Thursday, December 10, 2009

Roundhouse Roundup: Yes Virginia, There IS an Ethics Committee

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
December 10, 2009

As lawmakers continue the debate on whether to establish an independent ethics commission to investigate possible bad behavior, one can only hope that the state doesn't use an existing state ethics panel as a model.

I'm talking about the Interim Legislative Ethics Committee, which has been around since 1993.

In a story in Wednesday's paper about the alleged altercation between Reps. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup, and Sandra Jeff, D-Crownpoint, I mistakenly said the committee hadn't met in more than 10 years. That's inaccurate. But not by much.

It is accurate to say that the committee has never taken action against any legislator. In fact, the last time the Legislature itself took action against one of its own was in 1992 in the case of Rep. Ron Olguin, D-Albuquerque. The Legislature voted to censure him. A jury later found him guilty of accepting a bribe.

According to the state Legislature's Web site, the committee has opined — or declined to opine — on a few ethical questions brought to it by legislators. Listed on the Web site are a total of 11 advisory opinions and letters. That's 11 since 1994.

In fairness, these don't include cases of possible misconduct considered by the committee. And it's not public information how many cases there have been — if indeed there have been any at all. If ILEC decides to dismiss a case, it is kept secret. Obviously if the committee has looked at alleged misconduct through the years, all of them have been dismissed.

I would wager that there have been very few such cases before that committee at least since I've been covering the Capitol. There are 16 lawmakers on this committee. That's a lot of people to keep a secret.

So what do they do? According to ILEC documents posted on the Web site, many of the questions raised deal with when it's appropriate and not appropriate to use Legislature letterheads, etc. One, answering a question by former Sen. Leonard Lee Rawson, R-Las Cruces, dealt with when it's appropriate to use the state seal.

No, there's no mention in the committee's response of the decorative piece hanging in former Sen. Manny Aragon's bedroom.

Bipartisan love: The roads froze over in Santa Fe this week. Now I'm worried about Hell.

First there was an item on the Rio Grande Foundation's blog, Errors of Enchantment, that praised — yes praised — Gov. Bill Richardson. The conservative think tank likes the governor's recent idea for a committee to look at ways to cut waste in government. "We at the Rio Grande Foundation applaud Gov. Richardson for his willingness to look beyond tax hikes in closing New Mexico's massive budget deficits," foundation director Paul Gessing wrote. "The naming of this commission is a good first step."

Then Internet reporter Heath Haussamen got a surprise on his Facebook page this week. In response to a post about State Auditor Hector Balderas, conservative Republican blogger Mario Burgos wrote, "I've got to admit I was a pretty vocal critic when Hector was being considered for the position since he lacked an accounting background, but I've been impressed with his commitment and performance to date," Burgos wrote. "I may be partisan, but I'm more than willing to put politics aside when someone is doing a great job. Keep it up Mr. Auditor."

Haussamen also quotes House Minority Whip Keith Gardner, R-Roswell, also praising Balderas' job as auditor.

Hazy history: A little mea culpa here. Recently in a story about Lt. Gov. Diane Denish's candidacy for governor, I left out the name of one of the state's lieutenant governors who went on to become governor. That would be Andrew Hockenhull, who became governor in 1933 when Gov. Arthur Seligman died.

So that makes three, the others being Washington Lindsey, who became governor in 1917 when the state's second governor, Ezequiel C. de Baca, died a month after taking office, and Tom Bollack, who became governor in November 1962 and served less than two months after Gov. Edwin Mechem resigned and was appointed by Bollack to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat.

None of the three ever won election as governor, so the point stands that the lieutenant governor's post is not a traditional stepping stone to the New Mexico governor's office.