Senate webcasting opens to bad reviews

johnsapienI generally don’t encounter much free-flowing consensus when I’m wandering around the Roundhouse. But as I haunted the curving halls of the Capitol yesterday, I found one thing on which everyone agrees:

The new Senate webcasting sucks.

It seems no one – legislators, constituents, journalists – is happy with the single, fixed camera positioned in the back of the chamber that provides a stultifying view of the back of everyone’s heads.

The webcasting began Monday after a protracted battle in the Senate, waged mostly by legislators who apparently did not relish the thought of cameras recording them for posterity if they said something silly.

But proponents of webcasting, including an overwhelming section of the public, pushed for an officially-sanctioned, ever-present light on the sometimes impenetrable process of lawmaking.

In the end, webcasting friends (mostly rank and file Senators) and foes (mostly Senate leaders) compromised on a plan to install one stationary camera in the back of the Senate chamber. As one legislator reasoned, it was exactly the view anyone would get if he or she drove to Santa Fe and sat in the gallery – no more, no less.

It’s gone over like a lead balloon.

The New Mexico Independent’s Gwyneth Doland – who, in the absence of webcasting, has performed a public service by logging hours and hours of legislative webcasting and liveblogs for her site — posted this on Wednesday to register her continuing displeasure with the limited camera scope.

Let’s be clear – the frustrating footage is not the fault of the Legislative Council Services staff, who are working hard to improve the performance of the single camera it’s been tasked with operating.

No, the people I talked to place the blame squarely on the man who spearheaded the much-maligned compromise plan – Sen. John Sapien (D-Corrales).

Let’s recap.

On Sat. March 7, a resolution sponsored by Sen. Mark Boitano (R-Albuquerque), was headed to the Senate floor.  Sapien, a freshman, stunned everyone by adding two amendments that would cut the number of cameras from three to one and restrict the angles from which the camera could shoot.  Adding amendments to the measure would force Boitano to get two-thirds of the Senate to approve it – a highly unlikely endeavor. It appeared any hopes for Senate webcasting were dead.

However, Boitano later agreed to incorporate Sapien’s amendments into a new resolution, meaning it would only require a majority approval.

The amended resolution passed a few days later, and the much-scaled back webcasting began on Monday, March 16 – just five days before the conclusion of the legislative session.

Immediately after Sapien’s Saturday “shenanigans,” as one reporter called them, the new Senator was excoriated by webcasting proponents, who accused him of everything from personally hating webcasting to carrying water for party leaders who wanted webcasting dead.

And even after the amended bill passed and webcasting started, I found people were still very mad at Sapien.

Check out this from the Santa Fe Reporter’s Dave Maas. (Note to Sen. Sapien: Sending out a press release to try to grab all the credit didn’t help).

I’m in favor of webcasting. And I’m an inordinately curious person.

So I called Sen. Sapien last week, to see if he’d tell the readers of this blog what he really thought about webcasting — and to see whether any of the rumors floating around about him were true.

Sapien said he was shocked to hear that people thought he was playing fast and loose with webcasting by altering it so radically.

“My good friend Sen. Rod Adair (R-Roswell)  tried to suggest it was a strategy of mine to try to kill webcasting. It was not. I am a proponent of webcasting.”

Sapien said he had drafted his amendments early in the session and decided to introduce them after talking to other Senators and realizing Boitano’s bill wouldn’t pass unless his changes were incorporated.

“In all honesty, I think (the amendments are) a great compromise that bring together a number of senators who probably were not against webcasting but were against it in the original form of the resolution, with the multiple cameras and the zooming up on the face then they talked.”

Personally, Sapien said he favors limiting the number and scope of the cameras because he does not “favor spending taxpayer dollars for entertainment tools.”

Also, he said, the original, three-camera measure would have called for two full-time employees to operate it and thus and would have been too costly.

I appreciate that Sen. Sapien called me back to explain his actions. But having seen what resulted, I’m still in the dark about why the original proposal – which simply called for activating three cameras the legislature had already installed and paid for – was so unpalatable.

I see what we have now – you can see it yourself, here — and I think it’s a shame.

Trust me:  Watching our elected officials make laws that affect every one of us is seldom “entertaining”. But doing it is vital to our democracy. And for every one of us that can’t make it up to Santa Fe to watch our legislators like a hawk, practical, useful webcasting is the next best thing.

The money is there, the public support is there, and I think the citizens of New Mexico who CAN’T make it to Santa Fe deserve better than a fixed camera stuck in the cheap seats in the back.


One Response

  1. Do you suppose that the people of New Mexico don’t know what an insult this is, or they just don’t care?

    “The new Senate webcasting sucks.”

    Thank you for taking a real stand on the issue; everyone else seems to be content with taking their beating in silence; “At least it is better than nothing.”

    No, it isn’t.

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