Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

11-18 Lieutenant governors are a nuisance

111811 Lt Gov

SANTA FE – Here we go again. The lieutenant governor is getting in the governor's way. They are such a nuisance. Why do we even have them?
That, by the way, is a good question. Some states don't have lieutenant governors. And those states do just fine. New Mexico governors not only are saddled with lieutenant governors, the lieutenant governors get to be full time employees if they desire. And why wouldn't they want to be on the top floor of the Merry Roundhouse in the middle of all the action?
The problem is that they don't have anything to do except preside over the Senate when it is in session. And, oh yes, take over for the governor when he or she can't serve or is out of state. A century ago, when our constitution was written, governors didn't travel out of state often and when they did, they weren't as accessible as they are now.
Gov. Susana Martinez believes the travel provision now is archaic and should be repealed. In reality, that is the way it happens now. The governor's staff and cabinet secretaries handle the operation of state government anyway. When the governor is out of state, nothing changes. If something unusual occurs when the governor is out of state, a quick check with the governor is easy enough.
It isn't practical for the reins of government to be turned over to a separate elected official every time the governor sets foot outside the state. The lieutenant governor is not answerable to the governor. Lt. Gov. John Sanchez is free to do whatever he desires and Gov. Martinez can't fire him for it.
The lieutenant governor is not part of the governor's team. They are in the middle of the action at the Roundhouse but they aren't part of it. If something unusual happens, lieutenant governors are as likely as not to find out in the morning paper.
So that is not who you want to take over government temporarily every week or so. The governor's team has to stay in control. The lieutenant governor cannot give orders to the governor's team or cabinet secretaries.
According to an Albuquerque Journal article, Gov. Martinez wants a constitutional amendment to retain her power when she leaves the state. That's fine but she will have to spend a great amount of political capital convincing the Legislature and then New Mexico voters to make the change.
It would be much cheaper politically to hammer out an agreement with Lt. Gov. John Sanchez as to what he will do when Gov. Martinez is out of state. Authorizing an acting governor to sign a certain bill or bills is a common courtesy.
The lieutenant governor sometime might arrange to be out of state at the same time as the governor, thereby making the secretary of state be acting governor for a day or so.
The chain continues down through the president pro tem of the Senate to the House speaker. Delegation that far down the line is not likely this term. Since both are Democrats, it could be risky. Former Lt. Gov. Diane Denish signed a bill last year that she wanted but Gov. Richardson didn't.
The possibility also exists that Martinez's poor relationship with Lt. Gov. Sanchez may be the reason Martinez does not want to relinquish control. She denies it. The reason could be that Gov. Martinez simply doesn't want to tell anybody when she briefly leaves the state because she doesn't want the word leaking out and getting to the media.
Gov. Richardson occasionally did not have his staff notify Lt. Gov. Denish's staff when he was briefly going somewhere fun, such as sporting events. But the media always found out and Denish would read about it in the next morning's paper.
So as long as we are talking about taking away one of the lieutenant governor's last political powers, let's consider taking back the full-time employment option too.


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