Transparency Watch: N.M. State Senate proves irony is not dead

By Eli Il Yong Lee – Feb 1st, 2009 at 11:35 am MST
Now let me see if I’ve got this straight. The New Mexico State Senate is NOT currently webcasting its floor sessions because the Senate leadership overruled a vote of the full membership authorizing that this be done.

Say again?

That’s right. Last year (Feb. 12, 2008), by a sizable bipartisan majority (27 For and only 13 Against), the Senate passed the webcast authorization along with a $75,000 appropriation. That was Senate Memorial 45 sponsored by Senator Mark Boitano (R-Albuquerque).

By December 2008, after an expenditure of just $30,000, everything was in place and ready to go for the 2009 session. But then something totally unexpected happened. In late December, it was learned that the Legislative Council Service (LCS)on orders of the Senate leadership did not issue the final contract for the webcasting. Then it took another chilling step. Just hours before the the opening of the 2009 Session (Jan. 20), the newly installed cameras and equipment were dismantled and removed from the Senate chamber. The state budget crisis was trotted out as the excuse for these actions.

When pressed on the cost issue by the media and irate Senators, the LCS belatedly admitted that the price tag for webcasting the Senate for the 60-day session would be a mere $7,000. That’s right, $7,000 to give the people of New Mexico the same open government access as is enjoyed by the citizens of 45 other states (plus Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, not to mention the cities of Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Santa Fe and Bernalillo County).

That’s $7,000 to bring the N.M. State Senate into the 21st Century – or .0001% of the total state budget. Some special industry lobbyist banquets put on for our lawmakers can cost as much – but, of course, the public is excluded from those.

After a wave of public protest, the full Senate revisited the issue at the beginning of the second week of the session and voted by an even more resounding margin (30 to 10) to call upon the leadership (the Committee on Committees) to rescind its extraordinary no-webcasting decision. Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino (D-Albuquerque) expressed the frustration so many felt: “We simply need our leaders to do what we’ve asked them to do,” said Ortiz y Pino. “The money is there. Get it done.”

You see, if the Senate moved in the direction of greater transparency, then the need for our organization – as well as for other governmental watchdogs in the non-profit sector – would be reduced!

Upholding a proud tradition
The historic role of non-profits in bringing transparency to government is a long one. Indeed, this year marks the 30th anniversary of C-Span. In 1979, years before the rise of the Internet, C-Span, a non-profit corporation unaffiliated with Congress, began cable TV broadcasts of the proceedings of the U.S. House of Representatives. And seven years later, C-Span2 gave Americans an opportunity to watch the U.S. Senate in action.

Happy Anniversary, C-Span!

So frankly, isn’t it high time, thanks to an Internet technology that has reduced the cost of transparency to pennies on the dollar, for New Mexicans in the furthest corners of the state to be able to watch their state senate in action? Are you holding your breath?

(see also Health Haussamen – Webcasting would change Santa Fe Political Culture)

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