Friday, January 18, 2008

Chilly Chili

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

This is a chili pod from a holiday ristra in some leftover snow on a street across from the State Capitol before the legislature opened its session Tuesday.

It might speak volumes, metaphorically, about the 30-day “short session” of the 112 part-time unpaid citizen legislators and their views of their upcoming work.

The session started with the housekeeping chores of accounting for all its members being present and signed in. Each house had to fill vacancies that opened during the last year.

In the House, two new representatives were sworn-in: John Peña, left, D- McKinley and San Juan Counties, replaced Irvin Harrison who retired in April, and Rodolpho “Rudy” Martinez, right, D- Grant and Hidalgo Counties, replaced Manuel Herrera, who died of cancer in October.

Howie Morales, D- Catron, Grant and Socorro Counties, with his hand raised, is sworn in,replacing Senate Pro-Tem Ben Altamirano, who died last month. He was escorted by other Senators in the chambers: William H. Payne, R- Bernalillo, John Arthur Smith, D- Hidalgo, Luna and Sierra Counties, Cynthia Nava, D- Dona Ana County, and John Pinto, D- McKinley and San Juan Counties.

The Senate elected Tim Jennings, above, D- Chavez, Eddy, Lincoln and Otero Counties, Senate Pro-Tem. He accompanied his colleagues as the two bodies joined in the House chamber to listen to Gov. Bill Richardson give his sixth State of the State address.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

This is Sen. Cisco McSorley, D- Bernalillo, taking a picture of Richardson’s speech.

According to the State’s Constitution, the short session is limited to only three topics:
budgets, appropriations and revenue bills,
bills drawn pursuant to special messages of the governor and,
bills of the last previous regular session vetoed by the governor.

“Energy efficiency, domestic violence, ethics reform, domestic partnership, and expanding health care coverage to every New Mexican are major issues facing this state and are the heart of my agenda,” Richardson told legislators, government officials, workers, guests and citizens crowded into the chamber’s floor and gallery.

Sen. Dede Feldman, center, D- Bernalillo County, Chair of the Interim Legislative Health and Human Services Committee, took notes as Richardson spoke of his "Health Solutions New Mexico Plan."

Richardson seemed well received by the overflow crowd. It is of interest that the Governor comes down and goes up the aisle of the House chamber where the majority members sit. It makes one wonder why he does not extend his hand to the minority?

After the speech, House Republican Caucus Representatives, Minority Floor Leader Tom Taylor, left, San Juan County and Minority Whip Dan Foley, right, Chaves, Lincoln and Otero Counties, gave their assessment of the governor’s speech.

Their take was that with only 30-days, much was being asked and not all could be accomplished. Taylor said that the cost of the governor’s health care coverage was greater than the available resources. At best, the legislature might be able to set a framework for implementing a plan over a number of years.

Foley said that the Republican side wanted to first work on issues where both parties could come to some common ground and hoped to do so in the first 20-days of the session. Then, in the last 10-days tackle the more contentious issues. He suggested that the domestic partnership was such an issue, saying that he thought there would be significant “push back” from both sides of the aisle.

Taylor said that he had adopted a policy of signing on to cosponsor bills with Speaker of the House Rep. Ben Lujan, D- Santa Fe, on issues where the Republicans previously might have introduced a separate competing bill with minor changes. The example he gave was, Democrats might have, in the past, introduced a four percent tax cut and the Republicans would have introduced a bill with a four and a half percent tax cut. Now they won’t fight over two bills.

I asked if there was any such offer of cooperation from the other side and Taylor snapped, “It doesn’t matter!”

My Take

It sounds like spin to me. The Republicans are trying to look like they are playing nice on issues they know they have no chance of impacting, while also recognizing that the Democrats have no reason to even give the appearance of also playing nice.

According to Steve Terrell’s NM Legislature Blog, the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee passed out the “Domestic Partnership” bill, 4-3 along party lines, with Democrats for and Republicans against. Terrell reports that the small committee room was overcrowded and people interested in the issue had no access, while the House chamber sat empty.

HCPAC Chairwoman Rep. Gail Chasey, D- Bernalillo, right, seen here during the opening session, ignored a call to move the hearing to the chambers from Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, R- Bernalillo. When questioned by Terrell as to why the hearing wasn’t moved, Chasey admitted maybe she should have, but spun the story to complain that there was a need for a Capitol building expansion. It seems she is bemoaning the fact that the previously discussed expansion issue was dead in the water, killed prior to the session.

As this second picture of a different chili in the snow bank shows that, along the gutter of the street, the snow has a lot of road splash and is no longer pure and the chili, not so fresh. Prediction on this session will be, the temperature chilly and the chili, not so hot.

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