Just two days after former Secretary of State Dianna Duran was released from county jail, Gov. Susana Martinez used a small part of her fifth State of the State address to support government accountability efforts.
The nod from the governor came on the same day that good government group Common Cause released the results of a statewide survey showing broad support for ethics and campaign finance reforms. About 85 percent of New Mexicans want the legislature to create an independent ethics commission, according to the poll, conducted in December by Research and Polling, Inc.
But poll numbers don’t offer reform advocates any assurance that their ideas will translate into votes of support or the governor's signature. Bills that would create some form of ethics commission have languished in Santa Fe for years.
In her hour-long address to state lawmakers, Martinez focused on fighting violent crime, improving education and advancing economic development proposals, but she specifically mentioned the need to improve campaign finance reporting and close the revolving door between lawmakers and lobbyists.
She called for changes to the state’s much-maligned capital outlay process, saying: “We need to fix the way we spend infrastructure money, because the way projects are funded now leads to unmet regional and state needs, and a string of projects that haven’t been vetted and can’t be completed.” And she said there should be full disclosure by individual lawmakers of the projects they choose to fund with their personal pots of capital outlay money. As it is, those allocations are kept secret and critics have characterized them as secret pork.
The Santa Fe-based policy group Think New Mexico has taken on capital outlay as its good-government issue of the year, calling for a transparent, merit-based system for figuring out how $300 million in annual infrastructure spending is used.
But Martinez did not say the word “ethics” in her speech, nor did she mention an ethics commission, an idea she’s been wary of in the past.
“She missed the elephant in the room,” said House Democratic Leader Brian Egolf, who has again introduced a measure (HB 80) that would create an independent statewide ethics commission. “It’s impossible, at this point, for citizens to make complaints or to have investigations of alleged wrongdoing by public officials, and the governor is completely AWOL on the issue.”
House Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque, has also proposed an ethics commission (HJR 5). Because his bill would put the issue to voters as a constitutional amendment, it wouldn't require the governor's signature.
During 30-day sessions the governor must approve any non-financial topics before they can be debated and Martinez has indicated she’ll green-light bills related to ethics. On Tuesday she gave the nod to some of those issues and she will likely add more in the coming days.
“The question is – are elected officials going to ignore this clarion call? There are only two paths forward – more scandals, more plea bargains, more bad report cards and further erosion of public confidence – OR – the passage of real reform that sheds light on campaigns, and prevents corruption in the first place," Common Cause Executive Director Viki Harrison said Tuesday in a news release.
Although many of the governor’s proposals elicited applause, crickets could have been heard chirping after Martinez’s two sentences on government reform. She quickly followed them with a call to stop issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants—and received a standing ovation from the Republican side of the chamber.