Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

1-18 Will Paper election help governor?

11813 Mary Kay

SANTA FE – The New Mexico Senate is being run by still another coalition. What causes such a thing to happen? And how will this coalition work out? Will it provide Gov. Susana Martinez an easier pathway for her prized legislation? Will it make the governor's 2014 reelection easier?
The new Senate president pro tem is Sen. Mary Kay Papen. She is from Las Cruces, as is our governor. Papen says they are longtime acquaintances and although they have had their differences, they never have been adversarial.
Papen describes herself as a fiscal conservative but a social moderate. She is a strong supporter of Sen. John Arthur Smith, of Deming, a fiscal conservative who chairs the Senate Finance Committee.
The New Mexico Legislature is not unfamiliar with cross-party coalitions running either the House or the Senate. Back in the late 1970s, a group of disenchanted Democrats joined with Republicans, who were the minority party, to form a coalition headed by a Democrat but run by Republicans.
It was called the Cowboy Coalition because most of the Democrats were from the southern part of the state. The atmosphere was not pleasant.
In the mid-1980s, Republicans in the Senate managed the same sort of coup, headed by Sen. Les Houston, a Democrat turned Republican. That coalition formed during a legislative session. Committee chairs were unceremoniously replaced during the middle of committee meetings. It happened to the late Sen. Frank Papen in the middle of a Senate Finance Committee meeting.
And now Papen's widow, Mary Kay, has engineered another overthrow. But this takeover is expected to be much more civil. It is likely to be similar to the overthrows of the last three Democratic Senate leaders.
Sen. Tim Jennings, a Roswell Democrat, lost the Democratic nomination for president pro tem of the Senate eight years ago but then went to Senate Republican leaders and obtained support for a coalition with several Democrats.
Jennings still called the shots as a Democrat. He appointed Democrats as committee chairs. Relationships of the two parties were cordial. Republicans said they just preferred being led by a moderate-conservative Democrat rather than one they felt was more liberal.
The other time Republicans and a few Democrats teamed up to override the choice of the Democratic caucus was to oust Sen. Manny Aragon, with whom some Democrats, both liberals and conservatives, had grown tired.
Papen's appeal may be similar to that of Jennings, in which case the Senate will proceed normally. But some Democrats fear Papen will provide too much support to the governor in getting her proposals through the Senate, thereby assisting in her 2014 reelection.
By the time the pro tem race got to the floor, Papen had convinced the leadership that she had the support of all Republicans plus at least five Democrats.
So instead of fighting it out in public, Sen. Pete Campos, the choice of the Democratic caucus, nominated Papen. Her unanimous election means the Democratic defections never will be known for sure.
The unusual opening day began at noon. Soon after, legislative leaders were informed that their much-heralded webcasting system did not work. People looking for a computer connection to watch the pro tem battle in the Senate got nothing but a black screen.
The fix finally came just as Gov. Martinez was beginning her opening day speech. No, it wasn't a sneaky trick from the governor's office. The Legislature is the landlord of the Capitol.
One early report announced that Sen. Papen is the first woman to serve as president pro tem of the Senate. That was soon corrected to state that Louise Coe of Lincoln County was pro tem from 1935 to 1940.
Coe wrote a very interesting review of her 15 years of legislative experience. The book certainly could be termed a tell-all because she was amazingly candid, even about very personal matters. The 1981 book is titled, "Lady and the Law Books"


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