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Governor picks Republican Barela for Griego’s senate seat

SANTA FE – Gov. Susana Martinez picked Ted Barela to fill a vacancy in the New Mexico Senate on Friday, a decision that cuts into Democrats’ majority in the chamber, but not does change the balance of power.

Barela, a Republican, is a former state Department of Transportation worker who served as mayor of Estancia from 2008 through 2013.

“I have great confidence that Ted will work hard to represent the residents of District 39 well and believe he’s committed to working with legislators from both parties to diversify our economy and improve our schools,” Martinez said in a Friday statement.

Barela will serve out the remainder of the term of Phil Griego, a San Jose Democrat who resigned from the Senate on March 14 rather than face possible disciplinary action over his involvement in the sale of a historic state-owned building in Santa Fe. The four-year term Griego was elected to in 2012 wraps up at the end of next year.

Barela said Friday that he intends to seek election to the Senate seat next year, adding that he has been in touch with Griego since the longtime senator’s resignation. He said he never ran against Griego out of respect for his help in addressing Estancia’s needs. However, he said Griego’s ethics scandal had changed circumstances, saying, “those types of things are eye-openers for all of us, and they should be.”

Meanwhile, Barela described his approach to politics as conservative, but pragmatic. “One thing I learned as mayor is the needs of the people didn’t have a ‘D’ or an ‘R’ tied to them at all,” he told the Journal in a telephone interview.

With Barela’s appointment, Democrats now hold a 24-18 advantage in the Senate, which thwarted some of Martinez’s top legislative initiatives during this year’s 60-day session.

The governor selected Barela from a list of four candidates who had been submitted by the six counties that are part of Senate District 39.

The other names were: Liz Stefanics, a Democrat who was recommended by the Bernalillo, Santa Fe and Valencia County commissions; Jose Varela Lopez, a Republican who was Lincoln County’s choice; and Huie Ley, a Democrat who was nominated by San Miguel County.

Barela was nominated by Torrance County commissioners. He could face a tough road to election in 2016, since Torrance County made up just 15 percent of the sprawling district’s population according to 2010 census figures.

The Senate vacancy prompted political sparring and court challenges, since Martinez initially asked counties to hold emergency meetings to submit names for consideration so that a replacement could be named before the session’s March 21 adjournment.

However, the Governor’s Office backed off that stance after concerns were raised about possible conflict with a 2013 law that requires, in most cases, agendas for public meetings to be posted at least 72 hours in advance.