Lawmakers plug on despite hot times in the Roundhouse

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By Sherry Robinson

Legislative sessions often leave the tracks during the final days, but last week was weird even by those standards.
There was the usual House snipping that the Senate isn’t hearing their bills and more than the usual strain between parties. Rumors of retaliation floated in the stale air. Personal slights or bad behavior provoked demands for apologies.
Tensions escalated until a University of New Mexico regent’s confirmation exploded in mid-air. When a long-serving senator resigned abruptly a day later, it was almost anti-climactic.
Through it all, they kept working. The process pauses but doesn’t stop. All that blather in bloggerdom about the “do-nothing legislature” just ain’t so.
The regent showdown had been brewing for days.
The governor nominated former District Attorney Matthew Chandler as UNM regent. The Senate Rules Committee approved the nomination, then asked that its record be expunged and hauled Chandler back in.
If lots of raised eyebrows had a sound, we could have heard a whoosh.
The three-way face-off among Chandler, Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, and Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto (all lawyers) shocked even veteran political reporters. Gone were the accustomed niceties observed in the Legislature, replaced by accusations flung back and forth.
Chandler accused the committee of “political retaliation,” based on Ivey-Soto’s close questioning of Chandler’s involvement in Advance New Mexico Now, a conservative Super PAC that helped lift Republicans into the House majority.
Chandler told the committee he was just the treasurer, but he was the group’s only listed officer. Last fall, he declined to say who else was involved.
Chandler and Sanchez traded charges about a closed-door discussion between them, in which Sanchez reportedly told Chandler, “this was political, not personal.” Sanchez said he informed Chandler the floor vote couldn’t take place the day before because “you didn’t have the votes that day.”
Sanchez claimed the governor threatened “major repercussions if you’re not confirmed,” and Chandler said it wasn’t his job to carry messages from the governor.
Each said the other’s statements were “disingenuous.” Sanchez said, with feeling, “How disingenuous is all of this?” It would be more honest “if I don’t vote for you because I don’t believe you’re right for UNM.”
Let’s pause here. Keep in mind that Sanchez has a UNM branch in his district and that brother Raymond was a UNM regent. Chandler is from Clovis and is not an alumnus. Conservatives from the East Side tend to regard UNM as Sin City and don’t send their kids there.
In UNM’s 100-year history, presidents or regents who over-reacted to UNM’s ever present controversies hurt the institution. Regents must understand the place — its often brilliant and occasionally nutty faculty, its turf wars, its diversity, its zealous devotion to freedom of expression.
They must understand its great beating heart.
Baggage or no baggage, Chandler isn’t a good fit.
Next up was Sen. Jacob Candelaria, who told both the Rules Committee and the Senate that he was threatened earlier that day in a House committee.
“The chairman said that based on how I vote on this nomination will determine whether my bills are heard,” he said. “I will not be threatened and cannot be bought.”
Actually, Chairman James Smith, of the House, Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee, complained about the Senate’s lack of cooperation (not hearing House bills). “I’m concerned about the Chandler confirmation,” he said.
It’s not uncommon for the bright but mercurial Candelaria to have his nose out of joint over imagined threats and insults.
The Rules Committee voted against the confirmation. Chairwoman Linda Lopez gave the members all of 60 seconds to draw breath and then plunged ahead with the next confirmee. (Just for perspective, they have confirmed more than 100 of the governor’s nominees this session.)
The next day, the Senate didn’t give Phil Griego’s resignation even that much time.