Bullies, lawyers take stage

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By Jay Miller

SANTA FE – From early indications it will be Republican bullies vs. Democratic lawyers at the polls on election day, Nov.  6.
For those of you who aren’t up for such excitement, absentee voting, which already has begun, or early voting, which begins October 20, may be the answer.
We’ve already seen news that a poll watcher class for Republicans was held in Albuquerque in late September to teach volunteers methods of challenging potential voters.
Democratic leaders charge that some of the methods discussed are not legal. The state party has sent an email throughout its system warning that Tea Party bullies will be at the polls intimidating voters.
The Democratic Party asks that everyone receiving the email donate $25 to $100 or more for lawyers on the ground to fight efforts to steal elections from under our noses.
How exciting. You don’t want to miss it. Will it be a David vs. Goliath fight? The bullies appear to be mere volunteers. They will be up against highly trained paid professionals.
Okay, I’ve spent 160 words trying to get you excited about voting. Now, please humor me by reading the next 500 words about the serious choices on the back side of the ballot.
You’ve heard much about the big races at the top of the ballot. And you won’t be able to escape hearing more. But this may be your only shot at learning something about appellate judges, constitutional amendments and statewide bond issues.
First the judges. Supreme Court Justice Richard Bosson and Court of Appeals Judges Roderick Kennedy and Michael Vigil stand this year for retention. You get to decide whether they have done a good job. But unless you are a trial lawyer, how would you possibly know?
That’s why a Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission has been created. It is a nonpartisan group that evaluates judges on fairness, legal knowledge, communications skills, preparation, attentiveness and temperament. The JPEC reviews written opinions, caseload statistics, interviews, self-evaluations and independent surveys.
All three passed muster and are recommended. If they receive 57 percent of the vote, they get to stay. If this sounds like some sort of compromise, you’re right. It’s an attempt to keep judges out of politics without giving them a lifetime appointment.
Now for the constitutional amendments. Amendment 1 would put a municipal judge on the state Judicial Standards Commission. They feel it is only fair to be included since everyone else is.
Amendments 2, 3 and 4 relate to the troubled Public Regulation Commission. There was sentiment to make the commission appointive by the governor in order to increase the quality of commissioners but the Legislature’s decision was to keep it elective but to increase requirements and transfer some of the commission’s many duties to appropriate executive agencies.
Amendment 5 would take the Public Defender’s Office from under the governor and make it an independent department. The amendment would bring New Mexico in line with national standards and would eliminate the conflict of the governor being in charge of both law enforcement and indigent defense.
And finally, bond issues. State capital construction is financed through budget surpluses, severance taxes and bond issues voted on by the public at general elections.
Legislators decide on how budget surplus money and severance taxes are used. We usually call it pork. The popular projects, such as senior citizen centers, libraries and higher education are put to a public vote.
Higher education construction gets about 85 percent of the pie. Seniors and libraries are the other two bond questions. These bonds replace retired bonds, so they won’t produce a tax increase, if passed
The secretary of state’s website, sos.state.nm.us, contains further information on some of these issues. Think New Mexico’s website, thinknewmexico.org, has information on the PRC constitutional amendments.
Further information on the three statewide judicial races can be found at nmjpec.org or by calling 505-827-4960. The League of Women Voters, www.lwvnm.org, should have something posted by the time you read this.
Jay Miller is a syndicated columnist based in Santa Fe.