The state Senate on Saturday took action to lessen the chance that voters could choose a political odd couple as nominees for governor and lieutenant governor.
Senators voted 20-10 for a bill that would do away with primary election for lieutenant governor. Under Senate Bill 178, a major party’s gubernatorial nominees would get to choose their own running.
The bill is sponsored by Sens. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, and Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque. Moores, who was chief of staff for former Lt. Gov. Walter Bradley, said the current system of lieutenant governor candidates running in a separate primary election has an obvious drawback.
That system, Moores said, “creates the very real possibility that the governor and lieutenant governor might not get along or agree on policy.”
“That’s happened in the past,” he said, mentioning former Gov. Bruce King, who in the early 1990s feuded with then-Lt. Gov. Casey Luna. Luna ran against King in the 1994 Democratic primary. Another one of King’s previous lieutenant governors, Roberto Mondragon, ran as a Green Party candidate in that year’s general election.
Incumbent King lost to Republican Gary Johnson in a close election that year.
All 10 of the “no” votes on the bill were by Democrats.
“The issue of compatibility is important, but what about the voters?” asked Sen. Bill O’Neill, D-Albuquerque, saying he prefers the current system.
Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales, agreed. “Let the voters of the two parties decide,” he said. “We have a tradition here in New Mexico.”
Presiding over the Senate was Lt. Gov. John Sanchez, who was Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s running mate in 2010 and 2014 and was the GOP nominee for governor in 2002. Sanchez said he supports each party’s gubernatorial candidate choosing his or her own running mate.
Though he and Martinez have not publicly feuded, they rarely appear together in public.
When Sanchez announced what turned out to be a short-lived U.S. Senate bid in 2011, Martinez issued an icy press release. “To prevent this race from becoming a distraction, Lt. Gov. Sanchez will not be given responsibilities in my administration beyond the select few provided for in the state Constitution,” she said.
The bill next goes to the House of Representatives. If it passes there and is signed into law by the governor, it would not go into effect until the 2022 election.
In the current election, five Democrats and one Republican are running for lieutenant governor.
The original version of the bill would have left it to the major parties to establish their own method to select the lieutenant governor candidate. But Sen. Bill Payne, R-Albuquerque, pushed through an amendment to allow gubernatorial nominees to choose their running mates.
The duties of the lieutenant governor, who makes $85,000 a year, are few. They include serving as the president of the state Senate, acting as governor when the governor leaves the state and being an ombudsman for constituent concerns.