Wednesday, February 12, 2003
Senate OKs UNM Regents, Letters and All
By Loie Fecteau
Journal Politics Writer
SANTA FE The Senate voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to confirm four new University of New Mexico regents despite continuing constitutional questions over their signing of undated resignation letters for Gov. Bill Richardson.
Several Republican senators, including Sen. Rod Adair, R-Roswell, walked off the Senate floor on Tuesday to avoid casting votes on Richardson's nominees to the UNM board. Adair has underscored the constitution's provisions to protect regents from political purges.
"We're caught up in an unconstitutional act," Adair said.
Adair later said he plans to seek a legal opinion from Attorney General Patricia Madrid on the undated resignation letters.
Sen. Steve Komadina, R-Corrales, and Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, also left the Senate chamber to avoid voting on the UNM regents. They stressed they were not questioning the nominees' qualifications.
Confirmed as UNM regents were:
Jamie Koch, president of Daniels Insurance Inc. in Santa Fe, a former House member and key Richardson fund-raiser who resigned last week as chairman of the state Democratic Party;
Maria Griego-Raby, president of Contract Associates Inc. in Albuquerque and past president of the UNM Alumni Association;
Donald Salazar, a Santa Fe lawyer and president of the 1st Judicial District Bar Association;
Andrea Cook, a UNM graduate student in business administration.
Adair said Richardson's appointees to university boards are "tainted" because they signed the undated resignation letters, which Richardson could invoke at will.
Adair said the letters mean the regents will be unable to act independently.
Adair contended the letters are in conflict with the state constitution, which says regents "shall not be removed except for incompetence, neglect of duty or malfeasance in office."
Senate Majority Leader Manny Aragon, D-Albuquerque, told Adair that Senate leaders had been assured by Richardson that "it is not his intent to ever enforce that (the resignation letters)."
"From everything I've been told, the governor would never use those letters," said Aragon, who previously had expressed reservations about the constitutionality of the resignation letters.
Sen. Tim Jennings, D-Roswell, said he wished Richardson had not requested the resignation letters. But Jennings called them "hollow letters" that would not prevent the regents from acting independently.