Monday, August 25, 2008

Get a Room!

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

State Legislators gathered for a special session called by Gov. Bill Richardson Friday August 15. It was, as predicted, a strange affair.

This bronze statute in front of the Capitol of boys and girls tussling over something is depictive of what happened in the chambers.

Though there was no legislation specifically involving their issue, lobbyists for the Southwestern Biofuels Association gathered in the rotunda, as many groups do, for a pep rally before seeking out legislators with their message.

This is the bill book on the House side; it has nothing in it.

Why? Because the administration didn’t have it’s act together.

The Proclamation calling lawmakers into the special session wasn’t signed until 10:00 a.m., only two hours before the call. Then it wasn’t until mid afternoon that a package of the Governor’s proposals made their way to the floors.

So the session opened with the usual perfunctory rituals then hit a wall of inactivity.

Rep. Jane Powdrell-Culbert, left greets Senators James Taylor with Carroll H. Leavell, rear, and Jerry Ortiz y Pino, right, as a committee which reported to the House. "The Senate is Sine... in session and prepared to conduct business...," Taylor announced, to great laughter.

Sine Die, Latin, having several meanings; in this case, to adjourn, was bantered about without saying both words together on Friday.

By Sunday, the members were pretty much in open rebellion. Loyal Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, seen here on Friday nervously wringing his hands before speaking, were questioning the need for a special session and calling it a political grandstanding move on the part of the Governor.

The House Democrats called a caucus, most likely to make sure none of them would wander off and lose a quorum.

Rep. Kiki Savaarda, seated center in right picture, chaired the Appropriations and Finance committee, while Majority Leader Rep. W. Ken Martinez, left picture, shepherded House Bill 1 through the committee and on the floor. HB1, or as it is known as "the feed bill," is the one bill always generated by the body and not always coming from the Governor that pays for the session.

On the Senate side, when the bills arrived they were distributed to committees by Lt. Gov. Diane Denish.

Sen. Linda Lopez joked that she could make a motion that would end everything; a motion to Sine Die. Egged on by several colleagues Lopez, left, sat down as Sen. David Ulibarri, right, and others got a good laugh.

Rep. Ray Begaye spoke with Minority Leader Tom Taylor before the floor vote on HB 1, the feed bill. Begaye wanted to make sure he got per diem if the Senate should sine die and the house might be out of session during the statutory three-day waiting period if the House did not also adjourn. That is what happened during last year’s special session. It seems that Begaye had not collected his per diem, as he might have been allowed to do, and he suffered some personal economic loss on housing in Santa Fe. Begaye, did not introduce an amendment after being assured that he would be entitled to payment if the Senate pulled the same stunt. No word on whether Begaye can put in a voucher for last year's session.

The House finally presented just over a dozen pieces of proposed legislation that Speaker of the House Ben Lujan assigned to various committees.

The media, as represented here by KRQE's Michael Herzenberg doing a live shot from the House gallery, dutifully reported the events.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

This is the Senate chamber after it went into recess. The galleries were empty, the print media gallery abandoned, and only three members were on the floor: Senators Pete Campos, top, a Democrat, and two Republicans; Rod Adair, left, and Steve Komadina, right.

Komadina was working on his laptop, talking on his cellular phone and chatting with Adair. The topic was some sort of survey that Komadina was either answering or was creating for his constituency.

Adair was challenging Komadina on some of his votes in the past; particularly stem-cell research. An obstetrician, Komadina told Adair that the science had changed and he supported the use of stem cells in research. Adair responded, “Never surrender to the demagogues.”

Later in the afternoon Adair had nothing better to do after the Senate went into recess than go over and bug Representatives Candy Spence Ezzell on the House floor, while it was still in session.

A number of legislature will not be returning, they include: Representatives House Minority Whip Dan Foley, left, of Roswell, who was defeated by Dennis Kintigh in the Republican primary, Tom Swisstack, center, who was elected and is serving as Mayor of Rio Rancho, Albuquerque’s Dan Silva, right, who was defeated by Eleanor Chávez, Senators James Taylor and Shannon Robinson were defeated by Eric Griego and Tim Keller in the democratic primary,

Silva, Taylor, and Robinson filed a lawsuit in State District Court in Albuquerque claiming that a number of organizations improperly used their non-profit, tax-exempt status, under the guise of providing voter education, to intercede and improperly influence the out come of their elections. The nonprofits have denied the assertions in the suit. However, Attorney General Gary King has instructed Secretary of State Mary Herrera to order, at least one of the non-profit organizations, to register and file reports, including providing non tax deductible contributors’ information, as a political action and to change their tax-exempt status.

My Take

Adair is considered by many, including some members of his own party, of taking harsh stands against anyone who disagrees with him; some even consider him to be a demagogue.

I am discouraged by the Senators behavior on the floor. If they do not recognize that the floor, whether in session or not, is an inappropriate place to strategize a political campaign, then there is little hope for any ethical conduct, let along successful legislation.

All they had to do was pick up their stuff and go to their office and close the door. However, they would rather screw around in public.

A State Policeman strides across the Great Seal in the rotunda. According to the docents, one should not step on the seal out of respect. Of course only docents and those who are willing to show great respect don't walk on the seal.

During the afternoon session, there was a mighty storm that passed through; not inside, but a fair amount of rain fell on the City Different. Inside, mostly wind. The rain cleared the air and made for an interesting display of lingering thunderhead clouds in the setting sun.

The one sign of legislative progress, actually from a couple of year's ago, is the construction on a long-awaited and much needed parking garage. Of course such a structure, though designated for the Capitol, will undoubtedly be filled with State workers' vehicles. One knows how nature abhors a vacuum. Come next session, parking will still be a problem.

A a yellow rose in front of the west side of the Capitol accurately reflect the fact that Santa Fe was actually part of the Republic of Texas between the time it was independent and the end of the Mexican-American war? You can start quite a bar fight in many parts of New Mexico stating that fact. However, the flowers look nice, even if it does make you want to hum, "the Yellow Rose of Texas."

A rose by any other name, just like a special session, sometimes stinks.

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