SANTA FE – Gov. Susana Martinez appointed a well-known Albuquerque business leader to the University of New Mexico Board of Regents on Tuesday, after a previous appointee removed himself from consideration.
Former House Speaker Don Tripp withdrew his name after a Senate panel raised questions about whether his appointment might violate a section of the state Constitution.
Specifically, the Constitution prohibits legislators from being appointed during a term they were elected to – and in certain cases, for one year thereafter – to any civil government office.
Tripp, who served as House speaker for two years, was re-elected to a new two-year term in the House in November’s general election. However, Democrats reclaimed control of the 70-member chamber and Tripp resigned from the Legislature on the first day of this year’s legislative session.
“Although I submitted my resignation prior to taking the oath or being nominated for regent, I don’t want this to become a distraction for the regents or the university,” Tripp said in a statement.
A Socorro Republican, Tripp had been appointed to the UNM Board of Regents less than three weeks ago by Gov. Susana Martinez. The governor said Tuesday that she had reached an agreement with him about stepping aside, adding that Tripp would have been a “tremendous regent.”
Meanwhile, Senate Rules Committee Chairwoman Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, confirmed Tuesday that staffers with her committee had recently raised questions about the appointments of both Tripp and former GOP Sen. John Ryan, who was also appointed to the UNM Board of Regents.
She also criticized the Governor’s Office for not being aware of the constitutional prohibition that deals with appointing legislators during or shortly after their terms.
“Someone should have flagged it,” Lopez told the Journal.
The Senate Rules Committee conducts background checks on gubernatorial appointees and holds confirmation hearings, though hearings for Tripp and Ryan had not yet been scheduled as of Tuesday.
With Tripp having withdrawn his name from consideration, Martinez appointed Alex Romero, the president and CEO of the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce, to the UNM Board of Regents.
The two-term Republican governor touted Romero as committed and passionate. His appointment also drew praise from acting University of New Mexico President Chaouki Abdallah.
“He’s someone who has deep roots here and has worked a lot with the university,” Abdallah said.
The Governor’s Office also stood by Martinez’s nomination of Ryan, who did not run for re-election last year.
The constitutional language is different for legislators appointed to civil office during their elected term and those appointed in the year after their term expires. In the latter case, the ban applies only to jobs created during a lawmaker’s elected term or jobs for which salaries were increased during the term.
The seven-member Board of Regents is unpaid, but holds sway over critical governing issues, including university finances.
The regents played a pivotal role in dismissing former UNM President Bob Frank in December and will select the university’s new president, a process that is underway.
Journal staff writer Rick Nathanson contributed to this report.