“In case the governor is absent from the state, or is for any reason unable to perform his duties, the lieutenant governor shall act as governor, with all the powers, duties and emoluments of that office until such disability be removed.”
— New Mexico Constitution, Article V, Section 7
In an era where cellphones, text messages and Internet communication are ubiquitous, is it really a “disability” to state government when the governor crosses the state line?
And is there any guarantee the governor will tell the lieutenant governor when he/she crosses the state line?
The answer to both is no. When Gov. Susana Martinez visits her father in El Paso, just minutes from the New Mexico/Texas state line, she is still reachable for important discussions and decisions and has the capability to return to Santa Fe on short notice. And when a wildfire was ravaging the Manzano Mountains in May 2008, then-Gov. Bill Richardson flew off to Churchill Downs to campaign for Barack Obama, then headed to Philadelphia to get an award, without bothering to call Lt. Gov. Diane Denish to let her know she was in charge.
The simple fact is the succession-of-powers provision of the New Mexico Constitution was written for a pre-iPhone/BlackBerry/Skype world. And while not defending poor constitutional etiquette, the fact is the governor has a staff that is up to speed on various gubernatorial issues, one completely separate from the lieutenant governor’s.
Changing the Constitution requires both chambers of the Legislature as well as voters to approve an amendment. It’s not something that can be done easily, nor should it be taken lightly.
The same goes for turning over the responsibility of leading the state. Lawmakers should pursue a constitutional amendment updating the succession-of-powers provision for the modern technological world.
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.