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Thursday, January 30, 2003

4 Cabinet Nominations Go to Senate

By Loie Fecteau
Journal Politics Writer
    SANTA FE Four more of Gov. Bill Richardson's Cabinet secretary nominees are headed to the Senate floor for confirmation votes after winning endorsements from a Senate committee on Wednesday.
    The Senate Rules Committee voted unanimously to support the confirmations of: Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Secretary Joanna Prukop; Corrections Secretary Joe Williams; Highway and Transportation Secretary Rhonda Faught; and Tourism Secretary Fred Peralta.
    The full Senate is expected to act on the confirmations today.
    Some senators expressed concerns about operations of the departments headed by Richardson's four nominees. But no criticism was uttered about any nominee by committee members or anyone in the audience.
    Faught, the first woman nominated to head the state highway department, was asked about the Richardson administration's road-building plans, particularly in light of the debt facing the state to pay for the rebuilding and completion of 500 miles of four-lane highways by Richardson's predecessor, Gov. Gary Johnson.
    "We're $1 billion in debt," Sen. Roman Maes, D-Santa Fe, told Faught, who had been adjutant secretary of the highway department since 2000. "I personally don't want to curtail the building of roads. To me, that's the nucleus of economic development. You need to find creative ways to find more money."
    Faught, a Deming native, said the Richardson administration might refinance some of New Mexico's road debt "as interest rates get lower."
    Faught told the committee the Richardson administration is looking at four-laning the following highways:
   
  • 69 miles of U.S. 666 from the Navajo 9 junction to Shiprock.
       
  • 74 miles of U.S. 64/87, the so-called "ports to plains corridor," from Texas to Colorado.
       
  • 213 miles of U.S. 54 from Santa Rosa to Tularosa and from the Texas border to Tucumcari.
       
  • 30 miles of U.S. 62/180 from Carlsbad to Texas.
        Williams, a former career officer with the state Corrections Department, recently served as warden of the Lea County Correctional Facility, a private prison built and operated by Wackenhut Corrections Corp. in Florida.
        "I've seen it all," Williams told the committee.
        Peralta resigned as Taos mayor after nine years to join the Richardson administration. A former House member, Peralta told the committee he wants to work in partnership with the tourism industry and with other Cabinet departments to promote New Mexico "as the best place in the world to visit."