Inside the Capitol

Thursday, March 19, 2009

3-23 The Legislature Different

MON, 3-23-09

SANTA FE - Old time New Mexico politicos would not have recognized this year's legislature. It was even more different than the City Different in which it met. The ballgame has changed, maybe not for good, but some of it wasn't all that bad.
The puny economy made a difference. Not as many people came to town. Capitol hallways weren't as full. Parties were smaller and fewer. And there was less of a party atmosphere. It seemed more businesslike.
Some of the old pros say they'd like to see it stay that way. It doesn't have to change back. The atmosphere was once even wilder than recently. When the liquor industry ruled with its "fair trade" price fixing, hotel hallways were lined with cases of liquor at every lawmaker's door.
Lawmakers, this year, knew they had a job to do and it wasn't going to be much fun cutting budgets. Fewer people were in town to ask for money. Professional lobbyists still made it to town but they didn't have the usual bucks to throw around. Invitation lists, this year, primarily were limited to lawmakers and a guest, not their entire staffs and extended families.
Another difference, this year, was the role of the governor's office. In past years, Gov. Bill Richardson was a major presence in the legislative process, meeting with leaders and others, coaxing and cajoling to advance his initiatives and calling people on the carpet when he didn't get his way.
This year, the governor's office was still involved. Staff members attended hearings and advocated the administration's causes. But the overwhelming awareness that Big Bill was watching somehow didn't permeate the atmosphere as it once did.
Lawmakers joked that they felt Richardson's presence more in the past two years, when he was out of state, running for president and top-level appointments than when he was home during this session. And Richardson has been home. He hasn't even attended meetings of governors, which he so relished in past years.
Tough economic times, of course, limit the number of initiatives this governor has been able to push. Just tending to all the irons he already has in the fire has been enough to keep one occupied.
Gov. Richardson began his bold initiatives six years ago promising that the economic development he would bring to New Mexico would be sufficient to maintain the initiatives. It worked for a while but now everyone's economy is down.
A difference that was expected this year was the effect of having a larger than usual number of new legislators. Some surprising Democratic primary defeats last June, followed by a Democratic landslide in the fall, brought a bunch of young bucks to town.
For several years, the state Senate had been beating down social issues by one or two votes. The new Senate makeup was expected to change that balance. The only problem was that in order to reach the floor of the Senate, bills have to get through committees.
The very first vote of the legislative session turned out to have a huge influence on those other votes. The new Senate Democrats chose a new Senate president pro tem. That post has the major influence on appointments to committees. But Senate Republicans also get to vote on the pro tem. They paired with some conservative and some opportunistic Democrats to keep Sen. Tim Jennings of Roswell in the post.
As a consequence, the new "progressive" Democrats weren't on some of the committees that decided whether the controversial social issues would make it to the floor of the Senate. Some didn't. When one did, such as repeal of the death penalty, it passed rather easily.
But this hasn't been a legislative session dominated by big city progressives. It has been New Mexico's history for many years that when it appears the liberals are about to take over, a conservative coalition will beat them out every time.

Windows Liveā„¢ Groups: Create an online spot for your favorite groups to meet. Check it out.


Post a Comment

<< Home