Pop quiz: What’s the best word to describe lawmakers who espouse a belief in open government, but who vote for a special rule that seeks to cloak their own emails and documents related to public business in secrecy?
E. All of the above
If you answered E, you share our view of the shenanigans that took place at the Roundhouse last week with the final passage of House Concurrent Resolution 1, a bizarre rule that seeks to invoke Article 4, Section 13 of the state constitution to shield lawmakers’ emails and other documents from being subject to the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act.
The only senator who had the good sense to vote against this ridiculous measure was our own Sen. Pete Campos.
The state’s public records act, adopted by an obviously more enlightened Legislature nearly 20 years ago, states, “all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of public officers and employees.”
There are exceptions to the disclosure law. A school, for instance, can’t release an individual student’s grades. But if your city councilman is exchanging emails with members of the oil and gas industry on a pending fracking ordinance, then under state law, those emails are subject to disclosure. That’s how it should be.
On its face, House Concurrent Resolution 1 seems harmless enough. It designates the Legislative Council Service as the clearinghouse for public record requests involving the legislature.
But then it invokes a constitutional immunity afforded to members of the legislature, the one that lawmakers use to get out of speeding tickets when they’re traveling to and from the Roundhouse while the Legislature is in session.
If there’s any doubt about the intent of the resolution, here’s what the measure’s sponsor, House Minority Leader Donald Bratton, R-Hobbs, had to say during a hearing on the rule change, as quoted by the Albuquerque Journal: “The way I view it is this is a constitutional issue and a right of privacy. Unless they (the general public) want to go to court and get a court order to listen in on my telephone conversations or monitor my email traffic, they have no right to that.”
First off, no one is asking to listen in on the representative’s telephone conversations.
Second, if the representative is exchanging emails related to public business, then the public has every right to see those emails.
The Attorney General’s Office notes that the rule change, in and of itself, likely doesn’t suffice to shield lawmakers’ emails. The AG’s stance is that a change to the Inspection of Public Records Act would likely be needed to accomplish that.
The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, of which the Optic is a member, is already hinting at a lawsuit should lawmakers try to withhold their emails. There’s no shortage of sliminess to this rule change. The senate fast-tracked it and voted to approve it late Wednesday night — 40 minutes before midnight, to be exact. Because it’s a rule, the governor doesn’t have veto authority.
Oh, and it was passed during National Sunshine Week, the week aimed at drawing attention to the importance of open government.
Sen. Phil Griego was absent for the vote.
Campos, who voted against the measure, aced this test on government transparency.
Perhaps he should spend some time schooling other area lawmakers — Rep. Tomás Salazar, D-Ribera, Rep. Nick Salazar, D-Ohkay Owingeh, and Rep. George Dodge Jr., D-Santa Rosa — who voted for the rule change, failing this test on good government miserably.