Saying so long to departing House members

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By Sherry Robinson

You’re leaving? Seeyalaterbye.
News coverage of the 10 House members bowing out has had that quality to it. In the world of political junkies and journalism, there’s no room for sentiment.
Instantly, speculation was rampant about who will move to what power position and how it will affect the political balance, a subject I’ll leave to those who know it better while I indulge in a little sentiment.
Rep. Tom Taylor, former Minority Leader, will be known for his irrepressible sense of humor, a valuable commodity in the Roundhouse. House Minority Leader Don Bratton could frame the big picture, apply his engineer’s logic, and keep discussions civil.
The long-serving Chairman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, Rep. Kiki Saavedra, will be remembered for soliciting Republican input into the budget process (his predecessor didn’t) and making people comfortable with the process. House Majority Leader Rick Miera was a consummate public servant with a command of facts.
The other six include three Democrats (Edward Sandoval, Ernest Chavez and Nate Cote) and three Republicans (Anna Crook, Bill Gray and Jim White).
The House is losing some heavyweights, people who kept a complex process moving, people who made sure everybody got heard. Turnover is inevitable in politics, but it’s a real loss when this much knowledge and experience exit the stage.
“I’m not getting any younger, and it’s time to re-establish some personal priorities,” Bratton, a Hobbs Republican, told the blog New Mexico Watchdog.
Miera, an Albuquerque Democrat, told the Santa Fe New Mexican: “It’s just time for me to move on. I’ve been here a long time. It’s time to open it up to younger, community-oriented legislators.”
Taylor, a Farmington Republican, said on the floor that he had spent 16 years in local government and 16 years in the Legislature, and it was time to do something else. He figures his time in the House is the equivalent of a master’s degree. Saavedra, an Albuquerque Democrat with 37 years of service, must have a Ph.D.
It’s not an exaggeration. The public doesn’t see the hours legislators spend learning the details of every problem that might be solved with legislation. Over time, lawmakers gain an impressive knowledge of the state and its issues, a quality missing in elected officials who haven’t served in the Legislature.
One of Miera’s constituents told me that he showed up early at a neighborhood meeting, spoke to everyone there, listened, and then at the end of the meeting, summed up what was said. She was impressed. If Miera had one such meeting a month over his 24 years, that’s a lot of meetings.
The burden is heavier for rural legislators. Some of their districts are the size of states. They spend more time on the road than their urban counterparts to visit constituents and attend interim legislative meetings. And because everybody knows them, any public outing can become a political event.
So when they say they want to spend more time with their families, they mean it. “You don’t realize how much you’re away from home,” Taylor said.
Privately, some lawmakers express weariness with an increasingly partisan process, which is probably hardest on the leadership. They still working across the aisle, but it’s gotten more difficult.
Former Sen. Dede Feldman, an Albuquerque Democrat, talks about politics and process in her new book, “Inside the New Mexico Senate: Boots, Suits and Citizens.” Speaking recently before New Mexico Press Women, she said it’s important to understand the culture of the Legislature if you want to get anything done.
New Mexico’s legislators are quite accessible, but much is based on personal relationships. The first thing a rookie lawmaker or lobbyist has to learn is the web of relationships in the Roundhouse, and that takes time, she said.
These departing leaders leave holes in that web of relationships.