Dullest job in town

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Lt. Gov’s job to keep from being a pest

By Jay Miller

Lt. Gov. Diane Denish is getting tied so closely to Gov. Bill Richardson that one might think Denish is Richardson’s last name.

The Richardson-Denish or Richardson/Denish administration is being blamed for the ills of the past seven and a half years, thereby making the lieutenant governor equally responsible or at least a knowing accomplice in all the governor’s actions.

Two salient examples of this phenomenon have occurred since I wrote about Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Jerry Ortiz y Pino’s observance that the duties of the lieutenant governor make it the dullest job around.

The lieutenant governor’s duties consist of presiding over the Senate, breaking ties and being governor when the chief executive is out of state.

Then 40 years ago, a lieutenant governor was elected who needed a job. He was a former House member so his old colleagues gave him a break and passed legislation making the post full time if desired.

The problem was that no new duties were specified. If they had been, any governor might have vetoed it because the duties would have been carved out of his authority.

The primary duty of lieutenant governors since then has been to stay out of the governor’s way and not be a pest. They can’t be trusted with anything because they are elected public officials not under the authority of the governor.

If they displease the governor, they can’t be fired. The governor has a full staff to carry out his or her directives. He/she appoints them and can remove them at any time.

When an emergency occurs while the governor is out of state, the governor’s staff handles it, not the lieutenant governor. Lt. Gov. Casey Luna learned that, much to his chagrin, during the third Bruce King administration.

Luna challenged King in the next Democratic primary.

Roberto Mondragon, lieutenant governor during King’s first two administrations, challenged King in the general election that same year as a Green Party candidate.

Yes, governors and full-time lieutenant governors have never been close. So why should one assume that Richardson and Denish have been?  And why should one assume that if Susana Martinez and John Sanchez are elected in November, they will be close?

But in a July guest commentary column Sanchez wrote for several newspapers around the state, he defends Martinez’s comprehensive budget plan to solve problems created by the Richardson/Denish administration.

In the commentary, Sanchez often refers to what “we” are going to do. It seems Sanchez assumes he will be an integral part of the Martinez administration. And maybe he will break some new ground.

An even more salient example of assuming governors and lieutenant governors are a team occurred in an interview of former Gov. Gary Johnson by Rob Nikolewski of New Mexico Watchdog.org.

Johnson says Lt. Gov. Denish reminds him of a school bus driver who takes her students to a 7-11, where they pilfer the store and bring all the stolen items back on the bus and Denish drives them away.

Johnson’s obvious point is that Denish enabled crimes by others while she was lieutenant governor.  He should know better than that because he did not include Lt. Gov. Walter Bradley in his internal meetings.

Bradley complained to me that the back door of his offices opened into the governor’s suite of offices but it was always locked from the other side so he had to walk all the way around the top floor of the Roundhouse to get to the governor’s office. And he had to have an appointment.

I am disappointed in Johnson, who has been one of my heroes because of his libertarian leanings, unless he knows something I don’t know about the Richardson administration.

As for Denish, one of her campaign ads says, I have never been part of the good old boys club ­— and never wanted to be.