Now, Bernalillo County Commissioners, led by three Democrats and two Republicans, are scrambling to find a replacement for Berry by the start of Saturday’s special session.
Insiders gave us the word this afternoon that Republican Jim White (not Sheriff Darren 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 Treasurer, did not immediately return our phone calls.
The commissioner's next meeting is tomorrow at 5pm 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.”
Republican County Commissioner Michael Brasher said 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,” said Brasher. “They will have to carefully go through the budget addressing the [state budget] shortfall issues. They’re going to have a spent a lot of time getting a briefing on the budget situation.”
Brasher anticipates the person selected 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.”
Democratic Party of New Mexico’s Executive Director Josh Geise disagrees with the notion that the seat has to be filled by a Republican.
“Certainly there will be qualified Democrats interested in serving, and we would encourage the county commission to select one of those Democrats,” said Geise.
But, Geise told us that no Democrat, living in District 20, had approached the party for support by 4pm on Monday afternoon, but said interested individuals may be contacting county commissioners directly.
Democrat County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins, who was just appointed to the board by Gov. Bill Richardson on May 12th to replace Deanna Archuleta, who accepted an appointment by U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar as Deputy Secretary for Water and Science, said that 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,” said Hart Stebbins. “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.”
She said whoever is selected needs to have deep roots in the district and be prepared to jump right in.
House Speaker pledges to get appointee up to speed by Saturday
“I feel that the commission will make a wise decision,” said House Speaker Ben Lujan. “I would think the commission will be interviewing a lot of people and that they will appoint some who can handle the duties that needed during the upcoming special.”
Lujan said that he expects there will be between seven and ten 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.
Lujan seemed surprised to hear Berry had resigned ahead of this weekend’s meeting.
“I was hoping he was stay on. He didn’t have to resign,” said Lujan. “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 and was a member of the Transportation and Public Works Committee. He also was a Rules and Order of Business member.
Berry will be sworn into office in Albuquerque on December 1st.