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Is it possible that bold ethics reform in New Mexico could help improve our economy? A new report published several weeks ago makes this case, concluding that perceptions of cronyism in New Mexico state government may be slowing economic investment and job creation in our state.  Michael S. Rocca, an associate professor of political science at the University of New Mexico along with a team of researchers, the Committee for Economic Development and the Thornburg Foundation recently reported these findings in a new report called “Crony Capitalism, Corruption and the Economy in the State of New Mexico.”

The researchers interviewed business leaders and concluded that New Mexico’s lack of meaningful government ethics laws, including an independent ethics commission, help create a perception that New Mexico is a place where only the politically connected are rewarded.  This perception in turn makes us less attractive for investment.  Having served in the legislature for eight years, it is clear that New Mexico experiences costs beyond reduced business investment for our lack of robust governmental oversight and transparency laws.  We must do all we can to inspire the trust of all New Mexicans and those who would seek to create jobs here.

New Mexico is reportedly one of only eight states in the country that does not have an independent ethics commission overseeing state government.  According a new poll conducted by Common Cause New Mexico, 86 percent of New Mexicans support the creation of an ethics commission.

Given this research, it is clearer than ever that one of the best ideas New Mexico leaders can embrace now to improve our economy and future is to get serious about ethics reform.

Some of the most important ethics reform initiatives we should pass this session include HJR 5 – Creating and Independent Ethics Commission (Dines and Steinborn), HB 135 - Full Disclosure of all Lobbyist Spending (Steinborn), HB 136 - Disclosure of Legislative Recipients of Lobbyists Gifts and Meals (Steinborn), SB 11 - Require Independent Political Groups to Report their Donors and How their Money is Being Spent (Wirth) and HR 1 - Archiving of Legislative Committee Webcasts (Steinborn). The proposed independent ethics commission in HJR 5 would not only oversee elected officials, but also include lobbyists and government contractors.

We should also support common sense initiatives that increase citizen participation in our state’s democracy and decision making process.  One great proposal introduced this legislative session is HJR2 – Registering All Qualified Electors to Vote (J. Martinez).

With New Mexico’s tough economic and budget situation, we simply cannot afford to ignore our weak ethics polices any longer. Enacting meaningful ethics reform and citizen participation initiatives now will lead to an improved business climate, improved government performance, and new ideas and leadership to help move New Mexico forward.

Rep. Jeff Steinborn is a four-term Democratic legislator from Doña Ana County. He is a member of the Appropriations and Finance Committee and the Energy, Natural Resources, and Environment Committee.

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