Even the laziest legislators will arrive at the New Mexico Capitol by 10 a.m. during frenetic sessions when a state budget must be balanced and hundreds of other bills are considered.
Workdays often last 12 to 18 hours. Lawmakers might not head home until the predawn hours. Sleep deprivation is common, dulling judgment and leading to errors.
The hacks and posers will steal back some time by ducking tough votes or long nighttime hearings. They can always claim they had to meet with constituents.
But the better legislators work hard. They know doing a competent job during the 30- or 60-day sessions each winter requires a full commitment to business at the Capitol.
This is why it’s impossible for me to accept the claim of Veronica García, Santa Fe’s superintendent of schools, who says she could do her job well while also serving in the state Senate.
She will be haunted by her own words about the ease with which she could balance two positions with enormous responsibility.
“I’ll be here in Santa Fe checking emails, taking phone calls and waiting for people to bring me things to sign. I don’t think the district will miss a beat,” García told my colleague Dillon Mullan.
If that’s true, if a public school system with some 13,000 students can function seamlessly without the full attention of its leader, she isn’t earning her annual salary of more than $195,000.
But her district isn’t achieving at the level it should be.
Fred Nathan, who heads the public policy organization Think New Mexico, says Santa Fe’s schools need a superintendent and board members whose attention is squarely on the district.
“It’s not like SFPS is running on all cylinders,” he said.
García, 69, previously served as the state Cabinet secretary of public education and as executive director of an advocacy agency for children. She’s been in the statehouse enough to understand how demanding a good legislator’s job is.
She couldn’t participate in a legislative hearing about dangerous highways if she had to be in a backroom, taking part in a conference call with her principals about the curriculum. She couldn’t concentrate on amendments to dozens of bills if she were explaining budget considerations at a school board meeting, regardless of whether she attended in person or merely phoned in.
If García were to win election to the Legislature, she would have two distinct constituencies.
She’s running as a Democrat for the Senate seat in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights, where she owns a home. The incumbent senator, Republican Mark Moores, said he looks forward to a challenge from García.
“I’d like to see a liberal Santa Fe Democrat explain how she’s going to represent a district in Albuquerque when she’s working 60 miles away,” Moores told me. “I want to know if she’s going to give up her school salary while she’s supposed to be working on legislation during the session.”
State lawmakers receive $184 a day while on official business. Moores said he and others working in the private sector lose income when the Legislature meets. He doesn’t believe someone in a public job should collect two salaries for dividing her time between jobs.
New Mexico’s Legislature has long been top-heavy with public employees from police and sheriff’s departments, local governments and especially school districts.
A handful of school superintendents have doubled as state lawmakers in recent years, often serving without distinction.
The school board in Mora hired then-state Rep. Thomas Garcia, D-Ocate, as its superintendent in 2010. He ran for the state Senate two years later, losing the primary to incumbent Democrat Pete Campos.
Campos had been superintendent of the Las Vegas City Schools and was president of Luna Community College when Thomas Garcia challenged him.
Years after Thomas Garcia’s defeat, a lobbyist accused him of offering to support a bill she favored, but only if she had sex with him. He said the allegation was untrue.
Campos, now retired from the community college, remains a senator. He introduces many measures of no importance that waste precious legislative time.
Campos this year sponsored a bill to establish a state chile song. He proposed a law in 2017 to create “an official state winter holiday song.”
Another superintendent who served in the Legislature was then-state Rep. Dennis Roch, a Republican, who headed small school districts in Texico and later in Logan.
The school boards Roch worked for enthusiastically supported his service in the statehouse. Why wouldn’t they? Roch, a fine orator, was a tireless advocate for rural districts. He supplied more clout than any hired lobbyist could have.
Many other school administrators and teachers have served in the Legislature. Some are still in office.
Veronica García wouldn’t be doing anything revolutionary by attempting to juggle the duties of a school superintendent with those of a legislator.
But what she wants isn’t in the public interest, not for parents, students and patrons of the Santa Fe Public Schools, and not for residents of Albuquerque.
She’s a school administrator who never learned a fundamental lesson: One big government job is more than enough for anyone.
Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at email@example.com or 505-986-3080.