Thursday, May 26, 2011

Roundhouse Roundup: When Running Mates Quit Running Together

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
May 26, 2011

Martinez & Sanchez on Election Night 2010

Unlike Bill Richardson with Diane Denish, Gov. Susana Martinez will never be accused of getting too touchy-feely with her lieutenant governor, John Sanchez.

And even if Martinez’s popularity takes a nosedive before next year’s election, it would be a real stretch for Democrats to try to talk about the “Martinez-Sanchez administration,” the way Republicans derisively referred to the “Richardson-Denish administration” in attacking Denish during the last gubernatorial race.

Several pundits have noted that Martinez and Sanchez aren’t exactly close. And neither has done much in the way of disputing that.

Unlike Denish, who frequently appeared at Richardson news conferences during his first term, I haven’t seen Sanchez at any of the Martinez conferences I’ve attended since she took office.

The truth is, I don’t even remember the two of them being in the same room since Martinez gave her State of the State address on the Legislature’s opening day in January.

The distance between them became glaringly obvious Tuesday when Martinez issued a news release wishing Sanchez well in his campaign for Senate, but adding: “To prevent this race from becoming a distraction, Lt. Governor Sanchez will not be given responsibilities in my administration beyond the select few provided for in the state Constitution.”

Sanchez is taking on former Congresswoman Heather Wilson, who headed the Martinez administration’s transition team, in the Republican primary race for the U.S. Senate. But if Sanchez doesn’t succeed in his quest to succeed U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., it will be interesting to watch how his relationship with Martinez and his role in state government develops. It seems unlikely at this point that their interactions will turn completely sour.

But few, if any, predicted in 1991 that Gov. Bruce King would be challenged by Lt. Gov. Casey Luna in the 1994 Democratic primary.

Select few responsibilities: There was a general snicker among some news dogs and political junkies at the idea of Martinez giving the lieutenant governor fewer responsibilities. In this state, the “lite gov.” has fewer real duties than any other elected state official.

Those responsibilities include presiding over the Senate when the Legislature is in session, acting as governor when the real governor leaves the state and serving as an ombudsman for constituent concerns. The lieutenant governor also is an automatic member of the Board of Finance as well as a few other boards and commissions.

It begs the question: Is this position necessary?

The Lieutenant Governor’s Office is not a real budget buster, but in years when there has been budget crunch, every little bit helps. According to information on the state Sunshine Portal, Sanchez and four staffers are paid a total of $350,000 a year.

Chief of Staff Rod Montoya recently pointed out that this is about half the size of Denish’s staff. The budget for the office in the next fiscal year totals $680,000, which allows for three additional full-time employees.

Most states do have full-time lieutenant governors. But not all.

The National Lieutenant Governors Association’s website (Yes, there is such a thing. They will meet in Puerto Rico in July) explains, “In Tennessee and West Virginia, the senate president is first in line of succession and in both states that official, by statute, is empowered with the title ‘lieutenant governor’ … In Arizona, Oregon and Wyoming, the secretary of state is first in succession, and in New Hampshire and Maine, the senate president is first in succession.”

Almost a year ago, when the conservative news website Capitol Report New Mexico floated the idea of abolishing the office of lieutenant governor, House Speaker Ben Luján, D-Nambé, said he expected the task force on government restructuring to consider it.

But that didn’t happen. And no bill ever emerged to get rid of the office. I guess the Legislature was too busy ignoring every other government restructuring and consolidation proposal to get around to ignoring this one.
Wilson: "The Governor was a surprise guest at my
speech at the Economic Forum this morning. Great to 

sit with her! These photos are a little blury [sic], 
but things  in politic move quickly! :)" 

Speaking of Capitol Report, after I filed my column, Rob Nikolewski apprently noticed this item in National Review as well as Heather Wilson's campaign Facebook page, where this photo appears.

The two Republicans were at the Economic Forum in Albuquerque where Wilson was speaking.

Martinez spokesman Scott Darnell told the
National Review that when Martinez is in Albuquerque, she tries to attend the Economic Forum and was not there specifically for Wilson's speech.

They must make pretty good eggs there for the governor to drive 60 miles for breakfast.

UPDATE: 5-26 I just corrected the caption of the top photo to state the actual year that Martinez and Sanchez were elected.