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Editorial: Requiring OK from Gov.’s aide is bad move

Gov. Susana Martinez has decided that two of the Legislature’s permanent interim committees will have to pass all their requests for documents and information from state agencies through her chief of staff, rather than going directly to the source.

It’s a bad idea that should be put on the shelf.

And it’s a move that smacks of the way her predecessor, Gov. Bill Richardson played the Santa Fe game.

The governor’s new directive in essence tells her executive agencies not to cooperate with information requests from the Legislative Finance Committee and Legislative Education Study Committee until her chief of staff gives the green light.

The Legislative Finance Committee and the Legislative Education Study Committee for years have kept tabs on how state government operates. They have had direct access to agencies and departments and shouldn’t need to get permission from the Governor’s Office to do their jobs. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are puzzled and annoyed by this unnecessary flexing of executive muscle.

House Minority Leader Donald Bratton, a Republican from Hobbs, said, “In this day of movement toward greater and greater transparency with regard to what we do with the people’s money and how we’re accountable for the use of those tax dollars, it makes more sense to be more open rather than more restrictive.”

LFC Chairman Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela, a Santa Fe Democrat, says the governor’s directive is an effort to control information the LFC is entitled to under state law. He calls it unprecedented.

The move brings back some bad memories.

Richardson blasted the Legislative Finance Committee after it produced an unfavorable audit of his state Personnel Office. He also ordered media requests for information funneled through his office instead of permitting state agencies to respond on their own, which was a way to slow the release of information.

It was petty and unproductive then; and it is now.

If the governor is trying to thwart the committees because of the possibility of reports critical of her initiatives – especially in an election year – she should remember that some of their reports have supported her goals. A recent one on ineffective college-level remedial classes makes a case for her public education reform efforts. The bipartisan heavy lifting done by the LFC and LESC cuts both ways.

Martinez in 2011 said in an address to the New Mexico Press Association that “since day one, state government will be more transparent, more accessible and more accountable.”

If she still feels that way, she should restore full and unfettered access to both committees.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.