In 2017 I was proud to co-sponsor and vote to pass legislation to place a strong Independent Ethics Commission on the 2018 ballot. In 2018, we must take another critical step forward for ethics and against corruption and implement a comprehensive anti-sexual harassment policy. Making the Capitol safe for everyone is an issue of basic human dignity and good government accountability. We know there is strong, bi-partisan support for this anti-sexual harassment policy. We also know that getting critical details right is essential for the policy to work.
It seemed for a few hours that the New Mexico Legislature, after years of rejecting the idea, was about to authorize a proposed constitutional amendment to establish a state ethics commission. Then the proposal hit a bump Thursday night. The state Senate had voted 30-9 hours earlier to approve House Joint Resolution 8, sponsored by Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque. But, when the resolution went back to the House of Representatives for concurrence on an amendment made by a Senate committee, Dines urged members to vote against going along with the Senate’s change. House members complied, and now three-member committees from each chamber will meet to try to reach an agreement.
Spurred by a Four Corners-area water company that for months provided phony information to state regulators, the state House of Representatives has unanimously approved a bill making it a crime for owners or operators of public water systems to knowingly give false reports to the Environment Department. House Bill 511, sponsored by House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, passed on a 66-0 vote Monday night and now goes to the Senate. There was virtually no discussion about the reason for the bill during a brief floor hearing. Complaints last year from customers of the Animas Valley Water Co. eventually prompted the state to order thousands of households to boil their water.
The state Senate Conservation Committee approved a ban Monday on coyote-killing contests in New Mexico after hearing from advocates, who called the contests barbaric, and opponents, who argued the competitions are a way to reduce coyote killings of livestock. The bipartisan bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, and Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, moves next to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Similar legislation was approved in the Senate in 2015 but died in the House. Sen. Pat Woods of Broadview, the top Republican on the Senate Conservation Committee, voted against the legislation, Senate Bill 268. He said he received a call from a rancher in McCalister who reported he had lost 200 lambs since the beginning of the year to coyotes.
Members of New Mexico’s citizen Legislature only receive $164 per day for expenses, plus mileage, during the session. But there are other perks to the job. For instance, the industry group called Ski New Mexico last week handed out VIP membership cards to 110 of the 112 state lawmakers, entitling them to two free days of skiing at any of eight ski areas in the state. The total value of the cards was $27,500, according to a lobbyist expense report filed this week by George Brooks, executive director of Ski New Mexico. That expense represented a large portion of the $85,000-plus that lobbyists and the organizations that hire them have reported spending on meals, parties, receptions and gifts for legislators and others so far in the session, which began just over two weeks ago.
With the state wracked by successive corruption scandals involving top officials, several lawmakers seem to agree that this is the year for ethics reform in New Mexico. A committee of the state House of Representatives gave a boost to those hopes Thursday by advancing a bipartisan proposal to establish an independent ethics commission through a constitutional amendment. The commission would have the power to investigate complaints of misconduct by public officials, candidates, lobbyists and contractors. The complaints would be public, and the commission’s opinions could be appealed to the state courts. Campaign finance reform advocates and good government groups have fought for years to create such a body.
Gov. Susana Martinez took out her major target in Tuesday’s election, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez. But that single victory came at a cost. Republicans lost the state House after two years in control, while Democrats strengthened their margin in the state Senate. The Democrats will control the House by at least a 37-33 margin, with an outside shot at a 39-31 split. Two races are going to recounts.
In a disastrous night for Democrats nationwide that saw Republican Donald Trump win the presidency, the state party actually did well, retaking the House of Representatives and expanding the party’s majority in the state Senate. The scope of the advantage in both chambers isn’t yet known, as there could be up to four automatic recounts, two in each chamber. Democrats also won back the Secretary of State seat when Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver easily defeated Republican Nora Espinoza. “What a difference two years makes,” Toulouse Oliver told a crowd of supporters Tuesday night, referring to her 2014 loss to Republican Dianna Duran. Duran resigned last year hours before pleading guilty to counts of misusing campaign funds, for which she spent 30 days in jail.
One of the key races that will decide the political control of the state House of Representatives pits an upstart against a Roundhouse veteran in southern New Mexico. The incumbent, Republican Andy Nuñez, has represented the district for most of the past decade and a half. He faces former Nathan Small, a Democrat who recently served two terms on the Las Cruces city council. NM Political Report will profile some key legislative races from now until election day. Nuñez, 80, is perhaps best known for switching his political affiliation multiple times over in the past few years, from Democrat to independent to Republican.
The local union that represent border patrol agents in El Paso and New Mexico will challenge the national union’s endorsement of Donald Trump for president. The March 30 endorsement by the national union, the National Border Patrol Council, was the first ever such endorsement by the union. It comes in the wake of Trump leading the Republican field, though receiving a series of body blows over recent weeks in elections, with a sharp focus on immigration and the border. The vote to endorse came through an 11-person board of the NBPC, though the union would not reveal the vote count. Now, Local 1929 says that they don’t like the endorsement and may move to remain neutral.