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Rep. Don Bratton, as usual, cut to the chase.
“For the first time we have a female governor, who may proceed differently,” said the Hobbs Republican last week in the House Rules Committee. “People may have different expectations than they did 10 years ago. Redistricting is at the forefront, but the Constitution empowers the governor to put other items on the agenda, and they should be treated expediently.”
Raul Burciaga, director of the Legislative Council Service, was instructing the committee on what the state Constitution has to say about special legislative sessions and, more importantly, on the authority allocated to the governor and to the legislature.
“The governor decides what goes to the special session, but the legislature decides how it’s handled,” Burciaga said.
I doubt that the governor’s gender has anything to do with her approach, but Bratton was trying to get at the Democrats’ reluctance to tackle issues other than redistricting.
He wanted to know why the redistricting bills were in the pipeline while the governor’s measures had yet surface in committee.
The Rs also questioned why so many of the governor’s bills had to hurdle the Rules Committee first, implying unfairness on the part of House Speaker Ben Lujan.
House Majority Floor Leader Ken Martinez pointed out that Lujan had referred his own bill on immigrant driver’s licenses to the Rules Committee. (It passed on a party-line vote.)
The same theme echoed on the House floor. Rep. Larry Larraaga made a surprisingly sharp attack on Lujan, saying, “I think we can run the House better than we are.”
The Albuquerque Republican wanted to see standing committees hear the governor’s bills, but Lujan said some members are tied up in redistricting, and staffing was a problem.
Lujan reminded them that everyone understood they were returning to Santa Fe to accomplish redistricting.
“When we started hearing rumors that other items might be added, the Legislative Council unanimously asked the governor to consider only redistricting.
“If there was a burning issue, leaders could meet with the executive and come to consensus and have an agreement beforehand.
There was not even an acknowledgement of the letter.”
That was Monday.
On Tuesday, Rep. Rick Little of Chaparral, pointed out that the governor had visited Las Cruces and invited area legislators to discuss her agenda.
“We recognize the governor’s efforts to tell us what her agenda is.
There’s a difference between telling us and having a consensus before we get here.”
In a lighter moment, Rep. Thomas Garcia, of Onate said that when his family heard the Republicans’ complaints on TV news, they asked, “If you’re not doing anything, why are you coming home so late?”
Lujan said he would vouch to Mrs. Garcia about her husband’s whereabouts. On Thursday, Rep. Paul Bandy, of Farmington showed up on the floor with his golf clubs, to drive home the point that too many legislators didn’t have anything to do.
This led to another testy exchange with Lujan, who said Democrats had plenty to do and suggested the Rs spend more time studying redistricting proposals.
By the end of the week, the governor was meeting with legislators to persuade or twist arms.
And the House passed one of the governor’s measures – the easiest one – to appropriate $450,000 to extend a supplemental food stamp program and keep Medicaid funding from reverting to the federal government.
It’s also likely that lawmakers will pass a capital outlay bill, although Dems want a smaller amount so there’s more left for the regular session.
Republicans complained the Dems were rushing through a redistricting plan for the Public Regulation Commission, although there was still lots of time for discussion.
And so it goes. Each side has made its point, and they’re working hard on their own redistricting bills.
Redistricting will come first, but you can almost hear the gears change.
New Mexico News Services 2011