Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

2-15 Clarifications Needed

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- When does a New Mexico governor's authority end and a lieutenant governor's begin? In many cases, we don't know. Some clarification not only would be nice, it might be crucial some day.
Attorney General Gary King has issued an opinion stating that Lt. Gov. Diane Denish's acceptance of bills from the Legislature was valid because nothing in state law prohibits the lieutenant governor from accepting legislation on behalf of the governor.
Obviously that means nothing in state law gives her that authority either, which is the argument of the governor's office. So why did King take Denish's side?
The attorney general ruled that the governor's constitutional veto power is an executive encroachment on the legislative function, an exception to the doctrine of separation of powers and, as such, it must be strictly construed.
King cited a 1979 attorney general's opinion as precedent for his opinion. That doesn't carry as much weight as a supreme court opinion but it still puts the attorney general on firm legal ground.
There has been some bad blood between Richardson and the King family since soon after Richardson arrived in the state 30 years ago, but King can defend himself on this position.
Attorney General King also said that it is unclear whether the state constitution requires the governor to keep his offices open or otherwise make himself available at all times during a legislative session to accept bills presented by the Legislature.
However, King noted, a U.S. Supreme Court decision directs that a governor cannot intentionally evade a legislature's attempt to present a bill to delay the time of presentment and his constitutional duty to act.
Some legislative leaders contend that is exactly what Richardson was trying to do. But James Jimenez, the governor's chief of staff contends that some senators told his staff they would be going home for the evening, so the staff believed it would be all right for them to knock off also.
But the governor's staff did not wait for either legislative house to recess for the evening and Legislative Council Service director Paula Tackett informed the attorney general that the legislative staff had notified the governor's staff that bills would be presented to them Saturday afternoon or evening.
As it turns out, the Senate leaders who had mislead the governor's office about quitting for the evening were playing a game with the House, saying they would go home if the House didn't immediately agree to approve its bills without change.
The House capitulated, but the Senate got caught at its own game by giving the governor's staff at least a small excuse to go home on a Saturday evening. Blogger Joe Monahan reports that Gov. Richardson was on his way to a Lobo basketball game as all this was unfolding.
Regardless of the outcome of the present situation, some clarification of authority and responsibility between the executive and legislative branches should help resolve future conflicts before they occur.
The question of when a lieutenant governor takes over for a governor needs some clarification too. It has been hazy ever since 1971, when the lieutenant governor's office became an optional full time post.
Before that, there wasn't much doubt. Tibo Chavez, lieutenant governor under Ed Mechem in the early 1950s, summed it up best when he observed that his duties consisted of calling the governor's office from his Belen home every morning and inquiring as to the governor's health.
But full time lieutenant governors like to have something to do. Lt. Gov. Casey Luna was the supreme example. Gov. Bruce King never could keep him busy enough.
In December 1993, King was out of state when the Navajos asked for help following a severe snow storm. Luna move in to act only to learn that King's chief of staff already had called out the National Guard.
That was the last straw for Luna. A month later, he announced to run against Gov. King.
FRI, 2-15-08

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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