A request for an opinion from the Attorney General by state Rep. Tom Swisstack on whether it would be legal for him to also hold the job as mayor of Rio Rancho is not a signal he plans to do both, the candidate said.
A copy of the letter appeared on the AG’s web site last week, as do all requests from legislators once they are logged in and assigned to a staff member. But Swisstack said in a telephone interview that he simply wanted to “clarify my options” and doesn’t plan on staying in the House of Representatives if he is elected mayor.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – being mayor of Rio Rancho will be a full time job, especially with the issues the city faces,” he said.
Although he his considered as the favorite in he eight-person race for mayor because of his experience and name recognition, Swisstack repeated he is not taking anything for granted and is “working as hard as I ever have” in the mayor’s race. He also reiterated that he would only give up the Legislature upon being elected mayor, which could happen in the March 4 election or in a runoff election that is now required within 35 days if a candidate does not get 50.1 percent of the votes.
If he’s elected, just when Swisstack would and could resign his legislative seat depends a lot on timing. A special session of the Legislature, which opens Tuesday and runs to Feb. 14, is always a possibility, especially now that Gov. Bill Richardson is off he presidential campaign trail and is pushing controversial health care reform.
Since Swisstack’s House district is contained entirely within Sandoval County, it will be up to the Democratically-controlled County Commission to replace Swisstack, who is also a Democrat. City elections are non-partisan; county and state races are not.
Naming a replacement would give that individual some name recognition, even though he or she would not get much in the way of Legislative experience before the general election in November.
Republicans believe the seat is ripe for the picking. It took a recount for Swisstack to first claim the seat almost six years ago, and there are more Republicans registered in House District 60 than Democrats. According to the latest figures from the state Bureau of Elections, the district breakdown is 42 percent Republican, 38 percent Democrat, 16 percent independent and 4 percent other parties, such as Green or Libertarian.
One GOP candidate has already announced, former Jemez Valley school superintendent Paula Papponi. Glenn Walters, who lost to Swisstack four years ago, is also considering a run for the Republican nomination.
Asked why he wants an opinion from the Attorney General if he has no intention of holding both jobs, Swisstack said, “I’ve had friends tell me I could have both jobs and friends tell me I couldn’t. I’ve had opponents tell me I could have both jobs and tell me I couldn’t. When I ask how they know if I can or I can’t, they can’t tell me.
“I won’t let people who oppose me define what I can or cannot do. I want to get it straight from the people who know the law.”
The reason for Swisstack’s uncertainty is the language in the city charter. Article VIII, Section 8.02 (A) of the charter, titled “Holding Other Office,” reads, “Except as authorized by state law, no elected officer of the City shall hold any other elected public office during the term for which the member was elected.” State law does not authorize or preclude legislators from holding other offices, and the mayor of Santa Rosa, for one, is also in the legislature.”
Even if the attorney general were to rule he could not hold both, the charter does not have a timeline or other mention of the procedure for giving up the non-city elected position.
Some candidates for city office who oppose Swisstack have privately said they feared he may try to keep both jobs, going so far as to get private attorneys to write legal briefs and opinions on the issue.
The AG’s web site lists the request as “pending.” To view Swisstack’s request, go to http://www.nmag.gov/Opinions/opinionrequests.aspx