February 11, 2003
Senate Confirms Three UNM Regents
By Deborah Baker
The Associated Press
SANTA FE The Senate on Tuesday confirmed three regents of the University of New Mexico, amid continuing controversy over the letters of resignation they submitted in advance to Gov. Bill Richardson.
At least three Republicans refused to vote on the confirmations, walking out of the chamber instead.
"I've decided it's not right to vote at all," said Sen. Rod Adair, R-Roswell.
Confirmed were Santa Fe businessman and former state Democratic Party Chairman Jamie Koch; Santa Fe lawyer Donald Salazar; and Albuquerque business owner Maria Griego-Raby.
Adair contends the Democratic governor violated the state constitution by requiring the regents to submit the letters.
And he says it's unconstitutional for the Senate to confirm the appointees, who "will forever be tainted."
"The Richardson 23 will always be different," said the lawmaker, a reference to the governor's appointees to the boards of universities and colleges.
The appointees have submitted undated letters of resignation, effectively allowing the governor to remove them at any time.
The state constitution says regents "shall not be removed except for incompetence, neglect of duty or malfeasance in office," and only after they are provided hearings.
Adair said the letters mean there will be "no independence of judgement, no independence of thought," by the regents.
"I support these nominations. I want these people to serve . . . but I cannot vote on that because I believe in my heart it is unconstitutional," said Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, who joined Adair and Sen. Steve Komadina, R-Corrales, in leaving the floor.
Majority Leader Manny Aragon, D-Albuquerque, said the governor has set standards for his appointees and intends to hold them accountable.
"I can assure you, from everything I was told, the governor would never use these letters," he said.
Some senators said they regretted that the regents appointees were put in an awkward position by the dispute.
"In my opinion, these are hollow letters that have no real bearing," said Sen. Timothy Jennings, D-Roswell. "I wish the governor wouldn't have sent them out."
A day earlier, Richardson met with Adair and said he thought the differences could be resolved.
"We're working out some agreement that I think will happen soon, hopefully," the governor said Monday. An agreement would "preserve my prerogatives and the Senate's," he said.
Neither he nor Adair would be specific about what was discussed at the meeting, which the governor said he initiated to "defuse the issue."