Guest Editorial: Ethics reform is long overdue

Las Cruces Sun-News
Dec. 6

Democrats in the New Mexico House of Representatives announced Tuesday they would take another crack at ethics reform in the upcoming legislative session, in the wake of the recent criminal conviction of former Secretary of State Dianna Duran and current probes of state Taxation and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla and the governor’s top adviser, Jay McCleskey.

Guest Editorial

They are calling for the creation of a state ethics commission, reform of the state’s weak campaign finance reporting laws and a new law that would take away the pensions from convicted officials like Duran, who held on to her pension as part of a plea deal.

If all of this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because all of these proposals have been introduced before — only to be shot down by lawmakers who take the notion of additional oversight as a personal affront to their honesty and character.

We strongly approve of all the measures proposed, but have serious reservations about their hopes for success, given that the package is being presented as coming solely from House Democrats. The sad truth is, Democrats couldn’t pass ethics reform when they controlled both the House and the Senate. It seems unlikely their prospects will be any better now that they are in the minority in the House.

It remains to be seen if the proposals will even get a hearing next year. Because this will be a 30-day budget session, any bills not dealing with the budget have to be approved by Gov. Susana Martinez, and she has not yet indicated if she will allow these bills to move forward. We hope she does.

The last time there was a big push for ethics reform in the state came a few years ago following a flurry of arrests and convictions of public officials including Senate President pro tem Manny Aragon and former Treasurers Robert Vigil and Michael Montoya. All were Democrats, which may be why Democrats who controlled the Legislature were resistant to reforms introduced in response to those embarrassments.

This time the embarrassments are on the other side of the aisle.

Instead of working with Republicans, House Minority Leader Brian Egolf blasted them at a news conference introducing the proposals, according to the Santa Fe New Mexican, saying that those in the other party aren’t interested in solving problems. That’s not going to be helpful.

Playing politics on these issues is a sure way to defeat. Public officials in both parties have been tainted by scandals. Voters in both parties are sick and tired of the corruption and want to see tough, effective laws to crack down on it.

This is not about who gets the credit or who gets the blame. It’s not about gathering incriminating soundbites to use in the next election. It is about fixing a woefully inadequate set of state ethics laws that invite public corruption and scandal.