SANTA FE (KRQE) – The free golf passes brought it all home for state Rep. Jim Dines.
The Albuquerque Republican recently retired from a successful career as an attorney. With his attention focused on a nearly-as-successful amateur golf career, life was good.
Then, retiring state Rep. Jim White asked Dines if he’d consider running for office.
Dines agreed, with the condition that he wouldn’t accept campaign money from lobbyists or special interests. The idea resonated with voters, and the 2015 legislative session became Dines’ new hobby.
When he got to Santa Fe, he decided to continue his independent streak. All the coffee mugs, jewelry and free food that normally find their way onto a lawmaker’s desk during the session? Dines decided to say no to all of it.
Then came the golf passes.
“A very nice golf package for several free rounds of golf,” Dines said in an interview this week.
Asked whether he plays golf, Dines winced slightly and said, “I do. Very much. Or, I did before I ran for office.”
But the two-time participant in both the British and U.S. senior amateur golf championships — who sports a handicap of just one — forced himself to say no.
“If someone doesn’t do this, then it’s not going to surface to where others might follow that lead,” Dines said.
At first, colleagues weren’t sure what to make of his pledge. Dines would take whatever landed on his desk, put it in a box in his office and give it to his wife. She donated the haul to the Saranam homeless program run by Central United Methodist Church. After a couple of weeks, Dines said, his fellow legislators knew his effort was in good faith.
Other lawmakers would also see Dines pulling out his checkbook at the many breakfasts, dinners and receptions that mark the start of every legislative session. Despite the fact that senators and representatives receive $165 in per diem payments for each day they spend at the Legislature, it’s common practice for lobbyists to pick up the tab during a meal.
The practice extends to the sometimes long days and nights at the Roundhouse, when catered meals are served for lawmakers and staff during floor sessions and committee hearings.
“There’s a lot of meals that are brought in, and I understand that, but I go ahead and I bring my own lunch,” Dines said. There’s “a lot of peanut butter and jelly.”
Dines hasn’t tried to win any other converts to his self-imposed austerity, but advocates like Common Cause applaud his efforts.
“Jim Dines is a great addition to the Legislature,” said Common Cause’s Heather Ferguson.
Dines is carrying a bill championed by the good-government organization that would ban lawmakers from lobbying for two years after they leave the Legislature.
Ferguson pointed out that the lobbyists who pay for the gifts, meals and parties that fill the social calendar during a session are often criticized, but play a vital role in a part-time citizen legislature like New Mexico’s.
“It’s a symbiotic relationship where lobbyists bring very detailed information about either industries, taxes, law, issues to our citizen Legislature to help them make an informed decision on the (potential) laws they’re about to vote on,” she said.
Dines doesn’t think a free meal or a stuffed animal or even free golf passes from a lobbyist equate to a promise to vote the way that lobbyist would prefer. But he said that doesn’t really matter.
“The perception of the public is … there’s a reason things are being given,” he said.
Saying no, Dines said, is one way he can prove to voters that he’s serious about earning their trust.