SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Kent Cravens is among the more than two dozen former state legislators who have made the switch to lobbying.
The Albuquerque Republican resigned from his Senate seat in 2011 to take a government relations job with the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association. While he was no industry expert, his experience with the legislative process and his connections were considered an asset.
The scenario is a familiar one in New Mexico, where lawmakers are free to resign one day and start lobbying the next. A recent report released by Common Cause New Mexico identified 26 former legislators who work as lobbyists.
Critics say the “revolving door” practice erodes public trust in government by allowing former lawmakers to cash in on their expertise and connections with former colleagues.
“It’s not good for transparency, and it’s not good for open government,” Viki Harrison, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico, told the Albuquerque Journal (http://bit.ly/1cCVMTD). “It makes people want to go back and look at the voting record (of legislators) on the industry they now represent.”
Cravens said his switch from lawmaker to lobbyist was driven by a need for financial stability. If the energy industry job would not have worked out, he was prepared to leave the state to find work. He also insists his current job was not influenced by his former one.
The list of lawmakers-turned-lobbyists includes former GOP Sen. Clinton Harden of Clovis, former Democratic Rep. Al Park of Albuquerque and former Senate President Pro Tem Richard Romero of Albuquerque.
Attempts in recent years to enact revolving-door — or cooling-off — legislation for lawmakers have failed despite support from Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and her predecessor, Democrat Bill Richardson.
Another push for such legislation is expected during the coming 30-day legislative session. Sen. Bill O’Neill, D-Albuquerque, said he hopes to introduce such a measure, and a Martinez spokesman said the governor believes the issue is important.
Martinez, who has banned administration officials from lobbying executive state agencies or the Legislature for two years after leaving their jobs, mentioned the issue during her 2012 State of the State address.
“Both parties are guilty of this,” Martinez said at the time. “It’s wrong for Democrats, and it’s wrong for Republicans.”
New Mexico is one of 15 states that do not prohibit legislators from becoming lobbyists immediately after vacating their elected positions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Although state law bars former “public officials” from certain types of lobbying for one year, lawmakers are excluded from that definition.
Revolving-door laws in other states vary. Florida, Colorado and Kentucky require lawmakers to wait two years after leaving office before representing clients as paid lobbyists.
Other states require a one-year cooling-off period.
New Mexico differs from other states in that its 112 legislators do not receive salaries. They receive per diem payments — $159 a day — to cover the cost of food and lodging while in Santa Fe for legislative sessions or interim committee hearings.
Some lawmakers say the time commitment required to serve in the Legislature, along with the lack of a salary, makes it difficult for anyone but retirees and the wealthy to serve.
“Why would you limit people from making a living?” asked Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen.
Sanchez, who said he will not lobby when he eventually leaves the Legislature, does not believe a one-year cooling-off period would have an effect.
“I can see the intent behind it, but there’s always a way around a rule,” he said.