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Editorial: Bipartisan effort to bring ethics reform long overdue

Two lawmakers, one from each party, think New Mexicans have had a gut full of public corruption. We would concur.

Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque, and Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, are sponsoring a constitutional amendment that, if passed and if voters statewide also concur, would create an independent agency to deal with complaints against legislators, other elected officials, lobbyists and government employees.

The commission would look into allegations of ethics, campaign finance and procurement problems. The complaints no longer would be anonymous and hearings would be public.

Corruption in government is a long-standing but unfortunate tradition in New Mexico.

In 2015, Dianna Duran, twice elected as Secretary of State, had to step down after misusing campaign donations to feed a gambling habit. She recently finished spending a month in the Santa Fe County jail after pleading guilty to several charges.

Phil Griego of San Jose resigned in disgrace from the state Senate rather than face an ethics probe into his role in a real estate deal involving a state-owned building in which he got a $50,000 broker’s fee.

Then of course there are the two former state treasurers who did prison time for corruption. And the former state Senate leader who went to federal prison for his involvement in a construction scandal.

The Committee for Economic Development and the University of New Mexico recently reported that “New Mexico’s economy is stagnant, largely because of the state’s reputation for corruption and crony capitalism and an environment that fosters pay to play behavior.”

And ethics reform has the broad backing of business. A recent poll by Research & Polling Inc. for the Committee for Economic Development found that 82 percent of New Mexico business leaders support the creation of an independent ethics commission.

Earlier attempts at ethics reform have died in part over lack of transparency. And the Journal has opposed past attempts at creating an ethics commission because they would have let appointees of politicians with re-election on their minds operate in secret and would have gagged or led to the prosecution of whistleblowers. But this one is different. The nine-member commission would be balanced politically and requires a supermajority of six votes for action to be taken.

This even-handed and transparent approach would go a long way toward making sure government works for the benefit of all.

House Resolution 5 has passed the Government, Elections & Indian Affairs and House Judiciary committees. The full House and then the Senate should pass this resolution so New Mexico voters can weigh in on cleaning up state government and making sure it stays that way.

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.