Inside the Capitol

Friday, February 15, 2008

2-20 Good Reasons for Legislature's Lack of Productivity

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Gov. Bill Richardson called the 2008 Legislature the least productive since he has been in office. He's right. He blamed it all on Senate leaders. That's wrong.
True, Senate leaders have not been exactly helpful getting the governor's initiatives into law. They are very concerned about protecting their turf from any incursion by the governor.
But there are other reasons the governor didn't move much of his agenda all the way through the Legislature. The national economic slowdown has affected revenues in New Mexico. We don't have as much money with which to work. And many of Richardson's plans involve money.
The governor wasn't around for much of this past year to sell his ideas to lawmakers and the public. Expect to see much more of him out around the state this year.
Some of Richardson's initiatives, such as domestic partnerships and stem cell research, are a very hard sell in a state as religiously conservative as New Mexico. With all lawmakers facing reelection, even if they might have wanted to support such legislation, they knew the majority of their constituents would disapprove.
Had Gov. Richardson traveled the state this past year, he might have been able to convince some folks that only stem cells destined for disposal would be used, that domestic partnerships are not gay marriage and that universal coverage is not socialized medicine.
The governor was very careful that his health coverage plan would operate through private insurance companies and not be a single-payer plan run by the state. If his plan is to have any chance of success in a special session, he must bust his tail personally selling that to reluctant New Mexicans.
But Gov. Richardson's biggest hurdle in getting 400,000 uninsured New Mexicans covered is to convince lawmakers that the money is there and that requiring people to be insured isn't going to be unrealistic.
Richardson would like a health care special legislative session as soon as possible so he can hold line-item vetoes of lawmakers' pork-laden capital outlay bill over their heads. He has until 20 days after the session to act on it.
Legislators also would like a special session soon because all of them who want to be back next year must stand for reelection.
But if the governor's health care proposal is to have a chance, he would be wise to wait until after the June primary election, when lawmakers have some breathing room before getting ready for the general election.
That will give the governor time to sell his proposal and it will give everyone more opportunity to see where this economic downturn is headed and whether the state has any money to help make it work.
Richardson may only have until early summer to promote his health care package. By that time, the Democratic presidential nominee should be evident and our governor will want to be out campaigning again.
This time that campaigning will be for someone else, but in reality, he'll be gunning for a nice post in the new administration. And if his special session is as unsuccessful as those in the past five years, he may want to get out of Dodge as soon as possible.
Some pundits have predicted that Richardson wants to spend the next three years building his legacy. But it's not at all clear that the legacy he wants to build is in New Mexico.
He already has a railroad and a spaceport well on the way. He's made some environmental strides and universal health care certainly would be a feather in his cap.
But I'm guessing that his biggest desire is to have a national and international legacy in diplomacy and foreign relations. That's what he studied in college. Those were his first jobs. And since then he has developed a reputation for successful dealings with leaders of rogue nations.
And Richardson is still in that business, even while governor of New Mexico.
WED, 2-20-08

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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