.

The incident was not the only time recently that Frank’s status has come up in the Senate context. Former Democratic representative and UNM regent Jamie Koch told the Journal last week that he had spoken with three dozen senators during his own confirmation process, and that “over and over again” a story arose that greatly angered him.

He said five or six of the senators with whom he spoke told him that two unnamed regents had informed them that he – Koch – and regent nominees Doughty and Matt Chandler had committed to Martinez to work to fire Frank and replace him with Harris.

Koch said he had taken part in no such discussions. On Friday, he confirmed that Muñoz was one of the lawmakers he spoke with, but that the senator only said that he was “unhappy” with Frank.

Koch, a former Democratic Party chair, said others told him they would like to see Harris assume the presidency.

After he was confirmed 38-0, Koch resigned from the Board of Regents last week, citing partisanship in the Senate, which declined to confirm Chandler.

“I cannot recall a lower point for the Senate,” he said in his letter of resignation to Martinez. “It is a disservice to Mr. Chandler, you, the University, and the people of New Mexico who expect more than partisanship from their elected leaders.”

Koch said his disappointment with some fellow regents helped him make the decision to step down.

The remaining four regents – President Jack Fortner, Brad Hosmer, Suzanne Quillen and Heidi Overton – all denied knowing anything about a plan or scheme to remove Frank. Hosmer said the story has a “phoenix-like quality, in that it surfaces from time to time.”

Asked last week to comment on the story about Harris replacing him, Frank responded: “I hear rumors all the time. David Harris is an important member of my staff, and we work closely together to try to make the university better. I don’t believe that story has any credence. We will continue working to make the university better.”

Harris called the story “the silliest thing I’ve ever heard in my life” and said there are two reasons it’s nonsense.

“First of all, I’m absolutely certain that there is no effort afoot to oust Bob Frank,” he said. “Also, I have no interest in serving as president. I wouldn’t do it.”