Voters, and the Democratic and Republican parties and the government they control, all share responsibility for the disastrous election of Public Regulation Commissioner Jerome Block Jr., who was plagued by scandal even before he won the 2008 race
Some New Mexico politicians like to say the only ethics reform we need is an electorate that picks more ethical leaders. While I disagree that it’s all we need, the case of Public Regulation Commissioner Jerome Block Jr. proves that the electorate needs to do a better job.
But it also proves that the two major political parties and the government they control need to do a better job.
Block has been in the news the last few days because his government-funded gas card was used more than once in a day on a number of occasions, sometimes minutes apart at multiple gas stations around Santa Fe and Española. He was also driving a state vehicle while his license was suspended.
He says he isn’t responsible for the multiple gas charges and gave his card to others, but the situation has led to calls for Block’s resignation from his own Democratic Party and from Republicans.
Welcome to the club. I wrote in 2008, before Block was elected, that he had no business being a PRC member:
“Let me get this straight: Jerome Block Jr., the Democratic candidate for the seat on the Public Regulation Commission being vacated by Ben R. Luján, has been less than honest about his criminal history and education and lied about his abuse of the state’s public financing system and taxpayer dollars, and now he wants voters to believe he’s under attack because the media is out to get him with ‘not only wrong information, but outright lies?’
“Outrageous. But, according to The Santa Fe New Mexican, that’s exactly the stunt he’s trying to pull in advertisements designed to combat the negative press he has earned.
“…The PRC is one of the most powerful regulatory boards in any state in the nation, and commissioners are paid $90,000 per year in taxpayer dollars. Block has proven he should not be entrusted with such a job.”
Four months after taking office, Block and his father were indicted on felony and misdemeanor charges related to misusing the state’s public financing system during Block’s 2008 election. Though a judge initially dropped some of the charges on a technicality, they were reinstated last week.
Now the situations with the gas card and the suspended license. It’s been one scandal after another for Block, and in spite of what he claimed in 2008, the media reported exactly what needed to be reported. In other words, Block was violating the public trust even before he was elected, and he’s been doing it ever since.
But Block’s actions aren’t the point of this column. They’re just the example. While there are lots of hard-working elected officials with integrity from both major political parties, there are Democratic and Republican elected officials who have no business holding those positions.
The case of Block is especially egregious because the media did its job, reporting widely before his election that he hadn’t been honest about his criminal history and education and had lied about his abuse of the state’s public financing system and taxpayer dollars. Anyone paying attention would have known before the election that Block may have broken the law.
But PRC District 3 voters elected him anyway.
Though some Democrats worked against Block’s election once problems with his candidacy surfaced, most of the party’s top leaders stayed silent. For that, the Democratic Party shares some of the blame for Block’s election.
The Republican Party shares some of the blame as well. It didn’t bother to run a candidate against Block. So as scandal consumed Block’s campaign, his only opponent was registered Green Party member Rick Lass.
It’s not a surprise, given a choice between a scandal-plagued Democrat and a little-known Green, that voters picked Block. Democrats and Republicans work together to keep minor parties from seriously challenging their dichotomous stranglehold on the American political system.
If you’re going to ensure that voters only have, at most, two viable choices, you need to give them those two choices.
Illustrating the need for reform
This is a perfect example of why we need reform. Republicans and Democrats shut out minor-party candidates but often don’t give us choices in elections – sometimes because they don’t run candidates, and other times because they make deals during redistricting to protect incumbent Democrats and Republicans, making it pointless to even bother to challenge some.
Our Democratic and Republican elected officials shouldn’t make deals that eliminate competition and keep them in safe districts. And our Democratic and Republican government shouldn’t implement rules that make it unlikely that candidates like Lass will get elected even when they’re running against people who are about to be indicted on felony charges.
And when voters do elect people like Block, we can’t just throw our hands in the air and say, oh well, we’ll try again in four years. We need rules and laws in place do keep those people in check. Block was apparently able to drive a state vehicle on a suspended license for a year before anyone noticed. Why? What checks are in place to ensure something like that doesn’t happen? How can we improve the system?
Many Republicans and even some Democrats in New Mexico say we don’t need ethics reform; we just need to elect better officials.
Were the system not designed to protect the two major parties and their candidates, we’d elect fewer bad apples, and such an argument might be more difficult to shoot down. As things stand, it’s easy to find examples in both parties of officials who need a pink slip but don’t get one. While they’re in office, they must be kept in check.
Those responsible should be ashamed
Voters need to do a better job of choosing candidates who have integrity. Those who voted for Block in 2008 in spite of the media’s efforts to educate them about his problems should be ashamed.
Both major political parties had a role in Block’s election. They should also be ashamed.
As a society, we can do better than this.