Egolf faces ethics complaint over appointing himself to PRC nominating committee

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Aug. 5—An Albuquerque Democrat filed an ethics complaint Thursday against one of the most powerful members of his party: House Speaker Brian Egolf of Santa Fe.

State Rep. Miguel García accused Egolf of blatantly violating the Governmental Conduct Act and the state constitution by appointing himself to serve on the newly created committee that will nominate possible members to serve on the reconfigured New Mexico Public Regulation Commission.

"The PRC Nominating Committee is statutorily created. It is not the creation of a simple memorial or a joint memorial. It is singularity the most important step in transitioning from an elected board to an appointed board. Such transitional power should rest with the people, not an elected politician," García wrote in his complaint to the State Ethics Commission.

García and Egolf, who is leaving the Legislature this year, have an acrimonious relationship — and Egolf chalked up the ethics complaint to their conflict.

"I am confident the New Mexico State Ethics Commission will see this complaint for what it is — an attempt by Representative Miguel García to use the Commission to drum up publicity for himself and further his petty personal vendetta against me," Egolf said in a statement. "His complaint is utterly baseless. Rep. García should focus on the needs of his constituents rather than sensational and absurd publicity campaigns."

House Minority Leader James Townsend, R-Artesia, who made one of the appointments to the PRC nominating committee, said he was surprised Egolf picked himself to serve on it.

"I had thought the speaker was set to pick up a lot of work in his retirement following the passage of the civil rights bill," Townsend said in a jab at Egolf, an attorney who was the subject of a separate ethics complaint alleging his law firm stood to benefit from a civil rights law he sponsored.

That complaint was eventually dismissed.

"I'm sure the ethics commission will do their due diligence and investigate with the same integrity," Townsend said.

In a statement, García called it a "dereliction" of duty for Egolf to appoint himself to the committee.

Egolf announced last month he had picked himself to serve on the committee. He described himself as the best person for the job.

"I was proud to play a role in the legislation that brought needed modernizations to the PRC and I want to see that process through, so I am volunteering myself for the Nominating Committee," he said in a statement at the time.

García wrote in his complaint the action taken by Egolf is "unprecedented."

"It goes counter to the customs and traditions of Speakers' appointing the people to statutorily created committees, boards, or commissions," he wrote. "In my 25 years as a State Representative the Speakers' that I served under never appointed themselves to a statutorily created committee. Speaker Raymond Sánchez, Speaker Ben Luján, Speaker Ken Martínez, and Speaker Don Tripp never crossed the line. In the sixteen years that Raymond Sánchez served as Speaker he states that he never self appointed himself to a statutorily created committee of which protocol called for people participation."

The seven-member committee will select at least five nominees.

The governor will choose three new commissioners from the list of nominees, replacing the five-member elected commission that has long regulated the state's utility companies, transportation firms and other industries. The change comes through a measure approved by voters statewide.

The governor and two of her Cabinet secretaries appointed three of the seven members of the committee. The other four were selected by Democratic and Republican leaders in the Legislature: the speaker and minority floor leader of the House and the president pro tem and minority floor leader of the Senate.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham selected Ron Lovato, a former two-term governor of Ohkay Owingeh. Economic Development Secretary Alicia J. Keyes nominated Rikki Seguin, executive director of the Interwest Energy Alliance, and Energy Secretary Sarah Cottrell Propst nominated William Brancard, Hearings Bureau chief for the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.

Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, appointed Cydney Beadles, a senior staff attorney with the nonprofit Western Resource Advocates. Senate Minority Leader Gregory Baca, R-Belen, appointed Alonzo Baldonado, a fellow Republican who is a real estate broker from Los Lunas.

Townsend, the minority House leader, appointed Denise Ramonas, who most recently served as the first female chief clerk of the state House of Representatives. Ramonas, who previously worked for former U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, worked as a lawyer in Utah in a case similar to the proposed high-profile merger between Public Service Company of New Mexico and Connecticut-based Avangrid.

Commissioners will require the confirmation of the state Senate. No more than two commissioners may be members of the same party, and they will serve staggered, six-year terms and limited to two terms.

Under state law, the unpaid nominating committee members must have knowledge about utility regulation and can't be employed by a utility company or have an interest in being on the commission.

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.