Learning to Lobby, Winning a Battle

emma2There’s been much talk about how the New Mexico State Legislature is truly an inaccessible place for many residents who don’t have the time, the money or the practical knowledge of how business is conducted in the Roundhouse.

I’ve written about how perplexed and cynical I was after my first up-close look at the session.

But I wanted to also share the frustration of someone who was deeply involved in a particular piece of legislation that could have affected the civil rights of thousands of young people in Albuquerque.

Emma Sandoval, 22, is the youth coordinator at the Southwest Organizing Project, a social justice organization based in Albuquerque.

As one of SWOP’s registered lobbyists for this year’s session, it was Sandoval’s job to organize opposition to SB 525 and HB 379 – identical bills introduced in both houses that would allow Albuquerque Public Schools to create their own police force.

APS said they wanted their own force so they’d have access to the National Crime Information Center, a computerized criminal database.

But SWOP opposed the bill saying it would lead to unfair criminalization of young people and to a greater drop-out rate, especially among low-income teens and students of color.

To fight the bills, Sandoval had to wage a complicated campaign. She needed to track the progress of the bills though the maze of committees in both houses and attend key hearings. She needed to speak to legislators to know which ones supported the measure and which ones opposed it. She needed to be on top of attempts to amend both bills. And she needed to be able to inform and mobilize the people back in Albuquerque who stood to be deeply affected by the creation of an APS police department for specific events in and around the Roundhouse

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Week in Rewind: More on TIDDs, Monahan’s ego, Animal Spirits, Blockgate, NM’s New Media, Bogus Polls and Val Kilmer too

Just now recovered from the legislative session. Here’s a buffet of the past week’s posts to re-taste and savor.

Downfall of the SunCal TIDD revisited: It came down to the wee hours of the session — David vs. Goliath and you know how that one came out.  Read all about it.

Environment Wins in Final Hours of NM Legislative Session

What about the other TIDD bills?

We still don’t know how much SunCal spent on all those TV spots, slick mailers and its army of high-priced lobbyists.  It was curious how, with each successive SunCal ad, the estimated number of jobs the development promised to produce would coincidentally keep going up and up and up — inversely tracking with the economy that was going down and down. But 33 House members didn’t go for the $408 million taxpayer handout.   At the end of the day, maybe all those lobbyists  just didn’t take Nick Naylor’s advice to “argue correctly.”  (From the movie, Thank You for Smoking).

Veteran Roundhouse reporter, Jay Miller (Inside the Capitol) offered his authoritative postmortem on the legislative session – including a harsh verdict on who was to blame for the demise of some ethics reform measures:

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Ethics reform bill prevails over Sanchez’s umbrage

Representative Joseph Cervantes

Representative Joseph Cervantes

With the clock running out on the legislative session, ethics reformers scored a major triumph last night with the passage by the state Senate of HB393, the bill to open conference committees to the public.

And just minutes before the debate commenced, Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez issued a long and acerbic press release, contrasting his “principled” opposition to ethics reform and disparaged legislators who support reform as being unprincipled headline seekers.

Nevertheless, the reformers prevailed by a 33-8 majority. As expected, Sanchez was joined in opposition by President Pro Tem Tim Jennings (D-Roswell) and Minority Leader Stuart Ingle (R-Clovis) – both long-time open committee opponents. What was surprising was the size of the winning margin – with only one other member of the Democratic caucus voting with Sanchez and Jennings.

Senator Dede Feldman

Senator Dede Feldman

The Heroes

The heroes of this fight were Senator Dede Feldman (D-Albuq.) and Representative Joseph Cervantes (D-Las Cruces).  Cervantes, a long-time champion of open government, sponsored the measure and got it through the House.

And special kudos must go to Feldman, who for years has toiled in the vineyards of reform and came just one vote short of passing open conference committees in 2007.

With the end of the session fast approaching, Feldman played a key strategic gambit to get the bill moving.  Here’s Haussamen’s account as it played out:

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The Sayings of Senator Lopez


Senate Rules Committee: Where ethics bills go to die

Feb. 25, 2009: She (Sen. Linda Lopez) also promised to begin discussion on the proposal to create a state ethics commission “first thing” Friday, but said working out disagreements and drafting a committee substitute bill that combines several existing bills related to that controversial proposal will “take a little more time.” NM Independent

Feb. 28, 2009: “We do not let out every bill on its own. That’s not good law,” she (Lopez) said, promising, “the list looks long, but we’ll get some stuff moving this next week.” Santa Fe New Mexican

March 3, 2009: After the meeting, the committee chair, Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Bernalillo, said that the bills were moving slowly because the committee was “trying to reach consensus.” NM Independent

March 19, 2009: When asked whether she believed the issue was dead, Lopez said: “At least for this year — yes.” Several other ethics commission bills — including one sponsored by Lopez — have been pending for weeks in the Rules Committee… Albuquerque Journal

So one of the key ethics reforms of this session — an independent ethics commission — has been pronounced dead for another year.

In the dizzying wake of so many public corruption scandals, and just two days after the sentencing of former Senator Manny Aragon, New Mexico finds itself stuck in the dwindling list of state that still do not have an ethics commission.

A key figure in this ongoing public policy quagmire, Rules Committee Chair Linda Lopez presents a fascinating study in contradictions.  On the issue of ethics reform, she strikes the pose of the ultra-cautious, deliberative lawmaker, working behind the scenes to hammer out a studied consensus between her colleagues.  They’re really the recalcitrant ones, you know. We must not rush to judgment in these weighty matters, she tells us.

So another week turns into another year, then another and another.

Yet in her other legislative persona, Lopez is the go-go-Senator-in-a-hurry,  boldly taking the TIDD tool where no TIDD has gone before, fast tracking a $400 million taxpayer handout to California developer SunCal — and obligating a good chunk of state revenues for the next 25 years.


Here’s more of the backstory on Madam Chair and her committee — where ethics bills go to die:

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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.

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1/2 an Ethics Commission

henhouse-fox1Why go for the whole enchilada when you can just have half? Seems we might find out the answer to that question. Today, the New Mexico House of Representatives passed an ethics commission bill that would treat the executive branch differently than the legislative branch.

The bill has lingered for a month in the House Appropriations and Finance Committee. But, something put wind in its sails over the weekend. That something was keeping control in the hands of legislators, when it comes to oversight of their branch of government.

In House Bill 151, if a member of the executive branch, a lobbyist, or a state contractor is found to have committed an ethics violation, a report is delivered to the ethics commission and is made public.

Conversely, if a member of the legislative branch is thought to have committed an ethics violation, the commission is instructed to deliver, in confidence, a report to the legislative ethics committee.

This is the equivalent of giving the henhouse keys to the fox. I doubt the public will buy the line that half of an ethics commission is better than the whole thing.

Free Speech means the right to criticize politicians – and NM politicians don’t like it

free-speech-zone1Let’s face it.  Elected officials don’t like to be criticized – and especially not in public.

There’s nothing wrong with that.  They have feelings too.  But criticism goes with the territory.  And there’s a big problem when those same officials attempt to use their powers to stifle the public’s exercise of free speech.

Under the U.S. Constitution, the right of free speech, including the right to discuss and dissent and to criticize the public acts of governmental officials, is afforded the highest protection from government interference.

That’s why it’s so alarming that two measures to clamp down on free discussion of governmental actions are being rushed through the New Mexico Legislature. These two bills, HB808 sponsored by Rep. Paul Bandy (R-Aztez) and SB652, sponsored by Sen. William Payne (R-Albuq.), have earned the “Politician Protection Act” tag, along with HB 891, sponsored by House Majority Leader Ken Martinez and Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez.

Some of the legal theories being dredged up to attack the non-profits certainly should make any lover of the Constitution shudder.  Take the argument employed in committee testimony recently by Deputy Attorney General Phil Baca, who drafted HB808 at the direction of House Minority Leader, Rep. Ken Martinez (D-Grants).  “Under New Mexico state law, we’re sovereign… We don’t have to grant tax exempt status to any organization we want…We’re an independent sovereign,” Baca said.

Considering the source, such neo-Confederate legal argumentation was both surprising and more than a little shocking.  One half expected a band in the back of the room to strike up “Dixie.”

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