By Erik Siemers
New Mexico Public Regulation Commission member E. Shirley Baca is facing criticism after her arrest for marijuana possession.
And that includes a call for her resignation - if she's guilty - from one Republican leader.
"Frankly if she is guilty of this, it seems to me it would be in her best interest and the PRC's best interest and the state's best interest if she resigned," said state Rep. Ted Hobbs, an Albuquerque Republican and House minority leader.
Baca, 53, a Las Cruces Democrat, was arrested Wednesday morning at Albuquerque International Sunport after baggage screeners found less than an ounce of marijuana inside a pipe concealed in her checked baggage, according to a Metro Court criminal complaint.
She was charged with possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia and placed in Metropolitan Detention Center. She was later released on $1,000 bond, according to jail records.
Baca didn't return repeated calls for comment.
The PRC is the government agency that regulates New Mexico's utilities, transportation, communications and insurance businesses. If you pay a bill for it in New Mexico, it's likely that the rate you pay was influenced by the PRC.
Baca was elected in 2002 for a four-year term to the five-member commission. Before that, she was a state representative from 1993 to 1996. She also made unsuccessful bids against the late Joe Skeen for the 2nd Congressional District seat in 1996 and 1998.
Federal Transportation Security Administration screeners said they were examining Baca's luggage around 7 a.m. when a trace detector was alarmed for explosives, according to the complaint.
Upon further inspection, a screener opened the bag and found a container with a green leafy substance within a glass pipe that police said later was confirmed to be marijuana, the complaint states.
Baca told police she packed her own bags yesterday. And when asked whether she smoked marijuana, she replied: "Occasionally", the complaint states.
Police said Baca became angry when confronted by the container found in her luggage.
I'm "not going to admit that that is mine," she told police, according to the complaint.
"No one is above the law," Gov. Bill Richardson said in a statement released yesterday. "This is a serious offense, which will carry serious consequences and she will have to deal with that. All public officials must abide by a higher standard of personal conduct and set a good example."
It's unclear what happens to Baca's position on the PRC should she be found guilty.
Commissioner Herb W. Hughes of Albuquerque said he has asked staff to research various commission and state policies, including those pertaining to ethics.
"Basically, we need to get the facts first," Hughes said. "There's always the judgment of whether you make a comment or not to comment. We've got to go by the book in times like this. You've got to do some good research and find out what supposedly happened before you do anything at all."
Should Baca's position become vacant, state law dictates that the governor appoint someone to fill the position.
Hobbs, a vocal critic of the PRC who believes it's an agency overextended by too many responsibilities, said he was reserving his overall judgment of Baca until facts are confirmed.
Still, he took a moment to chastise anybody who uses drugs.
"I don't approve drug use by anybody, not just a PRC person, but anyone," he said. "I think it's too bad and shouldn't have happened."
And there was a time when Baca expressed similar sentiments.
In June 2003, Baca spoke harshly about substance abuse among PRC employees when chief of staff Patrick Baca was charged with driving drunk.
She said at the time she would consider asking that Patrick Baca be terminated or suspended regardless of the outcome of his case in court.
"Personally," she said at the time, "I think that top-ranking staff need to set an example for the whole department, as well as elected officials."
Baca's arrest is the latest in a series of embarrassing busts for high-profile officials in New Mexico.
Former state Chief District Judge W. John Brennan was arrested in May after trying to duck a checkpoint for drunken drivers. He resigned from the bench and pleaded guilty to aggravated driving while intoxicated and cocaine possession and was sentenced to a year of unsupervised probation.
Former Rep. Joe Thompson, an Albuquerque Republican, called off a run for the PRC in March after he was arrested on drunken driving charges.