NM Democrat catches heat for opposition to minimum wage amendment


HEAT FROM THE LEFT: State Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, says his received “a few hundred” messages about his opposition to having the minimum wage raised by constitutional amendment.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE, N.M. – State Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, said he’s been inundated with messages and voicemails because he’s come out against a resolution that would raise the state’s minimum wage by amending the state constitution.

He said he’s received threats that his political future is in jeopardy by his stance.

“It comes with the territory,” Sanchez said Friday morning, estimating he had received “a few hundred” messages from people angry that he won’t vote for Senate Joint Resolution 13, which would raise the hourly minimum wage to about $8.50 an hour and tie it to cost of living adjustments.

When asked for specifics about the political threats he’s received, Sanchez said, “I’ll just leave that be.”

The resolution will soon be heard in the Senate Rules Committee and a “no” vote from Sanchez could effectively doom the legislation. That’s because the committee is made up of six Democrats and four Republicans. All four Republicans are expected to vote against the resolution and if Sanchez joins them, it would result in a 5-5 tie. Legislation can only move forward if a committee’s majority approves it.

“That’s not where it should be,” said Sanchez, who added that he’s in favor of raising the minimum wage but doesn’t think it should be done through a constitutional amendment.

“It should be hard to change the constitution,” Sanchez told New Mexico Watchdog. “I just don’t think raising the minimum wage by constitutional amendment is where it belongs. That should be done in statute.”

SJR13 is one of a flurry of constitutional amendments Democrats have introduced in this 30-day legislative session. Since resolutions don’t go to the governor should they pass both chambers of the Legislature, Republicans accuse Democrats of trying to make an end-run around Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

“I just figured, we’ll do it another way and let the voters decide,” said SJR13′s sponsor, state Senator Richard Martinez, D-Española earlier this week.

Martinez told the Santa Fe New Mexican he’s disappointed Sanchez won’t back his resolution. “I was counting on my fellow Democrats to support this.”

There are still other pieces of legislation that would raise the state’s minimum wage but the Martinez resolution was the only one that attempted to do it through a constitutional amendment.

Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela, D-Santa Fe, has introduced a bill to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 and adjust it to the Consumer Price Index.

Sanchez said he plans on introducing his own minimum wage bill, but added it would call for raising the rate to $8.20 an hour, 70 cents more than the current rate.

Sanchez was elected by a razor-thin margin to the Senate in 2012, defeating — in one of those “only in New Mexico politics” instances — his niece, Maxine Velasquez, in the Democratic primary by nine votes. Sanchez has voted as a pro-business Democrat in his time in the Roundhouse.

Last year, the governor vetoed a bill that passed the House and Senate, that would have raised New Mexico’s minimum wage to $8.50. Martinez said she was willing to go to $7.80, matching Arizona.

Raising the minimum wage has become a hot political topic for Democrats. New Mexico is one of 30 states across the country where Democrats have gone to the statehouse calling for increases and earlier this week, President Obama signed an executive order raising the minimum wage for federal contract employees to $10.10 an hour.

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

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