January 31, 2003
Senate Confirms Denko, Other Richardson Appointees
By Deborah Baker
The Associated Press
SANTA FE The Senate on Friday confirmed four more members of Gov. Bill Richardson's cabinet.
Getting the nod were John Denko as Department of Public Safety secretary, Jan Goodwin as secretary of the Taxation and Revenue Department, Edward Lopez Jr. as secretary of the General Services Department and John D'Antonio as state engineer.
The votes were unanimous except for Denko, who was confirmed 33-1. The dissenter was Senate Judiciary Chairman Michael Sanchez, D-Belen.
A day earlier, Sanchez had grilled Denko during a meeting of the Rules Committee, warning the Richardson administration that it could be sued for its refusal to release copies of applications from job-seekers.
Sanchez disagreed with the administration's contention that applications received during the transition period before the governor was sworn in Jan. 1 are not public documents.
Denko, a career cop who was Santa Fe police chief and once headed the state police, was the first of the new governor's nominees to undergo tough questioning at a confirmation hearing.
Sanchez said he had requested Denko's application from the governor's office and was told it wasn't public record.
Bryon Paez, Richardson's director of cabinet affairs, told the committee the administration has not released any applications, and that a lawyer is researching the matter.
"The public has a right to absolutely every bit of information that's on that record," Sanchez said. "Someday you're going to get sued over that, because that's public record."
Sanchez questioned Denko about his involvement in a state police overtime lawsuit the state settled for $4.5 million in 1996. Denko, who was state police chief in the Department of Public Safety, was a defendant in the lawsuit.
And Sanchez asked Denko whether he had disclosed on his application that he was involved in that lawsuit.
"I checked yes" on a question about involvement in civil litigation, Denko replied.
Two days earlier, Richardson removed his Motor Vehicle Division director, Julian Luna, after published reports that Luna a drunken driving arrest 10 years ago. Richardson complained that Luna hadn't disclosed it during the application process.
Sanchez also questioned Denko about background investigations on applicants conducted by an ex-FBI agent during the transition.
The senator said later in an interview that he had been told by people who were passed over for high-level jobs in the administration that the background checks were incomplete and skewed against them.
The full Senate on Thursday unanimously confirmed four other Richardson nominees:
Rhonda Faught, a civil engineer, as secretary of the Highway and Transportation Department, the first woman to hold the job.
Joe Williams, who has been warden of state-owned and privately operated prisons in New Mexico, as secretary of the Corrections Department.
Joanna Prukop, a fish and wildlife specialist who formerly worked for the Department of Game and Fish, as secretary of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources.
Fred Peralta, a former Taos mayor and state legislator, as secretary of the Tourism Department.