Following threats from the committee chairwoman that she would ask the state Senate to subpoena him, the general manager of Expo New Mexico appeared before the Rules Committee on Thursday and defended his agency's management of the state fair.
Dan Mourning testified in the latest in a series of what have become politically contentious hearings related to the confirmations of Gov. Susana Martinez' appointees to the State Fair Commission. Committee Chairwoman Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, has used the hearings to probe current and former state fair officials about the state's awarding of a multimillion dollar contract that allowed the Downs at Albuquerque Racetrack and Casino to renew a lease on state-owned land. Lopez is running to be the Democratic nominee for governor, and Martinez' office claims that she's politicizing the confirmation process, a charge she denies.
Read SFR's February 12 story about the lease here.
On Thursday, Mourning talked about the challenges of managing a state entity that for years has been under debt and operationally insolvent. Mourning told state senators that that financial picture under his leadership has improved despite the remaining $1.8 million in debt.
And he also defended the lease awarded to the Downs—whose owners are big Martinez campaign donors. The state advertised the bid for the lease for 30 days and only in the Albuquerque Journal, Mourning acknowledged, which prompted criticism from state Sen. Tim Keller, D-Albuquerque, who said the request for proposal for a new lease should have been advertised more widely and that 30 days wasn't enough time for the development community to become aware a bid was open to lease the state-owned land.
Mourning, who says he met with an investigator from the attorney general's office two years ago about the lease, also said he wasn't ignoring the committee's requests that he appear before it.
"I apologize I have not been trying to dodge," the committee's requests, he said, noting he had "personal things in my family that I had to address."
Last week, Lopez invited Mourning, the governor and her political advisor to answer questions about the state fair and the politically charged Downs lease. The governor's office and political advisor Jay McCleskey have indicated the two will not appear before the committee, and yesterday Lopez threatened to introduce a motion to subpoena Mourning.