New Mexico State Government
THE NEW MEXICO STATE CONSTITUTION
The Constitution of the State of New Mexico was drafted in 1910 and ratified in 1911. The state has had only one constitution, but the document has been amended many dozens of times. At more than 21,000 words, it is one of the longest charters among the 50 states.
The original draft of the constitution carried extremely strict limitations on amending the document. The U.S. Congress frowned on these provisions and required that they be changed before the state could be admitted to the Union.
New Mexico struggled for decades to achieve statehood, finally achieving it in 1912. The U.S. Congress rebuffed serious applications in the 1850s, the 1860s, and the 1870s. The reasons why have been contentious. Racism toward Hispanics and Native Americans and religious bigotry toward Catholics probably played roles.
A state constitutional convention met in 1969 and drew up a new proposed constitution. The work of the delegates was animated by two issues: whether to give the governor more power by making several key posts appointive rather than elective (attorney general, secretary of state, etc.) and whether to make the judiciary appointive rather than elected. New Mexico voters turned down the new document by 3,702 votes in December 1969.
New Mexico voters have access to the popular referendum process but not to the initiative process. The constitution divides state government into three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial.
New Mexico's voters elect the state's governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general (the chief legal officer for the state), secretary of state (who keeps many records and supervises elections), treasurer (the state's banker), auditor (who performs accounting functions), and commissioner of public lands (charged with administering the state's millions of acres of public property).
Qualifications for all of these offices include a minimum age of 30, U.S. citizenship, and residency in New Mexico for at least five years immediately preceding election. The attorney general must also be a lawyer licensed in New Mexico. All of these offices carry four-year terms and are limited to two consecutive terms. After two terms, a hiatus of four years is required for each office before a candidate is eligible to run again.
The governor of New Mexico is the state's chief executive, charged with seeing that the state's laws are executed, holding substantial appointive, legislative, budgetmaking, and pardoning powers, and serving as commander-in-chief of the state's military. The governor can call the legislature into special session and can determine its agenda in such sessions. The state's governor also has strong veto powers, including the line-item veto.
The lieutenant governor runs on the same slate with the governor. The lieutenant governor's main formal duty is to preside over the senate and cast a vote in the event of a tie; the holder of the office serves on a number of state boards and agencies and can also serve as a troubleshooter with executive agencies on behalf of residents.
The New Mexico Legislature is a bicameral body consisting of 42 senators elected to four-year terms and 70 members of the House of Representatives elected to two-year terms. Term limits do not apply. The legislature meets annually starting in January. Odd-year sessions are limited to 60 calendar days and even-year sessions are confined to 30 calendar days. As noted, the governor can call the legislature into special session.
Service in the New Mexico legislature is considered part-time; the term citizen legislature can reasonably be applied, with legislators receiving no pay other than travel expenses and a per diem. Staff sizes are small. State senators must be at least 25 years old; state representatives must be at least 21. All must be U.S. citizens and reside in the relevant district.
While the lieutenant governor is president of the Senate, de facto leadership of that body is vested in the president pro tempore. Senate committee memberships and chairs are determined by a committee on committees. The key House leadership post is the speakership; the holder of this post determines committee assignments and chairs in that chamber. The committee structure in the New Mexico legislature is not robust—that is, legislative committees have limited ability to shape the passage of legislation.
The New Mexico court system consists of a supreme court, a court of appeals, a district court, and several trial courts of limited jurisdiction. Judges in the state are chosen by a modified merit selection plan. The governor appoints an individual to a judgeship based on recommendations of a judicial nominating commission. At the next general election the judge stands in a contested partisan election that decides the seat for the remainder of the term. If victorious in this election, the judge subsequently stands in retention elections. Term limits don't apply.
The five justices of the New Mexico Supreme Court hear appeals at their discretion from lower courts. They have mandatory jurisdiction in death penalty and life imprisonment cases, and in cases from the Public Regulation Commission and habeas corpus cases. The court also has administrative responsibilities.
The justices are chosen statewide and serve eight-year terms (if retained). The chief justice is chosen by his or her peers to a two-year term; the post traditionally goes to the senior justice who has not yet held the position. Qualifications include a minimum age of 35, residency in the state for three years, and 10 years of legal practice.
Court of Appeals
The 10 judges of the New Mexico Court of Appeals have mandatory jurisdiction over all appeals except the ones cited above in the "Supreme Court" section. The judges are chosen statewide and serve eight-year terms (if retained). Qualifications include a minimum age of 35, residency in the state for three years, and 10 years legal practice.
The state's 88 district court judges preside over trial courts of general jurisdiction, handling a wide variety of criminal and civil cases, including felonies, misdemeanors, divorce, property damage, and property disputes. The court can also hear appeals from magistrate and municipal courts. District court includes several divisions including criminal, civil, children's court, domestic violence, and family court. Judges are chosen from 13 state judicial districts to six-year terms if retained. Qualifications are a minimum age of 35, residency in the state for three years, residency in the relevant district, and six years' legal practice.
The state's 66 magistrates have jurisdiction in civil cases with judgments under $7,500 and also handle misdemeanor cases and certain other matters. Magistrates need not be attorneys but must complete special training. Magistrate courts operate at the county level; each of the state's 33 counties has at least one magistrate for a total of 54 such courts.
Most of the state's incorporated cities and towns have municipal courts, which operate solely in a given municipality. The total number of such courts is 80, with 82 judges having jurisdiction over municipal ordinance violations such as traffic infractions.
Each of the state's 33 counties has a probate court, which handles estate matters in conjunction with the district court. (Probate courts handle uncontested cases, while district courts hear contested cases.) A probate court judgeship is a part-time position.
Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court
With 16 judges, this court serves the Albuquerque metropolitan region, consolidating a magistrate court, a small claims court, and a municipal court, with jurisdiction over violations of ordinances of the county and of any municipalities in the county. Judges are elected to four-year terms; the basic qualification is that they be attorneys.
The state's 103 incorporated municipalities have the option of establishing home rule; the state's 33 counties do not have this option. The following municipalities have home rule: Albuquerque, Gallup, Grants, Rio Rancho, Santa Fe, Los Cruces, Alamogordo, Hobbes, Clovis, and Los Alamos. Counties have commissioners who are elected to four-year terms with a limit of two consecutive terms.
Municipalities with home rule show variance in their forms of government, with many opting for the mayor/council form. Most municipalities that don't have home rule have the mayor/council form of government; some have the commission/manager form. Los Alamos has a joint county/city government. The state also has a number of special districts that focus on delivery of specific government services.
New Mexico State Flag
New Mexico State Seal
|Author: World Trade Press|