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Lawmakers eschew email, keep info private

Editor’s note:

In advance of Sunshine Week, which starts today and promotes efforts to increase government transparency, The Associated Press compiled a state-by-state open-records update. This is the AP report for New Mexico.

SANTA FE – New Mexico legislative leaders rarely communicate by work email, and they keep private the details of breakfast and dinner appointments with industry and special interest groups, according to records obtained by The Associated Press.

The Legislature’s four top leaders provided their appointment calendars and hundreds of emails from the first week in February in response to the records request.

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Nearly all the emails came from constituents; only three were outgoing messages. A small share of the work-related calendar appointments included names of individuals and none described the content of conversations.

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez provided her daily calendar but delayed responding to the request for emails beyond the 15-day deadline for immediate inspection of records, saying her office was busy reviewing legislation during the recent legislative session.

Every state has enacted laws requiring most government meetings and records to be open to the public. But in some states, lawmakers have exempted themselves from complying.

The AP sent open records requests to the top lawmakers in all 50 states and to most governors, seeking copies of their daily schedules and emails from government accounts for the week of Feb. 1-7. The request was met with more denials than approvals.

In New Mexico, open government advocates have been pushing for more transparency, but the focus has been primarily on the accountability of lawmakers with regard to their campaign finance records and calls for changes that would shine more light on where political donations originate.

Open records requests were made to the top-ranking Republican and Democrat in each chamber of the Legislature.

House Minority Floor Leader Brian Egolf was the only lawmaker who declined to release some emails. The Santa Fe Democrat withheld three emails under an exemption for correspondence with staff at the Legislative Council Service, which helps lawmakers draft legislation.

Egolf was the only lawmaker to use his work email account to send messages. He responded twice to emails from constituents, assuring one that he would attempt to restore funding for cash welfare benefits and clarifying to another his stance on youth curfews and hate crimes legislation. He also sent a clerical request to legislative staff.

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Republican Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, a Republican farmer from Portales, said he generally does not use email and prefers to work by phone with paper and pen handy.

“I call people or I put something down on a piece of paper to sign,” Ingle said. “If somebody wants me, they call me on the phone. They talk directly to the horse’s mouth.”

The Legislative Council Service provided calendars with rough itineraries for lawmakers that included breakfasts and dinners sponsored by industry and interest groups, with a handful of redactions for personal appointments.

After-hours receptions included a Feb. 1 dinner at the Santa Fe Hilton sponsored by the New Mexico Mining Association. The group’s lobbyist reported spending $17,429 for the event. Ingle, Egolf and Democratic Senate President Mary Kay Papen listed that dinner on their calendars.

A few work-related appointments were disclosed, including a dinner at the Pink Adobe restaurant in Santa Fe between Republican Lt. Gov. John Sanchez and Papen, and a steakhouse dinner involving Ingle and David Harris, an executive vice president at the University of New Mexico.

Although the governor asked for more time to respond to the request for emails, legislators released one they received from Martinez’s political fundraising committee, Susana PAC.

The email is signed “Susana” and shares a newspaper op-ed piece written by Republican lawmakers in support of legislation for new restrictions on immigrants’ driver’s licenses. It concludes with “thank you for your continued support.”

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