Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

1-20 Can Gov. and Legislature work together?


SANTA FE – Lawmakers are scheduled to take their usual Friday recess today. It gives the staff time to catch up with the flurry of bills introduced during opening days of the session and into binders for committee work.
It also gives some lawmakers from the far reaches of the state an opportunity to get back home for the last time before the session ends. The Capitol won't be completely vacant however. Finance committees and others will already be meeting.
Before high speed presses became more accessible, bills were flown by private contractors to places like Portales and Roy for duplication over the long weekend.
Mother Nature didn't send its customary blanket of snow for opening day but she did send some unexpected flurries beginning on Monday to remind us she still is around.
Gov. Susana Martinez said before the session started that legislators need to work every hour of every day to insure that the public's business gets done. That surely was an allusion to the slow-moving nature of last year's 60-day session and the even slower and somewhat erratic pace of September's special session.
The governor was partly responsible for last year's regular session moving so slowly. She laid out her priorities before the beginning of the session and then basically left town to travel, mostly in the southern part of the state, talking to groups about her priorities and reading to children.
Lawmakers had become accustomed to Bill Richardson's style of governing, in which he presented an ambitious program at the beginning of the session and then relentlessly pushed the Legislature to move it along.
There is nothing wrong with legislative leaders formulating their own initiatives and pushing the governor to accept them. In fact, that is the way it is supposed to work. But legislative leaders became so accustomed to Richardson controlling the agenda that they didn't get much done.
We learned on opening day that House Speaker Ben Lujan has been treated for late-stage lung cancer the past two years. Surely that must have slowed him down some. It is amazing that Lujan managed to conceal his illness for so long. Word normally spreads fast in the political arena.
Gov. Martinez has promised to be more engaged and cooperative this session. Her remarks to the opening session of the Legislature gave hope that may happen.
To this writer, she appeared much more confident and self-assured. Her delivery was polished and often passionate even without the tele-prompters used by most at the national level.
Martinez handled the disturbance by protesters at the beginning of her speech with grace. She seemed unflustered as the ever-present state police hustled the protesters out of the House gallery.
Her opening sentences were a little shaky but once she started talking about her family, she settled down. It spoke well for her administration that no arrests were made. The media quickly loses interest and any talk about First Amendment violations is quelled.
So our new governor showed up well in her as she begins her second year. Her popularity polls are all over the map, ranging from high 40 percent to low 60 percent, depending on who is doing the polling.
Her vice-presidential chances continue. If Republicans choose a conservative presidential candidate is chosen, many pundits presume a vice-presidential candidate will be needed to balance the ticket.
Last weekend Martinez was mentioned on a national network as an ideal balance for Rick Santorum whom the analyst speculated is so conservative he needs both a woman and a minority to provide enough balance.
So maybe enough forces will be at work to produce agreement on some of the state's more cantankerous issues. If it could be done on congressional and state Senate redistricting, good things may be possible.
But this is an election year. A change of one more seat from Democrat to Republican will put the House under GOP control. The redistricting map approved by a judge last week makes that possibility look very likely.
Right now, Democrat-turned-Independent Andy Nunez, from Las Cruces, creates a very delicate balance. In her opening day speech, Gov. Martinez teased several times about the uncomfortable situation Nunez creates for Democrats.


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