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The definition of civil office is open to interpretation

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By Jay Miller

What a coincidence. On Nov. 2, New Mexico voters overwhelmingly rejected a constitutional amendment that would allow a governor to appoint a legislator to civil office.
On Nov, 24, Gov.-Elect Susana Martinez appointed Rep. Keith Gardner, the House Republican whip, as her chief of staff.
I wasn’t being sardonic when I called it a coincidence. New Mexico court decisions for years have given a very narrow interpretation to what constitutes a civil office.
It is highly likely that voters had a very different interpretation than the courts do about what constitutes a civil office. After all the uproar the past few years over Gov. Bill Richardson’s 500 political appointees, many of us assumed these were the people the amendment was talking about.
But the courts have defined civil office much more narrowly, to the point it only seems to include cabinet secretaries, judges and appointments to fill vacancies in  elected state wide offices.
It doesn’t include the governor’s chief of staff, who arguably is the second most powerful person in the state. Remember all the times I’ve told you lieutenant governors have just about no power — even when governors are out of state. In reality, it’s the chief of staff who takes over.


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