The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Another viewpoint: Ethics prosecutions awfully partisan


November 3, 2019

One of the funnest things about living in New Mexico is keeping up with the scandals perpetrated by our elected officials. It’s not just a state: it’s an ongoing Judge Judy episode.

According to the Coalition for Integrity (C4I), New Mexico ranked as the 10th most corrupt state in 2018. The interesting point about this study is that rankings were made solely on the states’ existing ethics and transparency codes.

So, we’re set up for corruption by statute (or lack thereof). And we have gotten used to it as citizens.

It seems that New Mexicans only get up in arms over bad behavior when it’s committed by politicians from the opposite party. Our own folks get a bye.

Let’s take DUI. We’ve had two legislators nabbed in the last two years for driving under the influence.

Last year a Republican was arrested in Bernalillo County. The police leaked the arrest footage, and “someone” ensured it got picked up nationally and internationally. The prosecutor made sure the trial would happen before the election. She was arrested in May, convicted by the end of September. She lost her re-election bid in November.

That’s a pretty amazing result for New Mexico and for Bernalillo County. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, N.M. generally does a poor job of prosecuting DUI offenders — statewide we have about a 34% conviction rate. Bernalillo County is even worse; 16% of arrests in resulted in conviction. Yet, somehow, prosecutorial forces got it together to evince a rare conviction in the case of a Republican lawmaker.

Did I mention that the district attorney prosecuting the case is a Democrat?

This year, a Democrat was arrested in Rio Arriba County at the end of June. Also, arrest footage was released to the media. So far, however, there is little progress; seven different judges have recused themselves or been bumped off the case. A trial date was set for mid-November, and the senator’s counsel is requesting a jury trial. Meanwhile, the senator retains his chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he has no intention of resigning if convicted, and is planning to stand for reelection in 2020.

The senator will probably be OK, though. According to MADD, Rio Arriba County has barely a 5% conviction rate. And there hasn’t been an elected Republican there since I think ever.

Then there’s campaign finance. The former Republican secretary of state was aggressively prosecuted in 2015 by the Democrat attorney general for misuse of campaign finance funds, to the tune of $13,000. She pleaded guilty to diverting funds to private accounts to pay gambling debts and resigned.

Meanwhile, our current lieutenant governor spent over $15,000 in campaign funds on private jets in October of 2018. No outrage, investigation or even interest.

Maybe — just maybe — the newly appointed bipartisan State Ethics Commission can make some headway not just on ethics violations, but also toward nonpartisan, apolitical prosecution of same. Unfortunately the Legislature that reluctantly created it continues to drag its feet — the first meeting of the Legislative Ethics Committee (LEC) was postponed two months and held on Oct. 21. No one from the public attended.

You don’t have to be transparent if no one shows up.

Let’s hope that either the public starts paying attention or the LEC publishes its meeting schedule. For the moment, though, it’s a bad time to be on the wrong side of the aisle as well as the wrong side of the law.

Merritt Hamilton Allen is a public relations executive and former Navy officer. Her column was first published in the Edgewood Independent.


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