Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Raising some old political ghosts


SANTA FE – The ghosts of New Mexico's political past are back to raise their mischievous heads again. The opening two weeks of this Legislature have been more lively than most. After a do-little regular session last year, followed by a do-nothing special session, the change is refreshing.
The session is seeing its usual demonstrations but this time some are taking on the aura of the more rowdy demonstrations of the 1960s and 1970s. The Occupy movement has shown up twice for legislative events and has stretched the meaning of peaceful to its limits.
First it was the governor's opening day address to the Legislature and a week later it was a dinner hosted by a national conservative organization that were disrupted by a handful of shouting protesters. We may not have seen the end of the occurrences.
A few of the demonstrators walked all the way from Albuquerque in mid-January. That would seem to indicate some sort of resolve to do more than just hold a picket sign.
In the wake of the disturbances, Albuquerque Rep. Bill Rehm, whose female companion was accidently injured during the banquet disruption, questioned on the floor of the House two days later whether the Legislature has enough security and whether Santa Fe is a safe setting for the Legislature or whether another city should be considered.
The increased police presence has been a sore point at times in the past, especially when it was difficult to find a parking place within blocks of the Capitol Building. Police cars always seemed to have all the good spots near the building. That concern has been eased with the construction of a parking garage across the street.
But the suggestion of moving the state capital out of Santa Fe opened old wounds. Albuquerque began pushing for moving the capital back in the 1880s, when the railroad avoided Santa Fe and chose Albuquerque. The city was even blamed by many Santa Feans for burning our second Capitol Building to the ground.
As soon as Rep. Rehm finished his lengthy speech, House Speaker Ben Lujan provided evidence of those strong Santa Fe feelings when he told Rep. Rehm that he resented his suggestion.
For many decades the capital has been slowly moving toward Albuquerque as new state buildings are constructed, first in southern Santa Fe and now south of town. Statewide elected officials and cabinet secretaries, living in Albuquerque, have long opened Albuquerque offices in order to avoid Santa Fe.
Moving the entire state capital would be quite a chore, involving a constitutional amendment and the construction of new government buildings. It would mean much economic development for the city chosen and Rehm didn't mention Albuquerque specifically.
Rehm also mentioned a legislator who did not attend the dinner where the disturbance occurred; whom he thought might have had advance knowledge of the Occupy plan but gave no warning of it. He didn't mention any legislator by name but Santa Fe Rep. Brian Egolf was seen in the building talking with some of the people who later caused the disturbance.
Egolf later said his office is near Eldorado Hotel where the dinner was taking place and that he often drops by the hotel on his way home. He said he was not told of the plan and left before the action took place.
What then appeared to be a heated exchange occurred on the floor between Reps. Egolf and Rehm. It wasn't the first time heated exchanges have occurred during legislative sessions in Santa Fe. Occasionally chairs get knocked over in bars and maybe a few punches thrown.
And more heated exchanges have occurred in the past. I have read more than one source concerning a state lawmaker named "Diamond Tooth" Miller who shot and killed a state Supreme Court chief justice at La Fonda Hotel many years ago.
I have consulted all my trusty historical sources without luck. Google only wants to sell me diamond teeth. I would appreciate someone helping me with the story.


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