Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will see at least one empty seat when she looks out on lawmakers and delivers her State of the State address on Tuesday (Jan. 15).
Days left in the legislative session: 60
Empty seat: Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will see at least one empty seat when she looks out on lawmakers and delivers her State of the State address on Tuesday.
Lt. Gov. Howie Morales of Silver City gave up his Senate seat when he took higher office. But the process to find a successor has become bogged down in environmental politics and — more immediately — the parsing of a few lines of state law.
When a senator leaves office and their district spans several counties, it is up to the commissioners in each county to nominate a successor. The governor gets the final say.
In this case, the boards of commissioners in Morales’ old district — Grant, Socorro and Catron — all nominated Gabriel Ramos a Silver City insurance agent and former county commissioner.
But Lujan Grisham sent an email to county commissioners late Saturday asking for yet more nominations. In the email, Lujan Grisham said state law seems to require counties submit more than one name for the governor’s consideration.
Ramos lives in Grant County. But Lujan Grisham asked each county to nominate a resident.
The governor told reporters after her first Cabinet meeting that she is not ruling out appointing Ramos.
Opposition to Ramos: As a member of the Grant County Board of Commissioners, he rankled environmentalists with support for the Central Arizona Project, which has been putting together plans for diverting the Gila River.
Given the big role environmental groups played in Lujan Grisham’s election and opposition to the Gila diversion among some high-ranking Senate Democrats, including Majority Leader Peter Wirth, the issue seemed bound to stir opposition to Ramos’ nomination. On top of that, vote counters have reason to be nervous about where each senator will fall when it comes to some liberal priorities this year given that conservative members of the party still hold sway in the Legislature’s upper chamber.
“It’s a little troubling to us our commissioners have chosen to replace a reliably Democratic senator with someone we consider more of a Republican,” said Larry McDaniel, a Democratic activist in Silver City.
Ramos, meanwhile, has traveled to Santa Fe ahead of the session’s start on Tuesday. He said that while he has been labeled a moderate and supported the development of a business plan for the Central Arizona Project, he has an open mind and wants to work with the new governor.
Ramos said he has not heard from the governor’s office and that at least two of the three counties stand behind him.
The newest senator: Sen. Cisco McSorley’s announcement last week that he would take a job in the Lujan Grisham administration running the Corrections Department’s probation and parole division meant the Legislature’s upper chamber would be losing a liberal stalwart.
It might be gaining one, too.
The Bernalillo County Board of Commissioners appointed Antoinette Sedillo Lopez to take McSorley’s seat representing a Southeast Albuquerque district.
The former law professor who is now legislative director of the New Mexico Coalition Against Domestic Violence sought the Democratic nomination for Lujan Grisham’s congressional seat last year and lost out to Deb Haaland.
But she raised impressive sums of money, ran an in-it-to-win-it campaign and finished third in the six-way primary with about 20 percent of the vote.
The Bernalillo County Board of Commissioners called a snap meeting for Monday to pick a successor to represent McSorley’s district. Because his district falls entirely within the county, it was the board’s decision alone. And Sedillo Lopez cinched a 5-0 vote and was immediately sworn in by County Clerk Linda Stover.
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