Buckle up for political fireworks in NM’s 30-day legislative session


A ROUGH SESSION AHEAD?: Some early skirmishes — including one within the Democratic Party — indicates that the upcoming New Mexico legislative session may be a tense one.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE, N.M. — The 30-day legislative session doesn’t start until Tuesday, but already barbs are being traded across the party lines — and in one instance, within the Democratic Party itself.

On Thursday, Democratic Party of New Mexico Chairman Sam Bregman blasted an influential Democrat, state Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, for blocking a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee in last year’s session on a bill that would dip into the state’s $12 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund to pay for early childhood education programs.

It’s a proposal Bregman and many liberal Democrats support, but others, including fiscally conservative Democrats like Smith and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, oppose.

“At some time (Smith) would have to consider whether or not he wants to just join the governor in doing nothing and whether or not he wants to be a Republican,” Bregman said at a news conference.

Smith fired back.

“When I hear that from the chairman of the state Democratic Party (what I hear) is that he doesn’t believe there’s any place for an individual that is trying to be financially responsible,” Smith told KRQE-TV.

In the meantime, state Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, sent out a news release Thursday announcing that, as chairwoman of the Senate Rules Committee, she will convene a hearing looking into a controversial racino agreement the Martinez administration supported in 2011 with the Downs of Albuquerque.

“Fortunately, we have some very brave people who were once close to the governor’s circle coming forward with details about what could potentially be illegal influence peddling related to the (State Fair) Commission,” said Lopez, who happens to be running for the Democratic nomination to unseat Martinez as governor. “As legislators, we should keep check on the actions of the people we approve to these high-ranking, policy-making boards, and if they are not acting in the best interest of the state we must address that.”

Lopez said she plans on questioning board members about the deal, as well as Martinez herself and her political adviser Jay McCleskey.

“I’m sure that if everything is as above board as they say, they will be more than happy to explain to the public and the Legislature their side of the story,” Lopez said in her news release.

Not surprisingly, a spokesman for the governor fired back, saying Lopez is just trying to score cheap political points.

“We shouldn’t be surprised when Sen. Lopez, a candidate for governor, says she plans to play political games with the confirmation process,” spokesman Enrique Knell said in an email to New Mexico Watchdog. “That’s just what she does, political games, and she can’t help herself. At a time when we need to pass a budget, create jobs, and reform education, Sen. Lopez plans to instead waste time on yet another petty political sideshow.”

Since 2014 is an election year, there’s a definite sense around the Roundhouse that the upcoming 30-day session will take a decided partisan edge.

“The atmosphere might be a little tight on the House (of Representatives) side,” Senate Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, told New Mexico Watchdog. All 70 seats in the House are up for grabs in November.

“Several seats will be hotly contested,” Papen said. “Democrats will be trying to hang on to the majority and Republicans will try to get the majority, or at least a tie.”

Right now, Democrats hold on to a 37-33 advantage. Republicans haven’t had a majority in the New Mexico House since 1953, when Dwight Eisenhower was sworn in for his first term in the White House.

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

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