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Public role urged for NM Ethics Commission

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From left, House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, sits next to the newly sworn-in members of the state ethics commission July 1: retired Judge William Lang, former college administrator Judy Villanueva, Santa Fe attorney Stuart Bluestone, former Gov. Garrey Carruthers and former White Sands Missile Range official Frances Williams. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE, N.M. — Stuart Bluestone, a member of New Mexico’s newly established Ethics Commission, said Monday that he hopes the new agency will do more than just investigate and rule on allegations of misconduct at the Capitol.

The seven-member board, he said, should also make educating the public and officeholders a centerpiece of its work to promote ethical conduct. Issuing advisory opinions, for example, will be an important part of the board’s work, he said.

“We know we have to stay vigilant as a commission,” Bluestone, a Santa Fe attorney, said Monday during a luncheon sponsored by New Mexico Ethics Watch, a nonpartisan watchdog group.

But as with any prosecutor’s office, he said, the ideal scenario is “no business” – because everyone is following the rules.

Bluestone’s comments came during a panel discussion at the University of New Mexico Continuing Education building in Albuquerque. Also participating were retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Bosson, who is chairman of New Mexico Ethics Watch, and author and former state Sen. Dede Feldman.

Bosson and Feldman outlined the political, judicial and legislative history that shaped the push for an independent ethics commission in New Mexico.

Building public support, the panelists said, is critical. Legislation outlining how the new commission would operate looked dead for much of this year’s session, until legislative leaders and others stepped in to move the bill forward, they said.

“It only happened,” Bluestone said, “because they knew the public was concerned about it, and was watching and wanting it to happen.”

Until this year, New Mexico was one of just six states without an independent ethics board. New Mexico voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment establishing the commission in 2018, but it was left to the Legislature to pass legislation setting up the details of how the group would operate.

New Mexico’s Ethics Commission now has five members, led by retired Judge William Lang.

The board still needs two more members and is seeking applicants by Aug. 1. The final appointees are likely to be a Republican and a person who’s either unaffiliated or a member of a minor party, Bluestone said, because of the partisan makeup of the current members and the rules designed to keep the board from being dominated by one political party.

Bluestone is a former chief deputy attorney general, appointed to the ethics board by House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe.

The new commission is operating in a limited role now and may start hearing complaints in January.

Also at Monday’s luncheon, Ethics Watch honored five high school students who entered an ethics essay contest: Lesa Rae Waterer and Brooke Blankenship of Volcano Vista High School, Max Cassady of St. Pius X, Tina Memarian of La Cueva and Taylor Rogers of Cloudcroft.

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