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Lieutenant governor can make a difference

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BY BILLY GARRETT
Lieutenant governor candidate, guest opinion

Last October I announced my candidacy for lieutenant governor on the Democratic ticket. In the months since then I’ve been asked many times, “What does the lieutenant governor do?”

The lieutenant governor has a complex workload based on a combination of statutory responsibilities, standing within the executive branch, and personal initiative.

Statutory responsibilities are clear. The lieutenant governor serves as president of the Senate, sits on eight boards and commissions, and has been designated as the “Ombudsman of the People of New Mexico.” In addition, the lieutenant governor takes over as the state’s chief executive when the governor is out of state or the position becomes vacant.

Serving as the Senate president is not the same as being an elected legislator. The Senate president does not serve on any legislative committees, introduce legislation, or vote – except to break a tie. Instead, the lieutenant governor ensures that Senate proceedings move smoothly and that all members are treated with respect. While the role can be seen as largely ceremonial, it provides a personal connection between legislators and the governor’s office that could be valuable on critical issues.

Similarly, participation in the workings of specific boards and committees allows for closer coordination between those groups and the state’s chief executive. I am especially interested in the New Mexico Border Authority because of its impact on international trade, the New Mexico Spaceport Authority because of its long-term economic potential, and the

Mortgage Finance Authority because of its role in community development and affordable housing.

In addition to these three, the lieutenant governor – or a representative – also serves on the State Board of Finance, Community Development Council, Military Base Planning Commission, New Mexico Youth Alliance, and New Mexico Children’s Cabinet. All provide stakeholder entities the opportunity to develop coordinated responses to critical public issues, monitor change, and exchange essential information.

Although the role of Ombudsman is undefined, this designation provides the lieutenant governor with a clear mandate to open communications between state government and the public.

With this in mind I have suggested that the office foster public engagement by all state agencies, restore the value of mutual respect, and serve as an incubator for solutions to social and environmental justice issues.

Moving beyond statutory responsibilities, I have proposed establishment of a Center for Excellence within the office of the Lieutenant Governor. As a management resource outside the traditional government hierarchy, the center would be well positioned to promote ethics, facilitate operational assessments, and help design new initiatives – all within the executive branch.

And finally, I believe that the lieutenant governor can make a good governor great. Each was elected independently to serve on the same ticket. That means that the two represent potentially different sets of ideas and values. Candid exchange based on these differences can strengthen the Governor’s agenda, generate new ideas, and broaden public support.

For example, I believe that state government must be transformed to improve living conditions and expand opportunities for all New Mexicans. Public education, health care, infrastructure, the environmental, and economic development are common concerns in the 2018 election. I am the only candidate urging that we move forward on all fronts, at the same time, and in a coordinated manner. That distinction is what I would bring to discussions with the governor.

The duties of the lieutenant governor are grounded in statutory obligations but with an unusual amount of independence. The position can make a real difference but it requires a creative self-starter dedicated to public service.

That’s why the lieutenant governor matters and why I’m running for the job.