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Editorial: New Mexico’s AG, auditor should take high ground

When the attorney general of the state of New Mexico is asked for a legal opinion, or to seek redress in a civil matter, or to look into prosecution of an alleged wrongdoing, you expect that office to carry out its duties irrespective of party lines.

Ditto when the state auditor is doing the work of that office to ensure public money is being used as intended and that all is accounted for.

These are offices that should by definition inspire confidence fueled in part by a sense of impartiality. They are supposed to be governed by rule of law and protect the taxpayers’ bottom line.

Yet this month both AG Hector Balderas and Auditor Tim Keller, as they jockey for position in the next election, have sent out emails not just scrounging for donations, but specifically asking either for money to knock Republicans out of office and keep and elect their fellow Democrats or to support “candidates who will join in our fight. …”

While neither pitch came via their official government emails, you can’t separate either office holder from his office. And that raises the question why either the public or a member of another political party would think they would get “a fair shake from government” (Keller on the auditor website). And why the public wouldn’t expect that a Democrat would get a pass, given Balderas’ pontificating in his party fundraising email, “The GOP-Koch Bros. machine is serious, but we will show them that we aren’t playing either.”

Of course both are elected in partisan races. But the Office of the Attorney General should be above partisan politics in its work, above political pandering like “Democrats statewide have an opportunity to take back the state house, maintain our majority in the state senate, and keep New Mexico blue for the presidency.” Balderas might as well have said, “and as attorney general I’ll do everything I can to make that happen.”

And the state Auditor’s Office should be above picking sides and spouting party talking points, focusing instead on professionalism in its audit work.

New Mexicans elected Balderas to be their chief law enforcement officer and to enforce the rule of law for everyone, and Keller to safeguard everyone’s public dollars. Unfortunately, their foray into this particular brand of partisanship will open future decisions by their offices up to question and criticism about whether those decisions were motivated by their stated political objectives, or whether they plan to treat New Mexicans of all political stripes equitably and fairly.

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.