By The Independent staff

An effort limiting the governor’s power to remove appointed commissioners responsible for overseeing the state’s wildlife conservation, hunting and fishing programs is gaining momentum after passing two committees and the full State House with just over two weeks remaining in the legislative session.  The State House of Representatives passed House Bill 184 on a 45-21 vote this week sending the bill to the Senate.

State Rep. Matthew McQueen (D-HD50), Courtesy photo (2021)

The bill is one of two targeting the Game and Fish Department introduced by State Rep. Matthew McQueen (D) whose sprawling district covers much of Galisteo, Edgewood, Moriarty, Mountainair and large portions of rural Santa Fe and Torrance Counties. HB184 would alter the current structure of the appointed commission overseeing the department by adding specific seats for ranchers, hunters and conservationists and limiting the governor’s appointments to just 3 of the 7 seats available. It would also prevent the governor from removing members at-will. If the bill becomes law only the State Supreme Court could remove members for cause.

The legislation comes as the state game commission has struggled to maintain a quorum of members following the removal by the governor of two members considered supportive of conservation and public lands access issues. The governor also drew ire from conservationists with her appointment of a former oil and gas lobbyist to a seat traditionally reserved for conservationists. That member later resigned leaving the commission without a quorum to meet. 

During debate over the bill, McQueen, who is traditionally known as a conservationist, found unusual support for the bill from newly minted State Rep. John Block, a vocal opponent of the governor and almost every Democratic agenda item. 

“I think hell’s going to freeze over because I agree with Rep. McQueen on something,” Block was quoted as saying according to the NM Political Report. Block explained that he supported the bill because it limited the power of the governor which is a frequent cause for many House Republicans. Not all Republicans supported the effort, however. Rep. Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, agreed that ranchers needed more say in game and fish management but stopped short of supporting a full rewrite of the commission’s structure.

The bill now heads to the State Senate where it is sponsored by State Sen. Crystal Diamond, a Republican.  The governor has not said whether she would support or veto the bill if it makes it to her desk. 

A separate bill sponsored by McQueen, House Bill 183, turning the Game and Fish Department into a division of the same state department responsible for overseeing state parks and natural resources failed to pass committee. 

Earlier this week, the governor appointed Fernando Clemente Jr. of Sandia Park, who has owned and operated the New Mexico Specialized Wildlife Services, to fill one vacant seat.