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How is the best way to pick our leaders? It is a problem every democracy wrestles with. In our country, we try it two different ways.
At the federal level, we elect a president and he chooses everyone else. If one of them messes up, the president is responsible so the appointee usually is gone quickly. The result is a team effort.
At the state level, voters choose a governor, secretary of state, attorney general, auditor, treasurer, land commissioner and five corporation commissioners.
If one of them messes up, that person is responsible. The governor usually is not well acquainted with the individual. Few voters are acquainted with the individual either. They likely voted based on party line.
So the offending public official hires a lawyer and begins the lengthy process of defending himself or herself. Depending on the situation, taxpayers may be picking up the tab.
Over the years, New Mexico voters have decided they prefer the second method. In that way, the governor doesn’t get too powerful and maybe some of those elected officials might be people they have heard of and they might even like their ideas.
The New Mexico constitutional convention in 1969 tried to switch to the appointive method but voters turned down the new constitution. So now the state spends big money trying to get errant politicians removed from office.
By my count, we have had commissioners from four of the five Public Regulation Commission districts mess up badly enough to either have to resign or come close to it.
I haven’t been able to find a commissioner from Albuquerque who has stepped in it very badly. Otherwise, we haven’t been able to elect very good PRC commissioners often enough.
This isn’t to say that allowing the governor to choose his or her top administrators is foolproof either. Several readers have worried that allowing Gov. Susana Martinez to pick new PRC members would negate the entire reason for a Public Regulation Commission by making it a deregulation commission. It would hand everything over to industries that require regulating, they say.
So how do we solve the problem? Make some commissioners elected and some appointed has been suggested, I’m not sure what good that would do but it is worth studying.
And what about qualifications? Some states require a degree in engineering, law, economics or accounting. Or an alternative would be five years of work experience in a field regulated to the PRC.
But would that run the danger of people who would be disposed toward favoring that industry? Many worry.
And then we have commissioners without any specialized education or experience asking who is to decide they aren’t smart enough to learn what they need to know.
Besides, experts can be hired to do the technical analysis. We don’t need a commission of elites. True.
What we do need is a commission composed of members who know how to do their job and perform their duties legally and ethically. Evidence during the entire life of the PRC and of the elected State Corporation Commission before it tells us it isn’t happening.
The job, because of its high salary and great power, tends to attract career politicians who too often don’t meet the standards required.
The Think New Mexico organization has produced a booklet on rethinking the PRC. Its primary suggestions are to strengthen qualifications of commissioners and to transfer most of the enormous load of responsibilities to state agencies under the governor.
Both suggestions seem to be part of the solution. But I’m not sure it is the total package.
For years lawmakers and other New Mexicans have sought an answer. Many pieces of legislation have been introduced. One, in 1966, sponsored by Rep. Bob Perls became the PRC as a result of his boundless energy. It is time to try again.