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Laws Intended for You, Not Me

Governor Bill Richardson has extended an invitation to a select few to join him and other elected representatives on Monday, July 17, 2006 for a ride on the taxpayer funded Rail Runner Express. This is not a trip open to the general public. It is for invitees only. The problem is that his invitation is strictly prohibited by Article XX, Section 14 of the New Mexico Constitution. In other words, it is against the law.

Now the Governor did seek an opinion from Attorney General Patricia Madrid’s office as to whether or not it would be okay for him to disregard the law, and surprise, surprise our chief law enforcement officer told him in a letter dated April 7, 2006 don’t worry about it:

This responds to your request for our office’s legal opinion regarding the scheduled groundbreaking ceremony for the Santa Fe Railyard on Friday, April 7,2006. We understand you intend to travel on one of the newly acquired RailRunner cars for approximately 1,000 yards to make a ceremonial appearance by train and begin the groundbreaking event We have been asked whether this is a violation of Article XX, Section 14 of the New Mexico Constitution. Our conclusion is that such a short ceremonial ride for this groundbreaking went should not be reasonably interpreted to be a violation of our state constitution.

Here is the thing. This is not a 1,000 yard trip. This is a trip that begins in Bernalillo with “the train [making] a brief stop at Los Ranchos/Journal Center on its way to the Downtown Albuquerque station for the culmination of [the by invitation-only] festivities.” According to Article IV, Section 37 of the NM State Constitution any elected official participating in such a trip is subject to “a forfeiture of the office.”

Now some of you may argue this is an antiquated law, and it’s okay if the Governor and other publicly elected officials ignore it. The problem with this rationale is two-fold.

First, our state is already suffering scandal after scandal due to elected officials who have determined that the governing laws were not intended for them. So, this is a time when elected officials should be going out of their way to follow laws – not figuring out ways to break them.

Second, you and I don’t get to ignore outdated laws just because they were intended for a different time. For example, we are all required to pay a 3 percent tax on every telephone bill to support the Spanish-American War. That war was over more than a century ago, and has long since been paid for by US taxpayers. Yet, we continue to pay this “temporary tax” because it is the law.

If you and I have to follow outdated laws, shouldn’t we expect the same of our elected officials.