Sharer blasts committee head over confirmations

Milan Simonich
The Santa Fe New Mexican
Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington

SANTA FE – In a rare public showdown Thursday, one state senator criticized another for laziness and lethargy in holding confirmation hearings for appointees to state boards and commissions.

Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, asked for an up-or-down vote by the full 42-member Senate on the confirmation of appointees who were selected two or three years ago by Gov. Susana Martinez but still await hearings in the Senate Rules Committee. In particular, Sharer mentioned three members of the Board of Regents of the New Mexico Military Institute, all of whom were appointed in 2014.

Sharer's comments were a pointed attack on Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, longtime chairwoman of the Rules Committee.

Lopez rose to answer Sharer, saying she appreciated his "tenacity" in seeking hearings for state appointees. But she went on to say that her committee has performed its duties and is holding confirmation hearings. "We still have a few folks, 35 to 40 persons, to confirm in this short session," she said.

Sharer rejected her explanation. In an interview, he said the Rules Committee met only once during the interim, even though it was funded. He said Lopez could have held hearings months ago for dozens of noncontroversial appointees to museum boards, school regents and other seats.

"Rules isn't doing anything," Sharer said. "It's nice that we had Las Vegas Day and mariachis [Thursday], but we've got work to do."

He said he highlighted the three unconfirmed regents of the New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell because the school had just held a breakfast for legislators, and they were fresh on his mind. The regents awaiting Senate action are Phillip Ingram, Tim Paul and Stirling Spencer.

All three are serving as overseers of the institute, even though they have not been confirmed by the Senate. Sharer said the regents are just some examples of how slow Lopez's committee has moved.

Even so, Sharer withdrew his motion for a vote by the full Senate on confirming the regents. He said he had made his point, so he decided not to press the issue.

Two of Lopez's colleagues on the Rules Committee had rallied to her defense in hopes of warding off the floor vote that Sharer sought.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, and Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, argued against an expedited vote on the regents. Both said the Rules Committee has procedures to follow, making a floor vote inappropriate.

The opposing view came from Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, another member of the Rules Committee. "We should have had them done," Ingle said of hearings for appointees.

Lopez, who ran for governor in 2014, has long faced criticisms similar to the one Sharer leveled. She did not hold a committee vote on the appointment of Hanna Skandera as state public education secretary for three years. Skandera, never a classroom teacher or a principal, was one of Martinez's more controversial appointees for a Cabinet position. Senators confirmed Skandera last year on a 22-19 vote after her nomination finally moved from the Rules Committee. She was on the job all the while she was unconfirmed.

Sharer said hearings on all noncontroversial appointees should be handled in the interim and then quickly acted on when the Senate convenes each January. Higher-profile appointees, such as Cabinet secretaries, should continue to have hearings during the legislative session, he said.