Commissioners scrambling to replace Berry
Less than a week after being elected mayor of Albuquerque, two-term State Rep. Richard Berry, R-Albuquerque, resigned his District 20 house seat Monday to focus on his transition to leading the state’s largest city.
Now, Bernalillo County commissioners — three Democrats and two Republicans — are scrambling to find a replacement for Berry by the start of Saturday’s special session.
The commission’s next meeting is today at 5 p.m., and the appointment discussion has already been added to the agenda.
In a news release announcing his resignation, Berry said he needs to focus full-time on his transition.
“The citizens of my district deserve a full-time legislator representing their needs in Santa Fe, and the people of Albuquerque deserve a mayor-elect who is working full time to facilitate a smooth transition at City Hall,” he said.
Republican County Commissioner Michael Brasher said in an interview that he’s looking for someone who knows Berry’s district.
“They’ll need to have an understanding of the problems, needs and interests of the district,” Brasher said. “They will have to carefully go through the budget addressing the (state budget) shortfall issues.”
Lawmakers will be working to plug a shortfall in the current fiscal-year budget that is approaching $700 million.
A Democrat or Republican replacement?
Brasher said he anticipates that the person selected to replace Berry will be a registered Republican.
“It’s a Republican district. It’s been represented by a Republican for years, so I expect we’ll chose a Republican to fill the position,” he said.
Insiders tell NMPolitics.net that Jim White has emerged as the leading GOP candidate for the position.White lost to Berry in the 2006 Republican primary after receiving retiring House Minority Leader Tedd Hobbs’ endorsement.
White, an Air Force retiree and former GOP state party treasurer, could not immediately be reached for comment.
But don’t assume the job will be White’s. Democratic Party of New Mexico Executive Director Josh Geise disagrees with the notion that the seat has to be filled by a Republican. The decision is in the hands of the county commission, and a majority of the commission’s members are Democrats.
“Certainly there will be qualified Democrats interested in serving, and we would encourage the county commission to select one of those Democrats,” Geise said.
But Geise told NMPolitics.net that no Democrat had approached the party for support by 4 p.m. on Monday afternoon. He said interested individuals may be contacting county commissioners directly.
Democrat County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins said she doesn’t think the board decision will be partisan.
“I think our position has to be consider anyone who’s interested and make the best choice based on qualifications. I would like to give all the people interested in the seat consideration,” Hart Stebbins said. “I do understand the need to have someone represent District 20 during the special session in Santa Fe, but I would like to make sure it’s an open process.”
‘I was hoping he would stay on’
Hart Stebbins said whoever is selected needs to have deep roots in the district and be prepared to jump right in.
House Speaker Ben Luján, D-Námbe, agreed.
“I feel that the commission will make a wise decision,” Lujan said. “I would think the commission will be interviewing a lot of people and that they will appoint some who can handle the duties that are needed during the upcoming special.”
Luján said that he expects there will be between seven and 10 bills to cover the budget shortfall and that he would get whomever is appointed to Berry’s seat as much information as possible ahead of this weekend’s session in Santa Fe.
Luján seemed surprised that Berry resigned ahead of this weekend’s meeting.
“I was hoping he would stay on. He didn’t have to resign,” Luján said. “I understand it’s probably a lot of work. He was a good member of my Corporations and Finance Committee.”
Berry served on the interim Finance Authority Oversight Committee and was an interim member of the Retirement Systems Solvency Task Force. He also served on the Appropriations and Finance Committee, the Transportation and Public Works Committee and the Rules and Order of Business Committee.
Berry will be sworn in as Albuquerque mayor on Dec. 1.
Update, 12:07 a.m.
A source confirmed the emergence of a Democratic candidate for the seat: Josh Anderson, political coordinator for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) in New Mexico. Anderson was making calls about his candidacy Monday evening.
Heath Haussamen contributed to this report.
Leave a response
You must be logged in to post a comment.