ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In arguing to abolish the constitutional provision that provides for an acting governor when she is out of state, Gov. Susana Martinez has cited trips to her hometown of El Paso, just across the New Mexico/Texas border.
“If I go to Texas, I’m not the governor anymore,” Martinez said a couple weeks ago.
Under the New Mexico Constitution, the lieutenant governor is acting governor when the real governor is “absent from the state.” Serving as acting governor comes with all the powers of the office and an extra $250 in pay for each day in the position.
There is no requirement, however, that the governor tell the lieutenant governor when he or she is out of state, and Martinez hasn’t been informing Lt. Gov. John Sanchez of every trip she makes to El Paso.
“Notification would simply depend on the duration/purpose of the visit,” Martinez spokesman Scott Darnell said in an e-mail.
Darnell said the governor typically visits her father and other family in El Paso for a few hours if she is in southern New Mexico on a weekend. Martinez’s home is in Las Cruces.
Sanchez chief of staff Mark Van Dyke declined to comment on the lack of notification.
You could argue Martinez is breaching protocol by not telling Sanchez of every trip to El Paso, but it’s hard to imagine that her being there and Sanchez not knowing it could significantly slow government’s response to an emergency. Martinez’s State Police security detail could have her back in the state in minutes.
The Governor’s Office has notified Sanchez when the governor has made longer out-of-state trips on government or political business, but Martinez doesn’t believe we need an acting governor for those times either.
“She is expected to serve in her formal capacity as New Mexico’s governor in these and others settings, and as such, in the communications age we live in, it seems contradictory that the governor would stop being the governor at the state line,” Darnell said.
The constitutional provision for an acting governor also raises questions about the governor’s authority to make official decisions or sign documents while out of state.
The administration provided a travel log for Martinez showing she had been out of state for part or all of 27 days between Jan. 1, the day she took office, and Nov. 16. The log didn’t include trips to El Paso.
Gov. Bill Richardson was out of state much more than that in his first months in office in 2003, and he also didn’t always tell Lt. Gov. Diane Denish when he left New Mexico.
Martinez is in Orlando, Fla., this week for a meeting of the Republican Governors Association. The association is paying her expenses, according to Darnell.
Van Dyke, chief of staff to Sanchez, said the lieutenant governor, when serving as acting governor, stays in close contact with Martinez’s staff in case an emergency occurs. Also, he said, Sanchez may request a security detail if he travels outside the Albuquerque/Santa Fe area.
Although the Office of the Lieutenant Governor is in Santa Fe, Sanchez generally works out of his home in Albuquerque and is doing so this week, Van Dyke said.
Sanchez, who apparently has never been elected to a job he really wanted to be in for long, took office with Martinez but is a candidate for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in next June’s election. He ran unsuccessfully for governor shortly after being elected to the state House of Representatives in 2000.
There has been some friction between Martinez and Sanchez as a result of his Senate bid. The governor has said she won’t give him any responsibilities “beyond the select few provided for in the state Constitution.” The lieutenant governor also has some duties under New Mexico law, including serving on several boards and commissions.
Sanchez hasn’t sought reimbursement for any travel expenses incurred while on government business and hasn’t filed for the extra $250 for each day he has served as lieutenant governor, Van Dyke said.
He said Sanchez “takes a salary that is constitutionally set for him” and believes it is sufficient. Actually, the annual salary of $85,000 is set by state statute, not the state Constitution.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Thom Cole at email@example.com or 505-992-6280 in Santa Fe. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal