New Mexico has the distinction of being the only state in the country that does not pay a salary to members of its legislature.

Representatives and senators receive a per diem and mileage, but nothing more despite the many hours they spend writing, debating and considering legislation.

That can have unfortunate consequences.

For one thing, failure to pay legislators for their work limits who can serve. The independently wealthy and those who are retired and don’t have to be on the a job every day can serve more easily.

Not everyone can take off work for a month or two every year.

That’s far from the only issue. The laws legislators vote on affect every area of the life in New Mexico, including the jobs citizen lawmakers take up when the Roundhouse closes.

Lawmakers generally recuse themselves if legislation benefits their interests directly but often stay involved if the law in question deals with their entire industry. Sometimes the calls about what constitutes a conflict can be close.

With a new industry coming to New Mexico — adult cannabis use — conflicts are coming fast and hard, underscoring the point that a citizen legislature is a relic that needs to be discarded.

A few recent cannabis conflicts show why the Legislature needs to change.

House Speaker Brian Egolf has represented Ultra Health, the giant among cannabis companies, in a lawsuit against the state. State Sen. Jacob Candelaria now works as Ultra’s attorney.

Most recently, state Sen. Katy Duhigg, a co-sponsor of Cannabis Regulation Act, had been an attorney specializing in medical malpractice. She announced she is opening a practice helping individuals and business navigate what promises to be a maze of cannabis regulations.

She sponsored the legislation establishing a new industry and will make her living from that industry.

She told The New Mexican she did not disclose her intentions during the recent legislative session because at that time, she had no idea her professional life would take such a turn.

“Had this been something I was planning on doing,” she said, “I should have and would have made that disclosure. But it didn’t exist then and, honestly, it didn’t even occur to me.”

Marijuana is not the only industry where conflicts exist — teachers vote on education bills, doctors on health issues or malpractice legislation and defense attorneys on any number of laws affecting criminals. Conflict is part and parcel of a part-time, citizen Legislature.

“The fix to that is to professionalize our Legislature, as every other state has done,” Duhigg said.

She is correct, although the prospect of a poor state paying lawmakers is always a hard sell.

Citizens tend to be skeptical about taxing themselves to put money in the pockets of politicians.

Efforts to create a commission that would set salaries for public officers, including legislators, have failed in past years, including a proposed constitutional amendment in 2019 that died in the Senate.

A better perspective is this: Citizens should tax themselves to ensure the men and women making laws have few conflicts and the time to do the job right.

(9) comments

Khal Spencer

I agree with Dan Frazier. The good ones are good and the bad ones are lousy. I don't think a salary will change that. Just take a look at the Buffalo Billion scandal in New York State.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/12/nyregion/kaloyeros-guilty-buffalo-billion-cuomo.html

Plus, I think the grift is deep enough that we would be paying them to line their pockets. Nothing is going to change this except somehow, finding people who have a sense of public service rather than private gain.

Joseph Tafoya

This makes as much sense as paying someone to rob your house. How can a politician be elected to office with so little and end his career having so much? If term limits were to be included, I would favor this.

Donald Apodaca

Politics: Organised crime with an edge.

Comment deleted.
Donald Apodaca

VOTE? Who votes? Minions. I simply give MONEY to ANY politician I like. You have to PAY for access. Voted once in my lifetime, got so much mail that I had to get a P.O. box. NEVER again.

Mike Johnson

Sure, sure, pay them lots of money, then they will be immune to corruption of the special interests and never have conflicts of interest....works great for all the Governors and elected federal politicians.

Stefanie Beninato

I agree that legislators paid per diem limit the types of people who can run for legislature. The conflict of interest idea though is a stretch--as finally pointed out in the article many legislators benefit from their own votes. My concern is the revenue source for these paid legislators. Our economy still relies heavily on gas and oil revenues and so does the state budget. That source is unreliable as we all know if you have lived here for any length of time. Where does the steady stream for full time legislators came from? And please don't tell me I should pay more in taxes--why should I support these legislators given the unethical behavior of some (maybe many) of our reps?

Dan Frazier

New Mexico is going to stay poor so long as it is poorly run by people whose motive is not to meet the people's needs but to pander to various industries so that they can profit off of their positions in power.

Andrew Lucero

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

Donald Apodaca

I agree. New Mexico politics is similar to Mexican politics. One of my favorite quotes is by Carlos Hank Gonzalez "a politician who is poor is a poor politician."

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