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Editorial: Sen. Lopez hurts UNM, state by delaying hearings

Although she has decried a lack of diversity in state government – especially on the governing boards of state colleges and universities – state Senate Rules Committee Chairwoman Linda Lopez spent the 2017 legislative session obstructing an effort to place a well-respected Hispanic on the University of New Mexico Board of Regents. Now the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce wants to know why.

Lopez, D-Albuquerque, has never even attempted to hold a confirmation hearing on Alex O. Romero’s nomination to the seven-member UNM panel. She has blamed the delay in vetting Romero – and nearly a dozen other nominees – on funding problems and time constraints involving background checks. Last week, Hispano chamber Chairman Rudy Beserra invited Lopez to a forum to explain “how our own Hispanic leaders are held back from serving in important positions such as the UNM Board of Regents.” Lopez declined the invitation.

For someone who used a Senate floor debate in March to decry “institutional racism” in state agencies and the lack of diversity on the boards of regents of colleges, that’s a missed opportunity.

Well, unless you’re using your chairmanship to curry favor with your party, advance your political career and carry out a vendetta against the woman who won the governorship you lost.

Payback might play well with some of Lopez’s Democratic colleagues, but it’s ultimately depriving UNM of an opportunity to hear a Hispanic voice at a time the university is dealing with budget cuts, searching for a new president and, hopefully, bringing some needed fiscal discipline to its athletics program.

In general, gubernatorial appointees go first to Senate Rules. Once the committee votes, whether for or against, the nominee goes to the Senate floor for an up or down vote. There’s little question Romero, whose 12-year tenure as president of the Hispano Chamber ends Friday, is well known and well qualified for the job, having had a 35-year banking career before starting at the chamber in 2004. It strains credibility to believe Lopez couldn’t find time during this year’s 60-day legislative session to check the Taos native’s background and hold a hearing.

Lopez trumpeted in March, “… there are many qualified people that can be sitting in positions of management and making decisions for our community and such, and we’re not doing that.” Every journey starts with a step, and Lopez’s self-professed vision on diversity requires her to take the first one. Romero joins 10 others awaiting Senate confirmation, including eight university regents or trustees. It is past time to curb the partisanship, put the state first and give the governor’s nominees their hearings and votes. Their confirmations should be the choice of the full Senate, not a rogue senator.

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.