Inside the Capitol

Thursday, August 20, 2009

8-24 Corruption, License Plates, Capitol Parking

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- This is often called clippings from the newsroom floor. For me it's more like orphan notes from a legal pad. Not enough to make into a column but important enough to deserve a mention.
Corruption reports from around the nation the past several months make New Mexico corruption appear to be in the bush leagues. New Jersey and New York stings rounded up state and local public officials, including the Hoboken, NJ, mayor who had just won election on a promise of doing away with corruption.
Former Illinois Gov. Rob Blagojavich has become the gold standard of government for sale. His corruption trial may yield some additional willing partners in crime.
Former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, of Louisiana, has just been sentenced to 20 years for bribery racketeering and money laundering. He was the guy with $90,000 cash in his freezer. Louisiana often has been billed as the place to get one's Ph.D. in government corruption.
New Mexico may pale in comparison to some other states. It is comforting that we are about the only ones who think New Mexico ranks at the top of the list for government corruption.
But it is still a problem that must be addressed. When businesses hear of government corruption in our state, they likely will eliminate us from any of their thoughts about coming to New Mexico. That's because it creates an unstable political situation in which to operate.
Some of our problem emanates from a plural executive with which the framers of New Mexico's constitution saddled us. Instead of the governor appointing the heads of all agencies, as the U.S. president does, we elect many other statewide officials.
Those offices include state auditor, treasurer, attorney general, secretary of state, land commissioner and five public regulation commissioners.
New Mexicans usually know very little about the people they elect to these positions. Their election campaigns are usually very low profile. Once in office, they are as independent as the governor but operate with much less scrutiny.
If the governor were to appoint these people, they would have someone looking over their shoulder. Thus far, in Gov. Bill Richardson's administration, no cabinet secretaries have gotten into trouble.
This is not to say that it won't happen in the next 16 months. And it isn't to say that any of our current statewide elected officials should be expected to get in trouble. But I'm not sure that the plural executive system is the most efficient way to run state government.
Why is it less efficient? They easily can be working at cross purposes to the governor. The governor has no control over them and is not responsible for their actions.
* * *
New Mexico has unveiled a new state license plate celebrating our 100th anniversary as a state. That date will be January 6, 2012. The plate will be turquoise, a color frequently associated with our state. But the Spanish royal colors, red and gold, which also are our state colors, are on the plate too.
The news release from the governor's office was accompanied by a colorful history of the New Mexico license plate. One step left out of the history was my favorite license plate. It identified the county in which the plate was issued.
Santa Fe County, the state capital, was #1. Bernalillo County, the most populous county, was #2. The remainder of the counties followed in numerical order according to population. It was a popular game to memorize the rank of each county and know when you saw a plate, where that car was from.
That system was discontinued in the early 1970s when the state ran out of numbers. That's when we switched to three letters.
* * *
The oft-delayed Capitol parking garage is scheduled for completion in September, in time for the special session. It was supposed to be ready for the regular legislative session last January but numerous delays, mainly due to the relocation of power lines, delayed it
MON, 8-24-09

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



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