After refusing to undergo a routine background check by the New Mexico Senate, Harrison Schmitt, the Martinez administration's nominee for secretary of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, has withdrawn his nomination.


Updated 8pm Tuesday:

According to a press release sent out by Martinez' office, Schmitt's refusal to submit to the background check is the reason for his withdrawal. From the Martinez administration's release:

“Senator Schmitt is a former NASA astronaut who underwent a complete background check by the Department of Public Safety as part of his nomination process.

“Senator Schmitt was willing to allow a private investigator access to his personal information, but he was not willing to waive that investigator’s liability for any improper actions or use of that information. While one can understand Senator Schmitt’s concerns, complying with the Legislature’s request is necessary to restore public confidence in state government. That’s why I am requiring all of my cabinet secretary designees to comply with that request and this has led to Senator Schmitt withdrawing his nomination. 

“I wish Senator Schmitt the best in his future endeavors and I will work swiftly to find a qualified replacement to lead New Mexico’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.”

Schmitt, a former astronaut and US Senator, has made headlines for his stance on global warming, which he called "a political tool" in 2009. Martinez nominated him to head the EMNRD, a department that includes mining, oil and gas, forestry and the Youth Conservation Corps, among other divisions.

State Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Bernalillo, chairs the Senate Rules Committee, which will begin holding confirmation hearings near the end of this month. Today, Lopez announced that Schmitt is refusing to submit to a background check.

"He had some concerns," Lopez tells SFR. "He just didn't want to and refuses to go through the background check."

In a statement released this afternoon, Lopez writes:

"I sympathize with Mr. Schmitt's and all conferees' discomfort when it comes to the background check process." According to that statement, here's what said background check entails:

-"a search for any prior criminal convictions and of Federal Civil Court Records"

-"verification of appointees' assertions related to financial circumstances or improprieties such as bankruptcies, tax liens, and outstanding loans"

-"a review of disclosure statements related to potential conflicts of interest and ownership in business entities."

To assume that Schmitt is refusing a background check because his financial or legal ducks aren't in a proverbial row would be unfair. But it certainly doesn't bode well for government transparency. (See relevant video below.)

Lopez tells SFR that, technically, the Senate Rules Committee could approve Schmitt in spite of his refusal to submit to a background check.

But, she says, "Every other designee the Governor has appointed has already signed--they are signing the paperwork to go through background check. My question would be, of course, to my own membership and my colleagues in my chamber: Do we allow one to serve without going through the process while everybody else is?"

The Rules Committee will discuss Schmitt's refusal during its meeting next Monday, Feb. 14, at 8 am in the Roundhouse (Room 321, if you're inclined to make an appearance at what's sure to be a heated hearing).

Schmitt's refusal, Lopez' statement reads, "has left me with no choice but to oppose his confirmation."  But even before that development, Lopez tells SFR many of her constituents had contacted her to express opposition to Schmitt's confirmation.

"We are in the era of transparency and open government," Lopez adds. "The question that I have is that, in light of one of [Martinez'] nominees not willing to go through the background check, where does the issue on transparency sit?"

You can read Lopez' full statement here.

YouTube video by RNikolewski.