Senate leaders halt vote on Martinez ally for UNM regent to avoid his rejection

Matt Chandler

Matt Chandler, one of Gov. Susana Martinez’s close political allies, was facing rejection Wednesday by the state Senate for a seat on The University of New Mexico Board of Regents, so both floor leaders said they abruptly agreed to delay the vote on his confirmation.

Chandler had received a 6-3 vote of support for his confirmation from the Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday morning. But by the time Chandler descended two floors to the Senate chamber, where he faced an afternoon vote by all 42 senators, he was facing a humiliating defeat in public.

“I wasn’t told the votes weren’t there [to confirm Chandler] until we got to the floor,” said Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, who is serving as Chandler’s sponsor.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, said Chandler would not have been confirmed.

“He did not have the votes,” Sanchez said in a separate interview.

Because Ingle had not realized Chandler’s nomination was in trouble, the two floor leaders postponed Chandler’s confirmation hearing. Other senators said this was as much in deference to Ingle, a 30-year member of the Senate, as to Chandler.

Ingle said he did not believe a regent nominee should be advanced to the floor and then embarrassed there with a defeat.

He also said he was unsure how many votes Chandler lacked for confirmation. The Senate has 25 Democrats and 17 Republicans.

Ingle said he did not know whether Chandler would withdraw from consideration or face a Senate vote. “That’s his decision and the governor’s decision,” Ingle said.

Martinez, through her press secretary, later said she is still backing Chandler and wants him confirmed.

“The governor absolutely stands behind Matt Chandler’s appointment. He’s highly qualified and should be confirmed,” said press secretary Enrique Knell. “Matt Chandler has strong bipartisan support, including prominent Democrats like Attorney General Hector Balderas and former Democratic Party Chairman Brian Colón.”

Chandler, 39, is the former district attorney of Curry and Roosevelt counties. A Republican, he ran unsuccessfully for state attorney general in 2010, when Martinez was elected governor on the same GOP slate.

Last year, Chandler was treasurer of a Republican political committee, Advance New Mexico Now, that attacked Democratic candidates in a series of vitriolic advertisements.

Chandler was listed as the political committee’s point man on mailers denigrating then-state Rep. Liz Thomson of Albuquerque and sitting state Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard of Los Alamos.

The ads, to which he attached his name, said Thomson “took money from schoolchildren” and “voted to give money to lobbyists.” At best, these charges were gross distortions, and at worst, they were lies.

Chandler stood by the ad during the campaign.

Another of his committee’s ads falsely said Garcia Richard had “voted to hide arrest records from employers like daycare centers and schools.” In fact, she voted against a bill to expunge certain criminal records, a fact that Chandler’s committee got wrong. Garcia Richard called Chandler’s ad attacking her “a blatant lie.”

In the Rules Committee hearing, Sanchez asked Chandler about whether he had received any direction from Martinez or her political strategist, Jay McCleskey, about university decisions. Chandler said he had not.

Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, questioned Chandler about his work on the political committee, including the incorrect ads and Chandler’s role in the distribution of large amounts of money.

Chandler said he resigned from the committee in November, after the election in which Martinez won a second term. He downplayed his role in the attack ads and in accounting for expenditures of the political committee, even though he was listed as its treasurer.

In an interview, Sanchez said he intends to vote against Chandler on the floor, based on numerous calls and complaints from university students who have told him they do not believe Chandler should be confirmed.

Sanchez, who sets the Senate floor agenda, said a confirmation vote on Chandler could occur Thursday or Friday.

Contact Milan Simonich at 986-3080 or msimonich@sfnewmexican.com. Follow his Ringside Seat column and blog at santafenewmexican.com.