You’re innocent until proven guilty–legally speaking, that is. Politically? Well, that’s a whole different story.
On Wednesday, Jul 28, 2021, the Attorney General’s Office served warrants at the home of state House Majority Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton. No charges have been filed against the SE Albuquerque Democrat. However, due to the severity of the wide-reaching allegations, it begs the question, what would happen if the leader were to step down or be forced out of office? Prominent political leaders, including Governor Lujan Grisham, have released statements on the matter, signaling a growing concern for the leader's ability to continue to serve.
During a press conference on Thursday, Lujan Grisham spoke about the allegations against Williams Stapleton. “These allegations are significant and incredibly serious. If and when there is an indictment or arrest, I hope the representative does the right thing here and resigns.” Speaker of the House Brian Egolf announced that he referred the matter to an interim House ethics committee to begin the legislature’s own investigation that could result in censure or expulsion from the chamber.
So what would happen if Rep. Williams Stapleton’s seat becomes vacant?
In the case of district 19, which is entirely located within Bernalillo County, the Bernalillo County Commission would select a replacement for Williams Stapleton.
In the past, as with the vacancy created in House District 28 following Rep. Melanie Stansbury's special congressional election win, the Bernalillo County Commission accepted applications for the position. Applicants are often invited to give a short public presentation at a commission meeting. Pamelya Herndon was eventually selected by the commission and appointed to represent District 28. State Rep. Herndon and other appointees must run in the next statewide election in order to retain their seats.
If a vacancy occurs in a district that spans more than one county, the vacancy is filled by appointment by the governor–from a list of nominees submitted by each of the impacted counties' commissions.
Palace intrigue abounds as New Mexico’s political class contemplates the apparent inevitability that Williams Stapleton leaves office, however, there’s a political minefield that any applicant will have to navigate.
The two most recent appointments in Bernalillo County were made unanimously, replacing Democrats with Democrats. Currently, the Bernalillo County Commission is composed of four Democrats and one Republican. It is highly likely that commissioners will follow the pattern of appointing a new member from the same party as the departing member.
The story is evolving. Stay tuned for our continuing coverage following this political saga and the AG's investigation of Williams Stapleton.
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