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Ethics Reform for Dummies: The Journal doesn’t get it, but Sherry Robinson does

The legislative session passed the mid-point of the sixty-day session last week, and the major ethics reform bills are still in the Senate Rules Committee.

Bills still waiting for their day are ones to establish an independent ethics commission, Clean Elections public financing, and contributions limits (N.M. is one of only five states with no limits whatsoever).

Bear in mind that this is the calendar dictated by Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez. Every year, the major ethics reform bills always seem to get to the Senate floor just hours before the end of the session. And that’s where they die outright or get tagged with last minute amendments that send them back to the house as the clock runs out.

In 2007, it was Senator Sanchez who slipped through a bill (later vetoed by the Governor) that would have overturned the state disclosure law that requires candidates and officeholders to file reports electronically to the secretary of state’s website where they can be accessed by the public.

Sanchez offered this excuse to reporter Steve Terrell of the SF New Mexican: “This isn’t trying to hide campaign-finance reports. It’s for people like me who aren’t very good at computers or access to the Internet.” Sanchez also strongly opposes attempts to open legislative conference committees to the public.

But this year, with the public clamor for ethics reform growing and the new media subjecting his actions to greater scrutiny, Sanchez seems to have altered his obstructionist tactics. _Instead of the usual stealthy burial of reform, he’s opted for “the big idea” rollout. Early in the session he held a press conference to announce he wants to hold all of the ethics bills up in Rules Committee and then roll them into one big omnibus ethics bill.

And wouldn’t you know it, the Albuquerque Journal has bought into this scheme. In one of the most inane editorials in recent memory, the morning daily endorsed the Sanchez plan.

One veteran of the ethics reform fight, Senator Dede Feldman (D-Albuq.), recently expressed concern about this omnibus catch-all approach, “One disagreeable detail can then easily derail the whole bill.” Indeed, one big omnibus bill will make it much simpler for the ethics reform opponents to build a coalition out of an ensemble of discreetly disagreeable details.

It’s a simple plan.

Just take the five senators who can’t abide by open conference committees. Check. Then add another nine who like raising money without contribution limits. You know, the ones who represent safe districts and never have to worry about electoral opposition. Check.

Now throw in the some supporters of Attorney General Gary King, who introduced ethics commission bills without subpoena power independent of his veto, and presto – you’ve killed ethics reform for another year.

No, the Journal doesn’t get it. But Sherry Robinson does.

One of New Mexico’s finest journalists over the last thirty years, Sherry Robinson has seen it all. And she’s not buying it either.

For those of us in Albuquerque who miss her reporting (she was the Trib’s business editor before leaving in 2002), Sherry is producing a column, called “All She Wrote,” that appears regularly in small town newspapers around the state.

Contrast her recent opinion piece with the pap on the Journal editorial page. She asks and then answers the question, “so who’s stood in the way of ethics reform?”

Hands down, the single biggest obstacle has been Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez. The Belen Democrat has argued repeatedly that the crooks were in the Treasurer’s Office, not the Legislature. “What did the Legislature do to warrant the push for change?” he asked. Even after his own chamber’s former president was indicted, he was still dragging his feet…

Close behind Sanchez is Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, a Portales Republican, who has said, “You can’t legislate ethics. You either have ethics or you don’t.”

One of the biggest obstacles to reform is gone now, but he still drew Sherry’s fire.

Former Minority Whip Leonard Lee Rawson gets the award for talking out of both sides of his mouth.

While running for re-election this year, the Las Cruces Republican said he supported creation of an independent state ethics commission. He defined “independent” as a commission controlled by the Legislature with authority to investigate and punish all three branches of government… Rawson told a trade group. “The Legislature is fed up with corruption issues. All the ethical breaches are in the executive branch, in the agencies. There’s still a lot of pay to play.”

Then he thanked a lobbyist for flying him up from Las Cruces. One reason his campaign failed was news that he got state money to pave a road outside his district that improved access to his business.

And yet through it all, she still has a good word to say for Governor Richardson.

What about the governor? He pushed too – creating a task force, introducing many of its recommendations as bills, and seeking public support. With the shadow cast by a grand jury inquiry, we’re seeing some revisionist criticism that he didn’t do enough.

But three years in a row he scuffled with the Senate after that chamber gutted or killed his bills. The Senate also trashed most of (Sen. Dede) Feldman’s bills, including one intended to stop pay-to-play deals.

You can read the whole piece here at the Raton Range website.

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