Reforming state government

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Look at our revolving door of insiders and outsiders

By Sherry Robinson

Asked last week who she supported for governor, a small businesswoman in Eagle Nest responded, “I hate them both! Get off the TV and let me watch my shows!”
By now, more than a few people feel that way.
We don’t care where Susana Martinez grew up. We don’t care about Diane Denish’s Christmas cards. Be assured that Martinez can’t give our water to Texas, even if she wanted to, and that the conflict-of-interest story about Denish’s husband is fiction.
The real issue boils down to this: How do we reform state government to make it lean, honest, efficient, and customer friendly?
In every election cycle voters have chosen individuals to do that, and every other governor in memory has been an outsider who promised to shake things up. Instead, Santa Fe shakes up the outsiders, and then we elect an insider who understands government but makes us wish again for an outsider, who then prompts us to elect an insider. And so on.
Outsider Garrey Carruthers in 1987 followed insider Toney Anaya. Carruthers, an energetic, personable, university economist, boasted during his campaign that he was not a lawyer and hadn’t served in the legislature.
He became the first governor in state history to veto an entire budget; during his best year, he got two-thirds of his bills passed. But he also seemed to melt down in the cauldron of legislative politics. His term wasn’t particularly productive, and we returned insider Bruce King to office. After four years of the same old, same old, voters in 1994 were anti-government and anti-politician. They wanted a change.
Republican businessman Gary Johnson, who described himself as a “consummate non-politician,” (campaign slogan: “People before politics”) promised to downsize and run government like a business.
“Gary’s understanding of how government works appears to be zero,” said John Dendahl, a businessman and former cabinet secretary who lost to Johnson in the 1994 primary. “Governments in this country are not designed to run like businesses because the ‘efficient’ governments are dictatorships. Johnson won’t be in control – as you are when you’re the sole owner of a business…”
When Johnson won in 1994, he was the only governor in the nation who had never served in a state legislature.
Johnson was such a newbie that the quick fixes he intended to reform government failed again and again.
His public announcements often blindsided his own cabinet members. He assumed that he had the powers of a CEO until rebukes from the Supreme Court instructed him on the limits of the executive office.
He was proof of the old dicho, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”
Johnson is usually remembered for his record 742 vetoes. Granted, some of those bills needed killing, but I remember the howling when Johnson, without consultation, killed important, bipartisan projects painstakingly developed over time.
He also killed Republican bills he had promised to sign and one sponsored by his wife.
Johnson went out of his way to antagonize legislative leaders, which drew praise in some quarters, but the leadership then went out of its way to obstruct Johnson’s initiatives. He refused to negotiate.   
So we had an eight-year impasse as both sides claimed the high ground.
Progress stalled on multiple fronts. Johnson refused to sign a tax-cut bill because he didn’t get everything he wanted. Education reformers of both parties hung up their jerseys to wait for the next governor.
In a speech I covered, Johnson said, “My promise was to bring a common sense business approach to government. I expected to piss everyone off. In that regard, I’ve been successful.”
By his last year, we could hardly wait for him leave. He paved the way for a government insider who promised to get things moving again. And that insider has paved the way for an outsider promising change.

Sherry Robinson
NM News Services