Measure bumps up county term limits

By Steve Terrell: The New Mexican

The Senate on Saturday passed a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow county officials in the state — commissioners, sheriffs, clerks, treasurers and assessors — to run for three consecutive four-year terms instead of the two terms under current law.

The resolution passed with a 27-14 vote. It had bipartisan support.

If the House of Representatives follows through and passes Senate Joint Resolution 5, the proposed amendment would be on the ballot in November. Senate Republican Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, noted that voters in the past have rejected similar measures.

Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas, said the amendment would allow county commissioners to gain years of expertise on various issues. He said allowing officials to stay on for 12 years would help counties deal with increasingly complex subjects including property taxes and elections.

The measure has the support of the New Mexico Association of Counties.

Two former county officials who are now senators spoke in favor of the measure. These included Sen. Dianna Duran, R-Tularosa, who has served as Otero County clerk, and Sen. Steve Neville, R-Aztec, a former San Juan County commissioner for eight years.

Neville noted that in most New Mexico cities there are no term limits for mayors or city councilors.

No mayor in Santa Fe has served more than two consecutive four-year terms. But three of the eight current city councilors have. Councilors Matthew Ortiz and Miguel Chavez are in their third terms, while Patti Bushee is serving her fourth.

Some senators from both sides of the aisle were skeptical of the amendment.

Sen. Eric Griego, D-Albuquerque, said county commissions, unlike city councils, basically serve both as legislative and executive branches of government without another branch to provide checks and balances. Campos argued that state officials such as the state auditor provide that check.

Sen. Mark Boitano, R-Albuquerque, said he saw no compelling need to make the change. “It seems that term limits have worked well,” he said.

Until 1990, county officials were elected to two-year terms and could only serve two consecutive terms. Those who were elected in 1988 were allowed to serve that two-year term plus two more 4-year terms — a total of 10 years in office.