Thursday, July 24, 2008

Keep Your Hands Off!

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is a physical guy.

He’s touchy-feely, he backslaps, he bear hugs, and he’ll even bonk people in the head.

However, he only seems to do it to people who are smaller than he is. Of course that’s most people, because he’s a big guy.

Its caused him some trouble before. "I think it's irritating and annoying," Lt. Gov. Diane Denish said in a Dec. 17, 2005, Journal article. In a March 9, 2007, Journal article she explained about Richardson's touching as an annoyance, but not inappropriate. Above, he gives Denish a hug at a 2006 Patricia Madrid campaign event.

It seems he has a need to feed his ego by forcing himself on people.

Sometimes he knows better, like these women from Alamogordo with whom he posed to have their picture taken at the recent Democratic Four Governors fund raiser.

In the schoolyard, a guy like that is called a bully.

It appears Richardson attempts to intimidate people, as he walked into KLUZ Univision TV 41's Jim Morrison. Richardson usually does it with a smile, but that doesn’t mean he’s happy.

His staff make excuses for his physical contact.

“Governor Bill Richardson Announces Aug. 15 Special Session Date,” according to a July 21, press release.

The release from Press Secretary Gilbert Gallegos, left, noted, “We are ready to move forward with health care reform and cover more New Mexicans,” Governor Richardson said. “There is adequate room in the budget to get this done now. We can’t afford not to act.”

Richardson has called a special session of the Legislature to address issues that he could not get passed during the last regular session. Particularly, returning some taxes based on $400 million of oil and gas revenues and for universal health care.

It is within the exclusive purview of the Governor to call a special session. However, in calling the Legislature back to Santa Fe, he is interfering with a more important process – a free and open election.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

Of the current 112 Legislators, some seen here during the opening of the 2007, 60-day session, 55 have no general election opponents. That means 57 Legislators are running campaigns to retain their seats.

State law prohibits Legislators from raising money during a session.
1-19-34.1. Legislative session fundraising prohibition.

A. It is unlawful during the prohibited period for a state legislator or a candidate for state legislator, or any agent on behalf of either, to knowingly solicit a contribution for a political purpose. For purposes of this subsection, "prohibited period" means that period beginning January 1 prior to any regular session of the legislature or, in the case of a special session, after the proclamation has been issued, and ending on adjournment of the regular or special session.

B. It is unlawful during the prohibited period for the governor, or any agent on his behalf, to knowingly solicit a contribution for a political purpose. For purposes of this subsection, "prohibited period" means that period beginning January 1 prior to any regular session of the legislature or, in the case of a special session, after the proclamation has been issued, and ending on the twentieth day following the adjournment of the regular or special session.

So what does this mean?

It effectively brings a halt to political campaigning for the State Legislature. It doesn’t just apply to the legislators, but also to those running against incumbents.

“No soliciting contributions for a political purpose,” does not only mean financial contributions, but may also be interpreted as soliciting contributions of ones vote through advertising, sending out mailers or distributing yard signs.

It also means that the Governor is prohibited from campaigning or supporting any candidate for the State Legislature.

My Take

I doubt Richardson gave the ramifications of the Legislative session fundraising prohibition any consideration at all. But if he did, isn’t it one of the wickedest political maneuvers you’ve ever seen?

Consider that Richardson now has all the Legislators at his call, unable to campaign for their upcoming election, from the day he formally announced the session, July 21, until they adjourn. Does this sound like blackmail or just political manipulation? – Do my work and you can get back to campaigning.

House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Santa Fe, left, told the Associated Press that he expected the session to last seven to 10 days.

Richardson has an additional problem in that the law prohibits him, specifically making it, “…unlawful during the prohibited period for the governor, …to knowingly solicit a contribution for a political purpose.” That would be any political purpose, including retiring his presidential debt. He also has an additional 20-days tacked on to his probation; the time he is allowed to act on any legislation that might be passed. Even if the Legislature were to adjourn without passing anything, the Governor would still have to wait 20-days before resuming contributions for a political purpose. The prohibition covers the dates of the Democratic National Convention. Richardson is probably considered a big draw in Denver.

Attorney General Gary King, left, rendered an opinion on February 7, 2007, that concluded: "Based on the doctrine of Federal Preemption, the prohibitions in the State Campaign Reporting Act and State Lobbyist Regulation Act do not regulate contributions to candidates for federal office."

However, the opinion is only advisory and does not address the Governor's non federal office activities in which he would still be prohibited from being involved.

Now I doubt that it was anyone’s intent to have this law interfere with free elections, but that is exactly what it has done. The statute makes sense during a regular session, far from the election cycle, but after the campaign season formally begins, by law, there is a conflict that has developed.

Meant as a piece of ethics reform, it now disrupts the fundamental concept of our democratic society.

What should take precedence? Holding a non-emergency special session or not disrupting the elections by delaying the special session until after the election.

My two cents worth; there is nothing on the Governor’s call that can’t wait for the 60-day regular session, set to begin less than six months from now. Waiting until after the election would allow lame duck legislators to act after some have possibly lost reelection.

The First Amendment right to campaign freely for office should not be disrupted by the call for a special session and the attendant prohibition against fund raising.

Some of what is on the Governor’s call is purely political, specifically a tax rebate or refund. The excess Richardson proposes returning will still be there mid January. There are some things the Governor should not have his hands all over.

Just give us our money,” wrote Dan Foley, right, on Heath Haussamen on New Mexico Politics’ blogspot and repeated on the New Mexico Independent’s site. Foley is one of those not returning to the Legislature, having been defeated in the primary. He might like another shot at getting a rebate or refund before giving up his seat.

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