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Governor’s Office accuses Senate of stalling on high-profile confirmations

SANTA FE – Gov. Susana Martinez is pressuring the Senate to act more quickly on a backlog of appointees awaiting confirmation hearings.

In a rare move, the Republican governor on Wednesday told the Senate she was withdrawing – at least temporarily – the nominations for 53 appointees to various state boards and commissions in a bid to make the Senate act more quickly on higher-profile appointees.

In a statement, Martinez spokesman Michael Lonergan accused two prominent Senate Democrats – Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth of Santa Fe and Senate Rules Committee Chairwoman Linda Lopez of Albuquerque – of playing political games with the confirmations.

“They have willfully neglected their constitutional duty by stalling on key confirmations – like regents for our major universities – despite the fact that most of these nominees have been previously confirmed,” Lonergan told the Journal.

However, top-ranking senators questioned Wednesday whether the governor was attempting to circumvent the confirmation process.

“Withdrawing the nomination to the Senate is without effect and cannot be recognized by the Senate unless the appointment of the person is concurrently voided,” Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, wrote in a letter to the governor.

The dust-up over confirmations comes with less than three weeks remaining in the 60-day legislative session – and with more than 70 nominations still pending.

As of Wednesday, 34 appointees had been confirmed by the Senate during this year’s session. Two years ago, during the last 60-day session, the Senate held 112 confirmation hearings.

New Mexico’s confirmation system is based on the federal model and requires that high-level officials be appointed by the governor, with the consent of the Senate. The list of those subject to Senate confirmation includes Cabinet secretaries, university regents and appointees to a wide range of boards and commissions.

In an interview earlier this week, Lopez said her committee staff was conducting background checks on Martinez appointees. She also said she hoped to hold confirmation hearings for two recent University of New Mexico Board of Regents appointees before the session’s end.

“We’re working diligently,” she said, adding that the committee’s work was delayed this session after the governor vetoed a “feed” bill funding session expenses. A separate bill was later signed.

However, a Martinez spokesman said that background checks already have been conducted on all appointees and that the Governor’s Office has offered to share the results with committee.

Part of the reason for the backlog in confirmations is a high rate of recent turnover in the Martinez administration.

In addition to regent appointees, Finance and Administration Secretary-designate Duffy Rodriguez and Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Secretary-designate Ken McQueen are still awaiting confirmation hearings.

Health Secretary Lynn Gallagher, Corrections Secretary David Jablonski and Economic Development Secretary Matt Geisel are among those who have already been confirmed.

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