Happy trails to the retiring Sen. Bingaman

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By Sherry Robinson

In February, when Sen. Jeff Bingaman announced his retirement from Congress, the state Senate passed a memorial saluting Bingaman’s 30 years of service.
Nearly every senator, from both sides of the aisle, had something to say about the unassuming, hardworking Democrat.
Sen. Carroll Leavell, R-Jal: “He’s been a great statesman for New Mexico. I didn’t always agree with him, but he was accessible and always listened.”
Sen. Dede Feldman, D-Albuquerque: “He didn’t grandstand. He didn’t come to a position until he’d considered all the facts.”
Sen. Rod Adair, R-Roswell: “He is unfailingly courteous in every situation. That’s a rarity in Washington and in politics. It should be a goal for all of us.”
Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup: “He was a helper, and we love him for it.”
Sen. William Burt, R-Alamogordo: “He’s the most even-keeled person I’ve ever met.”
Sen. Tim Jennings, D-Roswell: “He sat and listened and kept his mouth shut. He put the state above all issues. I don’t blame him for wanting to come home.”
Jennings’ response addressed the first reaction many had, which was, “How can he do this to us?”
 We expected him to stay in the harness until he wore himself out, like Pete Domenici.
With no seniority in the House or Senate, we’re in a lifeboat without oars.
But then, none of our storied congressional servants, from Dennis Chavez on down, would accomplish much in this quarrelsome Congress.
The freedom of his impending departure has allowed Bingaman to be frank.
In his farewell speech, he disagreed with President Reagan’s famous statement about government being the problem rather than the solution, arguing that “government  should be a constructive force for helping the American people deal with problems.”
He toted up successes on several fronts, including major energy bills in 2005 and 2007, before describing what he sees as three failures.
 The gears have jammed because of “the willingness of some in Congress to shut down government” and “see our nation default on its debt” by not raising the debt ceiling.
The third failure is the use of filibusters to keep the Senate from doing its work, even on when the issues aren’t really controversial.
Not long after his retirement announcement, Bingaman said,
“Because of the heightened level of partisanship in energy over the last five years, we’ve seen an unraveling of what, up until recently, was a fairly strong bipartisan consensus on energy policy.”
Speaking at the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit in Maryland in February, he said, “All I have to do is say the word ‘Solyndra,’ and you know that the bipartisan consensus on energy project financing has evaporated… in favor of an attempt to paint the loan guarantee program as some sort of big government scandal for use in the upcoming election.”
The House leadership refused to talk about extending production tax credits for wind power projects. Bingaman garnered some Republican support for energy bills but couldn’t get them heard on the Senate floor.
Bingaman was once part of a more collegial Senate where collaboration produced landmark legislation, and Bingaman was widely admired for his ability to produce compromise.
That just isn’t possible any more, he admitted lately, encouraging his fellow senators to carve big bills into smaller bills to get something passed.
During a recent visit to New Mexico, Bingaman was asked why climate change wasn’t on the table. He said, with some exasperation, that he couldn’t get his own bill out of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, “and I’m the chairman.”
“The obstructionism that’s in place,” he told Politico, “has made this the least-productive Congress that I’ve served in.”
For his 30 years, we thank the senator. For keeping his face in the wind as long as he did, we thank him for that too.
Sherry Robinson
NM News Service