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Pearce, Lujan Grisham make ethics pitch to voters

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico voters this fall will decide whether to establish an independent ethics commission to hear complaints against elected officials, lobbyists and others.

But the ballot also features two candidates for governor who have their own ideas for addressing corruption and misconduct in a state that’s been hit repeatedly by ethics scandals.

Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham and Republican Steve Pearce both say they support the proposed constitutional amendment to create a seven-member ethics commission.

And they have plenty of ideas beyond that, too.

Pearce said this week that he would push for a package of anti-corruption legislation – including creation of a panel of retired judges who would help vet ethical questions centering on state contracts and actions by the State Investment Council.

In a news conference, he said he would also push to expand whistle-blower protections and add ombudsmen to state departments, increase transparency and record-keeping requirements, and prohibit state and elected officials from having government contracts, even through nonprofit agencies.

“We must,” he said, “restore faith in our institutions. … Corruption breeds incompetence, and incompetence eventually breaks the will of the people.”

Lujan Grisham’s campaign said she would work to ensure that the proposed ethics commission, if approved by voters, would be adequately funded and that follow-up legislation would give “it real power to hold those in office or government accountable,” her spokesman, James Hallinan, said Friday.

Lujan Grisham also supports enhanced disclosure requirements for lobbyists, including more detail on their spending to influence lawmakers, her campaign said. She also supports making lobbyists disclose what bills they’re supporting or opposing, and for whom they’re doing that work.

She is also committed, Hallinan said, to improving New Mexico’s Sunshine Portal, which has often failed to publish required data.

Lujan Grisham “supports laws that will strengthen transparency and ethics protections in New Mexico,” Hallinan said.

Both candidates are giving up seats in Congress to run for governor. The winner will succeed Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican.

Pearce’s call for a prohibition on elected officials having government contracts comes as he aggressively attacks Lujan Grisham for her past ties to a company that helps run New Mexico’s high-risk insurance pool.

Lujan Grisham divested herself from the company last year. Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, is still the firm’s president.

Lujan Grisham, in turn, has slammed Pearce for his joint ownership of companies that have, or used to have, ties to the oil industry, which is regulated by the state. Pearce says that his business interests wouldn’t present a conflict and that he has properly disclosed them.

The back-and-forth has made ethics a centerpiece of the final stretch of campaigning heading into Nov. 6.

Voters are also weighing creation of the ethics commission, which would function as a clearinghouse for complaints involving state officials, legislative employees, lobbyists and government contractors.

If it is approved, the Legislature and next governor would enact follow-up legislation outlining some of the details, such as when complaints would be made public.

New Mexico is one of only eight states that don’t have independent ethics commissions.

Charges of public corruption have rocked New Mexico’s political landscape in recent years. In March, former state Sen. Phil Griego, D-San Jose, began a prison sentence after he was convicted for his role in the sale of a historic state building.

Former Cabinet Secretary Demesia Padilla, who once oversaw the state Taxation and Revenue Department, is scheduled to appear in court for a preliminary hearing next week over whether she should face trial on public corruption charges.