Thursday, January 04, 2007

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: ETHICS BY EXECUTIVE ORDER?

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
January 4, 2007


New Mexico isn’t the only state that’s dealing with ethics reform.

In New York, new Gov. Eliot Spitzer announced in his inaugural address this week that he’s taking action to clean up his state’s executive branch by signing an executive order mandating new rules.

But while New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is backing a strong ethics and campaign finance package in the next legislative session, don’t expect him to follow Spitzer’s example of imposing ethics rules by executive order, a spokesman said Wednesday.

Among Spitzer’s new rules for New York: State workers are not allowed to accept gifts of more than nominal value; former state employees are barred from lobbying their former agency for two years; state workers cannot donate money to the campaigns of the governor or lieutenant governor or to affiliated political action committees; directors of state agencies and other high-ranking state officials must resign their posts before running for state or federal public office; state officials are forbidden from appearing in advertisements paid for by state entities.

That last one reportedly was a frequent practice of Spitzer’s predecessor, George Pataki, who some say is running for president.

Appearing in “public service” announcementsalso is popular among New Mexico politicians as well. Richardson, Land Commissioner Pat Lyons, former Attorney General Patricia Madrid and former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron have all spent public money to get their faces on TV via “educational” spots.

At least one of those is rumored to be running for president.

Matt Brix, executive director of New Mexico Common Cause, a good-government advocacy group, likes what Spitzer did.

“It’s not incredible radical,” Brix said Wednesday. “Basically what he’s saying is, ‘I’m applying these rules to myself voluntarily and asking the (New York) legislature to codify these reforms into law for everyone.”

Brix said he’d like to see Richardson follow suit.

“Any step the governor would want to take, I’d welcome that immediately. The stronger he’s willing to come out on the issue, the more excited we are.”

The word from Camelot: Richardson and Spitzer are friends. Spitzer was in Santa Fe for a fundraiser at the Gerald Peters Gallery back in 2005 and stopped by Richardson’s office. “Wow! Look at this table. Where does King Arthur sit?” he said when he saw the huge marble monstrosity in Richardson’s Cabinet Room.

But that friendship doesn’t mean he’s going to follow Spitzer’s example and go the executive order route.

“Gov. Richardson is committed to enacting a comprehensive ethics reform package during the upcoming legislative session,” spokesman Jon Goldstein said in an e-mail Wednesday. “This includes the establishment of an independent ethics commission, limitations on gifts and campaign contributions and public financing for judicial candidates — all of which will require legislation to enact.

“In order to have the most impact, this reform must be comprehensively implemented across state government,” Goldstein said. “The governor, therefore, believes that a legislative solution is the best approach to this issue at this time.”

And seriously, can anyone imagine Richardson voluntarily pulling the plug on his “You drink, you drive, you lose” commercials?

Pulling the rip cord?: While almost everyone else seems to think Richardson’s entry into the presidential sweepstakes is inevitable, political commentator Chuck Todd of The National Journal in his column Wednesday said some believe he’ll be the next candidate to drop out.

Still, Todd ranked Richardson as the fifth most likely candidate to get the Democratic nomination.

Richardson, according to Todd, is behind U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, U.S. Sen. Barak Obama of Illinois, former U.S. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack.

Vilsack?!??

Here’s Todd’s entry on Richardson:
“Among some Democratic strategists who are not yet committed to a
candidate, there’s chatter that the next candidate to follow Warner’s and Bayh’s stares into the ’08 abyss and pull the ripcord is New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. At the end of the day, these folks claim, he’s a pragmatist. His résumé is gold, but the novelty factor (he’d be the first Hispanic) is getting eclipsed by Clinton and Obama. He does seem intent on giving this a try. Let’s see what the money reports show in the spring.”

Todd also says because of the front-loading of the ’08 primary/caucus schedule, “we should know who the two major-party nominees are by Feb. 5, 2008.” That happens to be the date of presidential caucuses in New Mexico and other Western states.

A New Year’s gift to reporters: Talk about a honeymoon with the press. New Attorney General Gary King surely won “Right ons!” in newsrooms across the state Tuesday when the first news release out of his office was an announcement about a workshop for local government employees and public board members on the Open Meetings Act and the Inspection of Public Records Act.

It was a nice symbolic move on King’s part — and let’s hope it will be well-attended and its lessons taken to heart by the gatekeepers of public information.

The only thing that would have been better would have been making it mandatory for all state and local officials involved in record keeping.

The workshop is scheduled 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesday at the State Personnel Building, Leo Griego Auditorium, 2600 Cerrillos Road in Santa Fe. Staff lawyers from the AG’s Civil Division and representatives of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government will conduct the workshop.

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