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Gov. Susana Martinez is fond of crossing into El Paso frequently for a few hours to visit family, and this has brought some public attention to the “traveling governor” provision of New Mexico’s Constitution.
A sentence in Article 5, Section 7, says: “In case the governor is absent from the state, or is for any reason unable to perform his duties, the lieutenant governor shall act as governor, with all the powers, duties and emoluments of that office until such disability be removed.”
Maybe, some folks are saying, this horse-and-buggy provision is obsolete in the era of instant communication.
It should not be necessary to transfer the reins of government if the governor crosses the state line for a couple of hours, as no emergency is likely to arise to which she could not respond (faster, maybe, if she had kept that jet airplane, but that’s for another day).
Maybe it should not even be necessary if the governor leaves the state for a longer period, since the tools of instant communication work almost everywhere, except maybe North Korea. Hmm.
And we’d save the bonus that the lieutenant governor is paid for those days of service.
But perhaps we should not be so hasty to change this provision, for one reason:
It may encourage future governors to stay home and focus on New Mexico’s business, rather than showboating at national conferences and gallivanting around the world, as our previous governor was fond of doing.
This would be especially true if the governor and lieutenant governor did not necessarily like each other much or have identical political visions.
Which brings us to a broader consideration of the lieutenant governor’s place in the grand scheme of things.
I witnessed a remarkable, completely unreported, moment in the history of the New Mexico lieutenant governorship.
In 1994, a candidate debate was held among three candidates for lieutenant governor: Republican Walter Bradley, running mate of Gary Johnson; a fellow from the Green party; and Patricia Madrid, running mate of Bruce King.
The moderator asked each candidate what was the most important duty of the lieutenant governor. Madrid answered, “Succession.”
The few reporters in the room missed this entirely, but I fell off my chair.
Succession, meaning being prepared for the governor to die in office, is something we think, but we are supposed to be too polite to say.
Ever. (John McCain, after losing the nomination in 2000, famously said that one of the two duties of the vice president is to inquire daily as to the health of the president.)
It was rumored that Madrid and the Kings didn’t like each other.
They were paired on the ticket (they lost, remember) only because our constitution mandates a shotgun wedding.
The party’s nominee for governor is stuck with whoever wins the nomination for lieutenant governor.
Unlike candidates for president, New Mexico gubernatorial candidates don’t have the luxury of choosing their running mates.
So if we’re going to mess with the constitution and laws affecting the lieutenant governor, we might want to consider the method of selection as more worthy of attention, in the interest of the smooth administration of government and the ease of future governors.
Or perhaps not.
Maybe there is some advantage to us citizens in having lieutenant governors who have not been selected for their loyalty to the boss.
Just think of what an independent-minded lieutenant governor might do, with all those powers and emoluments, if some future governor leaves the state for a week or more.
The mere thought of it could keep future governors stuck at home in New Mexico, exactly where we want them.
© New Mexico