February 18, 2019

Proposal to create nominating commission for regents advances

Andy Lyman

A proposed constitutional amendment to create a nominating commission for university regents cleared the Senate Rules Committee on Monday. The vote was 7-3.

The sponsor, Democratic Sen. Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces, said an independent body of nominators, and not the governor alone, should establish a field of candidates to serve as regents.

Senate Joint Resolution 6 would require the nominating commission to submit three names for each regent seat to the governor, who then would make her selections from the field.

“This is the heart of reform,” Steinborn said.

Critics of allowing the governor to unilaterally choose regents say this system has left universities with weak leadership, as friends or campaign donors of the executive receive the appointments.

Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, said he could not support Steinborn’s proposal because it would “drive the politics underground” and relieve the governor of taking the blame if things go wrong.

“It takes responsibility away from where responsibility should be,” Ivey-Soto said. “This gives the governor cover.”

After taking office in January, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham appointed a nominating committee of her own to help select regents.

The Senate last week confirmed Lujan Grisham’s five appointees to the University of New Mexico’s Board of Regents, based on her committee’s recommendations.

Steinborn said a nominating commission should be required by law because Lujan Grisham “won’t always be governor.”

His Senate Joint Resolution 6 next goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

If both chambers of the Legislature approve the measure, it would be placed on the statewide ballot for voters to make the final decision.

A second proposal by Steinborn to reduce the terms of most regents from six years to four years failed on a 5-2 vote of the Rules Committee.

“Six-year terms are too long,” Steinborn said in advocating for shorter terms in House Joint Resolution 5.

A majority of the committee disagreed. Several members said six-year terms provide continuity.

Unlike other regents, students on these boards serve two-year terms.

Steinborn has also introduced Senate Joint Resolution 7, which would expand all university boards of regents to seven members.

The University of New Mexico’s board has seven regents, but all others have five.

The Rules Committee will probably hear that proposal later this week.