Inside the Capitol

Saturday, January 12, 2013

1-16 Don't expect much from this Legislature

11613 legis1

SANTA FE – What should we expect from New Mexico's 2013 Legislature? Our chosen leaders have promised to work together but the chances don't look good.
Former Gov. Bruce King's campaign slogan was "Working Together," But Bruce had been on the county commission, was a former House speaker and a three-time governor. He knew how to make it work.
Today we are faced with over 30 of our 112 lawmakers being new to their jobs and a governor whose experience is as a prosecutor – a job not known for working together.
Add to those problems new leadership in both the House and Senate. House Speaker Ben Lujan retired and Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings was beaten in a bitter battle. So we have no steady hand of longtime leadership plus a number of first-time committee chairs.
And it doesn't end there. The recent elections were the most expensive ever -- and probably the dirtiest. Everybody claims dirty elections but this is the first time we have had GOP money being used to defeat Republicans in the Republican primary and Democrats in the Democratic primary. And it was the governor's PAC that was behind it all.
If that doesn't make for some poisonous water, I don't know what does. To top it off, Gov. Susana Martinez is reported to have wanted Republican Senate Floor Leader Stuart Ingle, of Portales, out of the Legislature because he is too nice a guy. Ingle is staying and is probably too nice to hold it against her.
Gov. Martinez says she plans to work closer with legislators this year. She said that last year too but some legislators tell me they were called into the governor's office only to be told how the governor would like them to vote and not to listen to any legislator's concerns.
The governor remains popular with the pubic, possibly because she appears at many public events and visits many elementary schools. Her popularity likely also stems from having picked her fights carefully. She hasn't strictly followed the GOP's handbook for new governors, which has gotten some of her gubernatorial colleagues in trouble.
State employees, many of whom voted for her, aren't wildly enthusiastic about her now. But the governor has avoided doing anything to make them want to rebel as they have in some states.
Agreeing to participate in the federal Medicaid expansion program also should be a popular decision for the governor. Only one other Republican-led state has agreed to do so,
New Mexico is a very poor state with a high number of people unemployed. Problems could be in the offing as to the degree of involvement necessary from the Legislature and from the governor.
Gov. Martinez is expected to try her two signature pieces of legislation again this session. She may not get any further with taking driver's licenses from undocumented aliens.
Some Senate Democratic lawmakers claim they have designed alternative legislation that fulfills all of Gov. Martinez's concerns that won't take transportation away from undocumented workers who need a way to get to their job.
But the governor won't budge. She wants it her way r no way. She says it is a matter of public safety. But some states are beginning to decide that it is safer to know that illegal alien drivers have passed a driving test and had insurance at least at the time they applied for a license.
Retention of third graders if they are not reading proficiently is another issue that should be able to be resolved by diplomatic negotiations.
Since long before I taught fifth grade 50 years ago, teachers have been blocked from holding poor students back by parents who wouldn't hear of it. But that was a call involving much more than a test score.
We may be moving toward some resolution of this standoff with extra reading help in the earl years and more parental involvement.


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