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Editorial: Senator Muñoz off base in horse trading his vote

A lot of games were being played in Santa Fe last week, one of them along the lines of “Let’s Make a Deal.”

Sen. George Muñoz, a Democrat from Gallup, apparently thought it was OK to place undue influence on a University of New Mexico regent nominee to do his bidding in exchange for his support in a confirmation vote.

And what Muñoz seemed to want in return for his vote was for UNM President Bob Frank, and Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer David Harris to get the ax.

During the hearing in which the Senate publicly considered whether to confirm Rob Doughty as UNM regent, Muñoz offered Doughty a private deal via text message:

Here’s the text exchange, as reported by KOB-TV.

Muñoz: Fire harris I’m all in

Doughty: Harris or Bob Frank?

Muñoz: Both

(24 minutes pass)

Muñoz: No answer

Doughty: David Harris or the Harris out your way?

Muñoz: Dave Harris

Doughty: No renewal of contracts

Muñoz: Fire him

Doughty: Got it

Doughty said he was shocked by the exchange. “Until I received that text from Sen. Muñoz, no one asked me to take a specific action in order to get their vote,” he told the Journal. When asked by KOB-TV what he meant by “got it,” he said “I was so taken aback, I didn’t know what to say, other than ‘I got your message.'”

After Doughty’s nomination – by Gov. Susana Martinez – was approved, Doughty shared the text string with UNM administrators and members of the governor’s staff.

This isn’t the first controversy during the recently completed legislative session over the governor’s regent nominees.

The week before, former UNM regent Jamie Koch resigned in protest over the treatment of fellow regent nominee, Matt Chandler, by Senate Democrats. Koch told the Journal that several senators had informed him they believed Koch, Chandler and Doughty, a Republican attorney, had pledged to the governor to replace Frank with Harris. Koch said that just wasn’t true.

Despite whatever rumors are flying around regarding Frank or his tenure at the university, Harris says he’s certain there’s no private movement to oust his boss – and says he doesn’t want the job anyway.

Muñoz, when confronted about the texts, said they were taken out of context and that Doughty had brought Frank up as a topic of discussion at a Lobos basketball game.

But the texts say what they say. And what they say is that it’s unseemly that a state senator would try to horse trade his vote in such a manner. And to work behind the scenes to expel a university president who appears to be doing a good job, to boot.

Minimally, it’s time for Muñoz to issue some apologies. He could start with Frank, Harris, Doughty, the governor, then the rest of New Mexico’s residents.

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.