NM Democrats continue infighting


BACK AND FORTH: Sen. Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, left, criticized chairman of the Democratic Party of New Mexico, Sam Bregman, right, for upbraiding a fellow Senate Democrat.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE, N.M. – The intra-party fight among New Mexico Democrats took another turn Thursday, with one powerful state Senate leader defending one of his colleagues and chastising the chairman of the Democratic Party of New Mexico on the Senate floor.

“Last week we had a member of the Democratic Party call out one of our senators,” Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, said in front of the full Senate.

Sanchez was referring to party chairman Sam Bregman, who last week singled out state Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, a fiscal conservative.

Bregman blasted Smith for failing to hold a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee during 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 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.

Sanchez didn’t mention Bregman by name Thursday, but he criticized the party chairman for “insinuating that (Smith) wasn’t a true Democrat, insinuating that he should change parties, insinuating and threatening a primary challenge for him.”

“The Democratic Party is always a big tent, whether you’re ultra liberal, ultra conservative, whatever you are.

“For some member of our party to try to embarrass one of our Democratic members is not right … No party should tell us what or how we should vote on this floor … I’m embarrassed that it happened and I want to apologize for those remarks to the senator it was made to … He’s my friend and a strong Democrat … There’s no place for that on this floor.”

Asked to respond, Bregman called New Mexico Watchdog and said, “No. 1, I’ve never told anybody they should become a Republican because of the way they vote on a particular issue. I was very clear that if Senator Smith does not allow for even a vote on one of the most important issues to the Democrats in this state, and that is for allowing for this constitutional amendment, then he should become a Republican and I do stand by this today as well.”

After Thursday’s floor session, Smith said he appreciated what Sanchez did.

“I said to him, ‘You didn’t have to do that’ and he said, ‘I know,’ ” Smith said. “Michael Sanchez is absolutely right. Sometimes we don’t see eye to eye on some legislation. I have only respect for Michael Sanchez, for being ethical, honest and truthful. We need more of him.”

Sanchez is sponsoring a resolution tapping into the permanent fund to pay for early childhood education.

Because it’s a resolution and not a bill, it calls for the amending the state constitution, which would require it to pass both the House and Senate and get approved by voters in November. It would bypass the governor’s office.

Here’s video of last week’s comments by Bregman, from KRQE-TV:

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

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