- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 12, 2014

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - A New Mexico Senate committee leader wants to force the state fair manager to answer questions about a much-debated lease that allowed Downs of Albuquerque to build a larger casino.

Sen. Linda Lopez, chairwoman of the Senate Rules Committee, introduced a resolution Wednesday to subpoena State Fair Manager Dan Mourning to testify about a lease that is drawing criticism from Democrats.

The resolution, which must be approved by the full Senate, came after the committee heard earlier in the week from current and former governmental appointees of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez who criticized her administration for rushing through the 25-year lease in 2011.

Critics have questioned whether political contributions influenced the deal.

It’s not known when the committee will seek a vote on the proposed resolution that calls for Mourning to come before the panel Monday.

Democrats said Mourning and the Martinez officials were invited this week but none has appeared before the panel while the committee considered three appointments to the State Fair Commission.

Two appointments were confirmed by the Senate on Wednesday while the reappointment of the commission chairman, Larry Kennedy, was put on hold following a contentious hearing.

Republican committee members said concerns over the lease were politically motivated, a charge Lopez dismissed when she introduced her resolution.

“We are serious people charged with carrying out serious business,” said Lopez, who is among five Democrats running for governor against Martinez this year.

Lopez, of Albuquerque, and other Democrats suggested that Mourning was dodging the committee’s request to have him answer questions about the lease and about allegations of mismanagement.

But Enrique Knell, a spokesman for the governor’s office, said Mourning did not receive an invitation to appear Wednesday and was at an Albuquerque hospital with his son.

“Before Sen. Lopez attempts to use a man’s absence as a stunt to further her failing gubernatorial campaign, she should check the facts and avoid smearing a man who was caring for his child,” Knell said.

Knell said Mourning has repeatedly testified before the Legislative Finance Committee, the House Appropriations Committee, and other committees that have invited him.

Committee member Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, called questions over the lease “a political stunt” and said the debate took up valuable time since the committee has a number of appointments to tackle before the session ends Feb. 20.


Follow Russell Contreras at https://twitter.com/russcontreras .

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