JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Jay Nixon's economic development director won Senate confirmation Tuesday after a senator concerned about her stance on illegal immigration relented and allowed a voice vote on her nomination.
Linda Martinez, an attorney from St. Louis, had been serving as acting director of the Department of Economic Development since shortly after Nixon took office as governor Jan. 12.
But her Senate confirmation was held up for several weeks as she first addressed concerns about potential conflicts of interest involving past clients and then faced criticism about her legal work against a suburban St. Louis ordinance targeting businesses and landlords who employ or rent to illegal immigrants.
Sen. Scott Rupp, R-Wentzville, sponsored a state law last year creating new penalties for businesses that knowingly hire illegal immigrants. He raised concerns about Martinez's legal challenge to the Valley Park ordinance and complained that Martinez had not met with him about her nomination.
After eventually meeting with her last week, Rupp said he wanted written assurances from Martinez and the governor's office that she would abide by Missouri's laws relating to illegal immigrants when deciding whether to grant tax incentives to businesses.
Martinez already had granted such assurance in testimony to the Senate Gubernatorial Appointments Committee and in letters to Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis. But Nixon's office refused to provide anything further in writing to Rupp, saying her past assurances and her written oath to uphold Missouri law should suffice.
Rupp claimed someone on behalf of Nixon's office then called a St. Charles County official and threatened to withhold state incentives to the county if Rupp did not relent. Nixon's office has denied that.
Rupp said Tuesday that he decided not to further filibuster Martinez because he believed she was qualified for the job. But he delivered several parting shots at Nixon, comparing him to ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his "mafia-type tactics."
"Governor, I am not scared of your threats," Rupp declared during a Senate speech.
Nixon was not at the Capitol because he was in Kansas City for an annual economic summit with Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. Missouri's Democratic governor has consistently defended his choice of Martinez, whose past legal clients included various businesses or governmental entities seeking state incentives for economic development projects.
"Two-hundred-nineteen-thousand people woke up this morning unemployed (in Missouri)," Nixon spokesman Jack Cardetti said Tuesday. "The governor's No. 1 priority is turning the economy around, and he believes director Martinez is the perfect candidate to do that."
The fight over Martinez' confirmation appeared to spoil some of the bipartisan pledges of cooperation between Nixon and Republican legislative leaders. But Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, said the dispute "has nothing to do with partisanship. It has to do with the role and duty of being a Missouri senator" in confirming gubernatorial appointees.