I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
Senate rejects nominee, revealing rival political factions
A political battle over control of New Mexico’s dominant party played out on the Senate floor Tuesday over an unexpected issue: an Albuquerque woman’s nomination to a state board. Confirmations in the Senate are usually uneventful and state lawmakers usually speak glowingly of the nominee. But that wasn’t the case Tuesday, when the state Senate rejected the nomination of Neri Holguin to the state Environmental Improvement Board by a vote of 17 to 25.
“I don’t think a person who works on political campaigns should be confirmed. It’s a conflict of interest,” said Sen. Bernadette Sanchez, D-Albuquerque.
Holguin managed the 2008 political campaigns of senators Tim Keller and Eric Griego. The duo knocked off then-Democratic senators Shannon Robinson and James Taylor in the June primary in what was considered a victory for progressive voters. In November of that year Tim Eichenberg defeated Republican Diane H. Snyder
The political upheaval split Democratic lawmakers into rival fractions. And it led incumbent lawmakers from both political parties to charge that several nonprofits had improperly influenced the legislative elections.
The losing lawmakers sued the nonprofits, a complaint later dismissed by state courts. Meanwhile, the state filed a lawsuit to force the nonprofits to disclose the origin of the money that had paid for what they said were educational mailers critical of the state lawmakers who later lost. A federal judge shot down the state’s lawsuit last year, and the state has appealed.
Holguin couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.
The strained feelings bubbled up on the Senate floor following Tuesday’s vote in which several Democrats joined most Republicans to reject Holguin’s nomination.
“Suddenly to develop scruples is disingenuous and incredibly hypocritical,” Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said, chastising his colleagues for questioning possible conflicts of interest.
Added Sen. Eric Griego “We have lobbyists who represent corporations on these boards. We have industry folks on boards. I think this is a reason why we need webcasting and why people need to know what happens up here. I’m learning a lot more about this body the more time I spend here.”
Sen. Tim Keller, D-Albuquerque, also chimed in.
“To see this done just because she has done campaign work that was above board–we took it out on [this] woman,” Keller said.
Those comments drew a response from lawmakers in the rival faction.
“We are being questioned as far as this vote,” replied Bernadette Sanchez. “I knew what I was doing when I voted against this person on this board. We have a right to vote no on this.”
Sen. President Pro Tem Tim Jennings, D-Roswell, said he voted for Holguin but was troubled by what he called nonprofits interfering in political campaigns.
“It’s about the spirit of fair play,” Jennings said. “Corporations and businesses, if they make donations, they have to report contributions. But then they don’t apply to nonprofits. Some of the things that have happened is that nonprofits have used government money to influence elections.”
The nonprofits have repeatedly denied contributing money to political campaigns.
Also in play in Holguin’s nomination is an ongoing battle over state environmental regulations.
An organization has requested that the Environmental Improvement Board roll back New Mexico’s emissions to 25 percent below their 1990 levels by 2020 — far below anything being considered at the federal level and something critics say would devastate the state’s economy.
Holguin has sat on the environmental board for months. But at least some senators didn’t think that was a good thing.
“I was little afraid of politicizing this extremely important board,” said Sen. John Ryan, R-Albuquerque. “I don’t think having another person with an agenda would improve that board.”