Voters will soon decide whether New Mexico joins the ranks of almost every other state and creates an ethics commission. If approved, the group will oversee way more than just top elected officials.

In 2017, lawmakers passed HJR8, a constitutional amendment that will put New Mexico in line with 44 other states that already have established ethics commissions.

Think of Phil Griego, Dianna Duran, Robert Vigil and Manny Aragon — just a sampling of New Mexico public officials convicted of some kind of corruption.

“The public has no faith in our system right now,” Heather Ferguson said. “It’s diminished our state’s reputation and our citizen’s faith in the political process.”

Ferguson is the executive director of Common Cause New Mexico.

She believes if the state had an ethics commission, it could have benefited the investigations into each of them.

Now, she’s hoping voters will say “yes” to the the constitutional amendment to establish the seven-member ethics commission that would investigate claims against elected officials, employees of the legislature, executive branches, and even lobbyists and government contractors.

The Attorney General’s Office, which investigates some claims of public corruption, says it supports the idea granted proper funding and training.

“One of my top priorities since taking office has been prosecuting and rooting out public corruption, and so I strongly support establishing an ethics commission in New Mexico with proper funding and training resources. Our state deserves better.” – Hector Balderas

The other five states without an ethics commission include neighboring Arizona.

A simple majority in each chamber passed HJR8 back in 2017, meaning no governor’s signature was needed.

The House of Representatives voted unanimously while nine senators opposed the idea.

All of those senators, except John Arthur Smith, are Republicans.

KRQE News 13 reached out to the nine senators Wednesday. Ron Girggs, Pat Woods and Bill Sharer got back to us with the reason they voted against it.

Sen. Sharer:

I was a no vote for one simple reason: This WILL be turned into a weapon and used for political purposes.  This commission is almost specially built to encourage frivolous complaints to be filed just before elections in order to affect the election.

 

I am on the Senate Ethics committee.  When an issue arose with a senator, we met, reviewed the evidence, determined there was justification to take action and brought the recommendation to the Senate.  Until the Senate was informed the entire process remained confidential.  In this case there was enough evidence to compel me to vote against a colleague and friend. The system worked.

 

The Secretary of State has an ethics process

The AG has ethics complaints process

The Judiciary has an ethics process

Both Houses of the legislature have ethics committees.

 
This is political bill for purely political reasons.  There is absolutely no need to put this in the constitution.  Once in the constitution it is near impossible to change.

Sen. Woods: 

I believe Senator Ingle made a good argument against this memorial. He stated in the senate when a ethics change is made against a senator, the senate ethics committee hires a independent investigator to determine if charge is valid. The investigation
is presented first to the committee and if committee agrees a violation occurred then presented to entire senate.

The system has worked during my tenure.

I believe this memorial was a duplication of effort, an extra cost to taxpayers.

Sen. Griggs:

A constitutional amendment is the wrong approach. If passed, it will require the legislature to debate and pass legislation to implement the ethics commission. While I personally believe we have enough laws, rules and procedures to protect the public against unscrupulous legislators and employees, this amendment and resulting legislation will not accomplish what some hope. It has the potential to create unneeded and politically motivated actions that hurt individuals and undermine processes. I don’t believe it will help us but I will work to make it the best it can be if it is the direction we wind up going in.