On Saturday, Martin Suazo was re-elected as the chairman of the San Miguel County Democratic Party. That victory doesn’t change the fact that it’s time for the party to clean up its act.
By our reading of state statutes, a number of delegates violated the law by participating as delegates. This is likely a problem elsewhere, but our local party should lead the way by insisting on the highest standards.
At Saturday’s convention, any number of state employees participated as delegates or precinct chairmen, but the state Personnel Act expressly prohibits any employee covered by that law to be an officer of a political organization while employed by the state. And an attorney general’s opinion states that the legislative intent of the law applied with equal force to either the lowest or highest office in a political organization. In other words, the law applies to precinct chairmen and delegates. The reason for such a law is to prevent political parties from having an improper influence in state government.
The more troubling aspect of the convention was the decision of our two magistrate judges, Philip Romero and Chris Najar, to participate as delegates in the convention. The Code of Judicial Conduct specifically bars any judge in New Mexico from acting as a leader or holding an office in a political organization. Again, this includes the office of delegate. This was pointed out to the judges before the convention, but they still decided to participate. They said that they had advice from other magistrate judges that they could do so. Perhaps they should have called one of our three local district judges — all of whom are Democrats but didn’t participate in the convention; even Matt Sandoval, who was active in party affairs until he became a judge this year.
Why would our magistrate judges even need a law to keep them from taking part in politics? Instinct should tell them that staying active in politics is unseemly for a judge. Throughout history, judges have gone the extra mile to preserve their independence. If you watch the president’s annual State of the Union address, have you noticed how the justices never applaud? That’s for a reason. Last century, U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan didn’t even vote in presidential elections so as to prove his impartiality. That’s extreme, but it shows that judges should take their independence seriously.
We ask that our magistrate judges end their involvement in political organizations. And we urge the local Democratic Party to make sure that happens.