Before Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the appointment of James Mountain as Cabinet secretary-designate of the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department — a choice that quickly sparked controversy over a years-old rape allegation against Mountain — she considered five other people who either applied or were recommended for the job.

Among them is a member of the Navajo Nation who had the backing of the tribe’s former president, as well as a member of Congress and the National Native American Bar Association.

“Having known [Pauline Abeyta] for several years, I can attest that her strong work ethic and proven record of public service will achieve great results for the Indian Affairs Department,” U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury, who represents New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District, wrote in a letter of recommendation to the governor Jan. 13.

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