Aggie Ingeniero, April 2009

Michael L. Connor

Las Cruces native tapped by Obama to lead U.S. agency

Michael L. Connor, a native Las Crucen who attended public schools in the city and graduated from New Mexico State University, has been nominated by President Barack Obama to become the next head of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Obama announced Connor’s nomination Wednesday to the pleasure of several high-ranking federal officials.

The agency he will lead, if confirmed by the Senate, is a contemporary water management agency and the largest wholesale provider of water in the country. It brings water to more than 31 million people, and provides one out of five Western farmers with irrigation water for farmland that produces much of the nation’s produce.

The bureau also is the second largest producer of hydroelectric power in the western United States with 58 power plants.

Connor’s confirmation by the Senate could take as long as six months to complete.

“Mike Connor is going to make a terrific commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation,” said U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., chairman of the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where Connor has served as its attorney since May 2001. “I’m delighted that President Obama has announced his intent to nominate someone who not only has an outstanding background in water policy, but also has real depth in energy issues. Few people are as good as Mike in working with stakeholders while protecting the public interest. Mike will leave big shoes to fill on the Senate Energy Committee staff, but I look forward to working closely with him in his new role.”

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar also had high praise for Connor.

“With growing water challenges facing communities across the country, Mike Connor’s deep background in water, Indian rights and energy issues will help us find common-sense solutions,” Salazar said. “Mike has a proven track record of building consensus with a wide range of stakeholders and is the right pick for commissioner. I look forward to working with him to ensure that we are wisely managing our nation’s precious water resources.”

As legal counsel for the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources committee, Connor, 45, has managed legislation for both the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Geological Survey, developed water resources legislation and handled American Indian issues that are within the Energy Committee’s jurisdiction.

Altogether, Connor has more than 15 years of experience. He served in the Department of the Interior from 1993 to 2001, including three years as deputy director and then director of the Secretary’s Indian Water Rights Office, from 1998 to 2001. Connor represented the secretary of the Interior in negotiations with Indian tribes, state representatives, and private water users to secure water rights settlements consistent with the federal trust responsibility to tribes.

Before joining the Secretary’s Office, he was employed with the Interior Solicitor’s Office in Washington, D.C., and in Albuquerque. He began his Interior Department career in the Solicitor’s Honors Program in 1993.

Connor received his law degree from the University of Colorado, in Boulder, Colo., and is a member of Colorado and New Mexico bar associations. In 1986, he earned a bachelor’s of science degree in chemical engineering from New Mexico State University.

Upon graduating from NMSU, Connor worked for General Electric.

“We were in Washington on other business when we heard of his nomination. We feel privileged that we could be there for this very special occasion,” said his brother, Bill Connor, who works for El Paso Electric Co. “Obviously, we’re proud of him. He was born and bred in Las Cruces, attended public schools there, graduated from NMSU, and the city has always had a special place in his heart.”

Steve Ramirez can be reached at; (575) 541-5452

Presidential nominee

Name: Michael L. Connor

Age: 45

Hometown: Las Cruces

Family: Wife, Shari Hanson Connor; son, Matthew and daughter Gabriella; parents Carl and Bea Connor, and brother, Bill, all live in Las Cruces. Brother in-law of City Councilor Dolores Connor.

Education: Attended Las Cruces Public Schools; graduated from Las Cruces High School; earned a degree in chemical engineering from New Mexico State University in 1986; earned his law degree from the University of Colorado.

Professional experience: Worked for General Electric after graduating from NMSU; worked for the U.S. Department of Interior Solicitor’s Office, in Washington, D.C., and Albuquerque from 1993 until 2001; director of the Secretary of Interior’s Indian Water Rights Office from 1998 to 2001; legal counsel to the U.S. Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee since May 2001.

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