One surefire way exists to determine if a New Mexico legislator is in hiding.
Check his or her requests for travel expenses. If they dry up all at once, the lawmaker has uncharacteristically forfeited income by skipping committee hearings.
Committee work can be a steady source of cash for a legislator. And it’s not small change. State lawmakers receive $184 a day for expenses and 58 cents a mile for travel while they are on official business in New Mexico.
This system is a gravy train for certain legislators. Those who live in or near Santa Fe, where most of the hearings are held, take in far more money than they will spend on daily necessities.
A lawmaker who stays busy with the regular legislative session and interim meetings can collect more than $20,000 a year.
Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Ojo Caliente, has been one of the more active participants in legislative hearings during his 19 years in office.
He received $20,922 for travel and expenses in 2012. That was the highest total of the state’s 112 legislators.
Martinez has been in the top five for compensation in other years. He received more than $25,000 in 2011, when he ranked fourth-highest.
Martinez was on pace until this summer to continue his practice of attending a full range of interim committee hearings and receiving generous compensation for doing so.
Then he stopped appearing at public meetings where he had been ubiquitous. State records show Martinez has not requested compensation for daily expenses or mileage since June 18.
He began skipping legislative hearings after of his arrest June 28 on charges of aggravated drunken driving and reckless driving. Martinez drove his 2010 Mercedes SUV into the back of a Jeep, injuring two people.
A buddy of Martinez’s told me the senator broke a foot in the crash.
Still, ailing legislators often continue handling the public’s business. In a famous instance, two members of the House of Representatives worked 12-hour days all through a monthlong session, slipping away only for chemotherapy.
With his new lower profile, Martinez isn’t talking, at least not to me. He did not return calls about his absence from the Capitol.
Until his arrest, Martinez could be found at all sorts of public meetings.
Interim legislative work began in earnest in late May. During the three weeks before his arrest, Martinez received a total of $1,999.80 for attending eight legislative meetings. Seven were in Santa Fe and the other was in Albuquerque.
Starting on May 28, he billed taxpayers $184 for daily expenses and another $56.84 for round-trip mileage to attend a hearing of the Science, Technology and Telecommunications Subcommittee. Martinez submitted a voucher stating he traveled a total of 98 miles between his home in Ojo Caliente and the Capitol.
His compensation for this meeting and the other six in Santa Fe was $240.84 per day.
The rest of the hearings he attended at the Capitol were:
• June 3: Indian Affairs Committee.
• June 5: Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
• June 7: Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee.
• June 12: Economic and Rural Development Committee.
• June 13: Finance Authority Oversight Committee.
• June 17: Land Grant Committee.
On June 18, Martinez drove to Albuquerque for a meeting of the Mortgage Finance Authority Act Oversight Committee. With the longer round trip, he received $313.92.
That was his last legislative meeting, according to state records.
His constituents in Rio Arriba, Santa Fe, Sandoval and Los Alamos counties probably wonder when Martinez will surface. They could always count on him signing up for a full load of legislative hearings and collecting the payments that went with them.
Martinez is not providing them with any voice at meetings he once said were so important.
I suppose Martinez will have to assert himself someday.
He still faces criminal charges in state District Court. Plus, odds are good that he will draw a challenger in the Democratic primary election next June.
Martinez’s legislative seat used to be so safe he could mail it in during a campaign and win with ease.
Now he’s mailing it in as a senator.
Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at email@example.com or 505-986-3080.