May 23, 2017

On eve of special session, longest-serving UNM regent resigns

University of New Mexico Regent Jack Fortner resigned after nearly two decades in the position.

The Farmington attorney submitted his resignation Tuesday, the day before a special legislative session in which Gov. Susana Martinez wants senators to confirm two new UNM regents.

In a short resignation letter on his law firm’s letterhead, Fortner said he was “humbled and proud” to have been part of the UNM legacy.

“I am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve my alma mater for nearly twenty years, and to have been able to contribute in various leadership roles to work to make our state’s flagship university an even more nationally recognized center of academics, research, medicine, and athletics,” Fortner wrote.

Martinez had nominated  Fortner’s replacement, and another regent to replace Brad Hosmer, but the Senate Rules Committee never held confirmation hearings for either. The committee must hold hearings before the full Senate can take action on nominations.

Fortner and Hosmer’s terms expired last year. But the two can continue serving until new regents are confirmed, one of many sources of tension between the governor and the Senate. Now that Fortner has resigned, one of those nominees can fill his place before being confirmed.

Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, told the Associated Press that confirmation hearings would not take place during the special session, which begins at noon on Wednesday. Instead, legislators will focus on the budget, specifically mentioning higher education.

Earlier this year, the governor vetoed the budgets for higher education and the Legislature, necessitating a special session.

Martinez said her veto  was necessary to balance the budget.

The Legislature sued Martinez over the line-item vetoes but the state Supreme Court threw out the suit before its first hearing.

Fortner was first appointed to the UNM Board of Regents in 1999 by then-Gov. Gary Johnson. He was re-nominated by Bill Richardson and Martinez after each of his first two terms expired.