Inside the Capitol

Friday, June 24, 2011

6-29 State officials yearn for higher office

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE –- New Mexicans soon may need a scorecard to keep track of our state officials. The problem is that we are a small state and Republicans don't have a deep bench of public officials.
And that leads to jumping around between jobs. Lt. Gov. John Sanchez has been in office less than six months and has already officially declared as a candidate for the U.S. Senate.
Gov. Susana Martinez says he should resign but she can't make him do it because he also is an elected official and is immune to being bossed around by the governor.
But Gov. Martinez can give orders to her staff and has let it be known that any of them who decide to run for anything next year are outta here.
That edict would apply to Economic Development Department Secretary-Designate Jon Barela who has his eyes on the 1st Congressional District seat he narrowly lost last November.
Barela says he understands and would resign if he decides to run for Congress. The question is whether Gov. Martinez understands the effect of her position that people who work for her need to concentrate full time on their jobs.
Martinez, who has had national aspirations since she was a child, is being talked about as a possible vice-presidential candidate. Some of that talk reportedly is coming from the right people in Washington. She may have a better shot than Bill Richardson did in 2000 and 2004.
As a vice-presidential candidate, Martinez could attract minority and women's votes. She also would need to balance the ticket geographically, philosophically and in a number of other ways.
Conventional wisdom is that the extremes of both parties tend to control the nomination process. If one of the more conservative of the GOP presidential candidates were to take the nomination, Martinez might have an even stronger shot at being selected since she hasn't veered as far to the right as several other new Republican governors.
It's still a long shot but if Martinez is selected as the GOP vice-presidential candidate next summer, will she follow her own reasoning that she can't do two jobs at once.
My guess is that Martinez wouldn't step down as governor. She remained as district attorney from the time she announced for governor until hours before she was sworn into office.
Sarah Palin remained as Alaska governor while she ran for the vice presidency. The fact is that I've never known an officeholder to resign while running for something else.
But Susana Martinez has set a precedent that many New Mexicans are going to believe she should follow. If Martinez says Lt. Gov. Sanchez should resign from a position that has almost no duties, it follows that a governor should resign.
Will the public allow her to have different rules for herself? When Martinez took office, she reduced the salaries of most of her top aides but didn't reduce her own. Maybe that's the precedent.
When the GOP vice-presidential candidate is chosen next summer, John Sanchez still will be lieutenant governor. And if he wins the GOP Senate primary, he still will be a candidate. If Martinez were to be chosen as a vice-presidential candidate and resign as governor, Sanchez would become governor.
And if Sanchez were to be elected to the Senate, New Mexico would have no governor or lieutenant governor. According to my reading of the state constitution, that would make Secretary of State Dianna Duran governor.
Duran recently created major headlines by sending 64,000 voter registration forms to the state police to investigate for fraud. Her motives were widely questioned.
Former state GOP chairman John Lattauzio, of Alamogordo, defended her by noting that when Duran became Otero County Clerk in 1984, the county was solidly Democratic. Now it is solidly Republican.
That led former Lt. Gov. Diane Denish to question how that happened and whether the 64,000 questioned voter registrations might be the first step in New Mexico becoming solidly Republican.
WED, 6-29-11

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



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