ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A former Trump administration appointee running for Congress in a closely watched race in southern New Mexico says his university is trying to fire him for seeking the seat.

Gavin Clarkson, a business law professor at New Mexico State University, said this week the school told him that his leave of absence had been revoked and his employment would be terminated if he didn't return to work.

The Republican said he requested a leave of absence until January 2020 after he was appointed to a Bureau of Indian Affairs position. "The letter granting my leave did not specify that the leave was contingent on anything or subject to revocation," Clarkson said in a statement.

But Clarkson resigned from the agency last year following a harsh inspector general report into the loan program he directed, according to stories by ProPublica and The Washington Post. Clarkson called the reports "fake news" and said he stepped down to run for Congress in a sprawling district that sits along the U.S-Mexico border.

New Mexico State spokeswoman Minerva Baumann told The Associated Press that the university doesn't comment on personnel matters.

The race is one of many expected to draw national attention in 2018 since it may help determine which party controls the U.S. House of Representatives

Democrats have long targeted the heavily Hispanic district along the U.S.-Mexico border where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans. But it has remained in GOP hands largely due to the popularity of incumbent Rep. Steve Pearce, who is stepping down to run for governor. Pearce has attracted support from Hispanics and the region's oil and gas interests.

Clarkson, an outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump, is one of four Republicans seeking the seat. The others are state Rep. Yvette Herrell, former Hobbs mayor Monty Newman, and Lovington resident Clayburn Griffin. Former Eddy County Commissioner Jack Volpato quit the race on Thursday.

Las Cruces water attorney Xochitl Torres Small and U.S. Coast Guard veteran Madeline "Mad" Hildebrandt are seeking the Democratic nomination.


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