LAS CRUCES — Gov. Susana Martinez’s nominees to two seats on New Mexico State University’s five-member governing body are in limbo.
That’s after the state Senate didn’t take action on their appointments in the legislative session that ended a week ago.
One nominee, Mike Cheney, is a current NMSU regent Martinez is seeking to reappoint. The second, who’d fill the student regent position, is Margie Vela, a doctoral. candidate in water science and management at NMSU. Vela would replace Student Regent Amanda López Askin, whose two-year term was set to expire.
Cheney and López Askin will continue serving in the seats for now, according to the governor’s office and university.
“Because the Senate failed to act on their duty to hold hearings on these nominations, Cheney will continue serving on an expired term until confirmed, and Vela will not be seated,” said Martinez spokesman Michael Lonergan.
Cheney, a managing partner at Healing Source Chiropractic, has been a regent since 2011. His term was set to expire at the end of 2016.
López Askin graduated in December with her doctorate degree in higher education leadership with an emphasis on social justice. She said she’s willing to continue the regents role.
“I love NMSU,” she said. “You can’t find many people who love NMSU as much as I do.”
NMSU Chancellor Garrey Carruthers said there’s the possibility that Cheney or López Askin could opt to resign, allowing Martinez to appoint someone to fill the resulting vacancy while awaiting a confirmation. But “right now, both regents have elected to continue to serve,” he said.
The other regents are Kari Mitchell, whose term expires in 2018; and Debra Hicks and Jerean Hutchinson, whose terms expire in 2020.
The confirmation process
The Senate Rules Committee first vets the governor’s nominees, not only for regents but also for various state boards. After that, they go before the entire Senate.
Martinez’s appointments became a point of contention in the recent 60-day legislative session, when she pulled dozens of appointees from the confirmation waiting list and accused legislators of taking too long to do confirmations, according to the Santa Fe New Mexican. And some lawmakers said the governor was side-stepping the process.
Senate Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, said the Senate rules committee did vet regents for some universities. But she said the panel had limited time, and the process of vetting an appointee is time-consuming. Plus, she said the panel is responsible for other duties, too.
“A lot of work is done in that committee; it’s more than just appointees,” she said.
Lonergan said the rules committee has “constitutional authority to meet outside of session and confirmations can be heard in any legislative session, regular or special.” He said the possibility remains open for the Senate to take up the nominees in a special legislative session, in addition to taking up the state budget.
“(I)t’s not final what will be on the call, but there’s room for other items given that the Senate squandered two months of work,” he said.
Diana Alba Soular may be reached at 575-541-5443, firstname.lastname@example.org or @AlbaSoular on Twitter.
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