Lt. Gov. John Sanchez has some ideas for improving the state’s campaign reporting system following the recent resignation and conviction of former Secretary of State Dianna Duran, who was illegally abusing that system.
Sanchez, a Republican who says he’s considering running for governor in 2018, also has some ideas for improving the state’s economy — including so-called right-to-work legislation — and preserving power the GOP has built in New Mexico in recent years.
Sanchez’s comments came in an extensive interview NMPolitics.net conducted by email.
Sanchez, who has held the second-highest job in the state’s executive branch since 2011, leaned on his record as a former lawmaker to answer some questions. For example, right-to-work legislation — which would put an end to people having to pay union dues even if they don’t join — is expected to be a hot topic in the upcoming session. Sanchez pointed out that he sponsored such legislation in 2002.
“All workers should have the right to freely join or refrain from joining a union without fear of punishment or retaliation,” Sanchez said.
The lieutenant governor’s response to questions about Duran’s crimes and what reforms are needed is noteworthy because Duran, until she resigned, was one of the highest-ranking government officials from Sanchez’s party.
“I am extremely concerned about the integrity of our campaign finance system and believe that any discussion regarding reform should include proposed term limits, strict reporting requirements for PACs, and campaign audits,” Sanchez said.
Here’s the full interview, with questions in bold and Sanchez’s answers immediately following:
What have you found most surprising about your job since taking office in 2011? What has been most challenging?
Upon assuming office, I quickly learned that the Office of the Lieutenant Governor largely consists of what each officeholder makes of it. I immediately set constituent services and accessibility as top priorities and have worked hard to address the challenge of serving such a geographically large state. The citizens of New Mexico should not have to travel to Santa Fe to meet with their elected officials, and that is why I travel the state extensively to meet with them in their own villages, towns, and cities.
You’ve focused much of your time on being a promoter of New Mexico as a place to do business — in the state, around the United States and even internationally. Can you talk about what you’ve done to promote doing business in New Mexico as lieutenant governor and how you think it’s tangibly helped the state?
Since 2011, I have had the opportunity to travel and promote New Mexico across the U.S. and abroad. As an active member and Regional Chair of the National Lt. Governors Association (NLGA), I had the opportunity participate in a trade mission to Germany in 2012 and was selected to host an economic forum with state officials from Mexico in 2013. This year, I accepted an invitation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Taiwan to lead a delegation to Taiwan, and in October, my office participated in the first ever National Aerospace Foreign Direct Investment Expo. Opportunities such as these have allowed me to promote New Mexico and communicate the many benefits we have to offer with potential investors, both foreign and domestic.
You’ve been pushing so-called right-to-work legislation since you were a state lawmaker. Talk about why you think it’s important and if you think it will pass during the 2016 legislative session.
As a state representative, I carried the “Right-to-Work Act” in 2002 because I believe it is fundamentally wrong to require union membership and take union dues or other charges from the paychecks of hard-working New Mexicans. All workers should have the right to freely join or refrain from joining a union without fear of punishment or retaliation. With regards to job creation, right-to-work states have lower unemployment numbers and are consistently ranked among the best states for business. During tough economic times, we can no longer simply rely on our oil and gas revenues and the federal government’s investments in our state. We must actively stimulate and diversify our state’s economy, and I believe making New Mexico a right-to-work state remains a key component of a genuine pro-business package that will encourage businesses to locate and expand in New Mexico.
What other policy changes does New Mexico need to improve our economy?
To further improve New Mexico’s economy, we must continue to reform our education system and improve student achievement. A well-educated workforce is the key building block for any successful economy and we must effectively prepare our children today for the jobs of tomorrow.
I also believe we should pursue meaningful regulatory and tort reform. In spite of the progress we have made in recent years, New Mexico continues to suffer from costly, redundant, and often unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles when it comes to doing business. Meanwhile, the costs and effects of frivolous lawsuits continue to hamper our efforts to compete with neighboring states. Our tort laws must protect our people and provide reasonable compensation for injury; however, we need to close the loopholes that allow for unreasonable lawsuits.
Can you elaborate on the regulatory and tort reform you are proposing?
We need to continue to simplify the administrative code, eliminate conflicts between the code and statute, and eliminate duplicated regulations that differ just enough to complicate doing business here.
Given the recent scandals involving campaign finance reporting – the criminal allegations against former Secretary of State Dianna Duran and the problems that have been revealed with a number of state legislators’ finance reports – are you concerned about the integrity of our state’s campaign finance system? What reforms, if any, do you think are necessary?
I am extremely concerned about the integrity of our campaign finance system and believe that any discussion regarding reform should include proposed term limits, strict reporting requirements for PACs, and campaign audits.
First, I believe the political class in New Mexico should recognize any elected office as a temporary assignment, not a lifetime or career-long endeavor. While experience is extremely important, elected officials should be discouraged from holding one office for too long. As a legislator, I carried a term-limit bill and would support similar legislation in the future.
Second, with the adoption of campaign fund limitations in New Mexico, we have seen the unrestricted and non-transparent rise of dark money in the form of political action committees (PACs). That is why I support the lifting of campaign contribution limits. It is imperative that we put the control of political funds back in the hands of candidates and parties who are strictly regulated and audited, and who publicly disclose every penny raised.
Lastly, as government regulated entities, I believe that all political campaigns should be independently audited annually at their own expense.
As lieutenant governor what issues are you working on besides economic development?
I have always had profound appreciation for our military and am grateful for the opportunities I have to serve our veterans and support our military installations in New Mexico. As a member of the Military Base Planning Commission, I meet with our commanders several times a year and have promoted our state’s military and veterans’ interests at the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C. I have also travelled throughout the state promoting rural veterans’ cemeteries and have spoken at numerous veteran-related events. As the state’s ombudsman, I also provide constituency meetings and mobile office hours for constituents in need of state government assistance.
The lieutenant governor isn’t the most glorious job in state government. How have you worked to build the job into one where you can make a tangible difference?
As a public servant, I have a responsibility to be accessible and this is one area where I feel I can make a real difference. My office has an open-door policy, and throughout the year, I personally meet with hundreds of constituents across New Mexico and work to address concerns and/or specific issues they have with our state government.
I have also accepted leadership roles with the National Lt. Governors Associations (NLGA) to ensure New Mexico is represented nationally and recently established the New Mexico chapter of the Aerospace States Association (ASA) aimed at promoting aerospace, aviation, and technology opportunities for businesses and our students.
My hope and desire is to leave my successor with more tools and opportunities to help New Mexicans than I began with and I am working diligently to that end.
When you first ran for lieutenant governor in 2010 you laid out a plan for Republicans to take control of state government in an interview with me. Today Republicans have greater control of state government than at any other point in our state’s history — four of seven statewide offices and the House, in addition to being part of a coalition that elects a Senate president pro tempore. Why do you think the party has been so successful in recent years?
The success of the Republican Party in recent years is the result of strong organization, a positive vision for New Mexico, and having good candidates who demonstrate a commitment to better ideas. As a party, we have diversified our membership and we are unified behind leadership that is focused on the important challenges facing this state. That commitment is the very best advertising any party can ask for and our citizens have responded favorably on Election Day.
How much of the Republican Party’s recent success is attributable to the popularity of Gov. Susana Martinez?
Without the governor’s strong leadership and popularity, we would not have experienced the levels of success we have. For nearly five years, New Mexicans have witnessed and experienced significant changes to the way state government operates and the positive results have without a doubt impacted other races down the ballot.
How important has outreach to people of color been to the Republican Party’s success, and how does the party continue to make inroads with such people?
Genuine participation in the Republican Party by an increasingly diverse population has been one the most important drivers of success in New Mexico. The party has never been more diverse and, at the same time, unified in key issues facing our state. As the party grows, so does the group of motivated New Mexicans seeking to give back to their state through public service. If this continues, we believe the Republican Party will continue to experience great success in the coming years.
Do you think the current rhetoric being used by many of the GOP presidential candidates about immigrants, refugees, Muslims, etc. helps or hurts the chances of Republican candidates in New Mexico in 2016?
New Mexico voters have always demonstrated a willingness to assess the qualifications and merit of each candidate, irrespective of political party affiliation. We all recognize the dysfunction that exists in Washington, D.C. and that we can no longer rely on the federal government to solve our problems. That is why we are making efforts to resolve issues at the state level, and, in recent years, New Mexicans have supported our agenda by electing Republican candidates at all levels of government. Regardless of the rhetoric, the candidates who establish and articulate a vision for keeping Americans safe and prosperous while adhering to our values will win next November.
What do Republicans need to do to make their gains in state government permanent?
No party is destined to remain the majority forever; however, the party that responds to the needs of New Mexico while refraining from reacting to the whims of politics will experience consistent gains and success. Moving forward, Republicans need to continue to pay very close attention to the priorities of their fellow citizens – the need for jobs, economic diversity, education, and the elimination of conditions that drive many in our state into poverty.
Republicans have argued in recent years that Democrats have historically been the party of corruption and should be ousted. How does the criminal case against former Secretary of State Dianna Duran affect Republicans’ ability to argue that they are the party of reform while Democrats are the party of scandal?
Simply stated, no one is above the law. Under Republican leadership, the behavior outlined in the allegations will not be tolerated or ignored. The rule of law, equally applied, will be enforced.
Who are some of the up-and-coming Republicans you see as future leaders of the state?
Representative Rod Montoya
Representative Sarah Maestas-Barnes
Representative Kelly Fajardo
Representative Conrad James
Representative Monica Youngblood
Are you considering running for governor in 2018?
Are you considering running for any other offices, such as U.S. Senate or House?
This article has been updated to clarify the particulars of right-to-work legislation.