By Associated Press - Sunday, March 15, 2015

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - The Santa Fe County Commission voted Sunday to solicit applications for potential nominees to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of Democratic state Sen. Phil Griego.

The county commissioners, during an emergency meeting, also decided to put off any final decision until a Friday meeting despite Republican Gov. Susana Martinez calling the situation an emergency and pushing for swift action given that the legislative session wraps up next weekend.

Griego resigned Saturday in the wake of a controversy surrounding the sale of a state-owned building that he brokered last year had become a distraction.

The Democrat drew criticism because he was one of the lawmakers who approved a proposal to put the property up for sale.

Griego represented Senate District 39, which encompasses parts of Santa Fe County and five other counties. Each county commission must choose a nominee for the governor to pick from.

Martinez’s office issued a statement Sunday evening saying the decision not to submit names of qualified potential replacements is partisan and political.

“The following is an indisputable fact: 49,000 New Mexicans will not have adequate or equal representation for the remainder of this legislative session - during a time when the state budget will be passed, capital projects will be authorized and literally hundreds of pieces of legislation affecting these residents will be considered and potentially passed,” Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell said.

Another one of the affected counties, Bernalillo County, has scheduled an emergency meeting to discuss and select a nominee Wednesday.

Bernalillo County Commissioners Wayne Johnson and Lonnie Talbert said they were also concerned about the timeline and the lack of representation for constituents in District 39 in the closing days of the legislative session.

Richard Ellenberg, the chairman of the Santa Fe Democratic Party, disputed the characterization of the vacancy as an emergency and said elected officials should not rush to find a replacement.

Senate Democratic leaders have also said the decision “must be made with careful consideration.”

“While it is the governor’s right to make the appointment, it is important that the public has the opportunity to have input in this selection” and that county commissions have enough time to nominate well-qualified candidates, said a statement from Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, and Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen.

Whoever is appointed will likely serve out the remainder of Griego’s term, which expires at the end of 2016.

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