Thursday, February 26, 2009

Roundhouse Roundup: Hoping for a Tie

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
February 26, 2009

The state Senate vote on a bill to establish domestic partnerships in New Mexico — set to be heard on the Senate floor today — is expected to be so close that supporters aren’t saying whether they have a majority of senators aboard.

In fact, they are hoping for a tie, according to one prominent advocate.
That’s what Linda Siegle, lobbyist for Equality New Mexico, told me Wednesday.

In case of a tie vote, the lieutenant governor gets to cast the tie-breaker. Lt. Gov. Diane Denish is on record for supporting the bill.

If Senate Bill 12 passes the Senate — by Denish’s vote or otherwise — it would go to the House, which has passed similar bills in recent years.

The GOP connection: Although nobody expects any Republican votes for SB12 in the Senate, Equality New Mexico has one Republican on its lobbying team.

Former House Minority Whip Joe Thompson is one of the organization’s lobbyists.

Though he didn’t want to discuss his efforts on behalf of SB12, Thompson said Wednesday, “I’m very proud to work for them.”

Thompson said that as a legislator representing an Albuquerque district, he voted for a bill that made it illegal to discriminate in housing, credit or accommodations based on sexual preference. “No Republican has ever given me a hard time for supporting the Human Rights Act,” Thompson said.

Poll dancing: A recent poll conducted for Senate Republicans, released this week, showed that more New Mexicans favor the domestic-partner bill than oppose it, 47 percent to 42 percent.

That is, until those surveyed were “informed” that “in two states, California and Connecticut, the state supreme courts have ruled that domestic partnership legislation like the law proposed in New Mexico is same-sex marriage.”

“Knowing this, do you favor or oppose the Domestic Partner Rights and Responsibilities Act?” the pollster asked.

After that, support for the bill fell to 42 percent, with opposition rising to 52 percent.

But the “information” given was misinformation, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. The description of events in California and Connecticut didn’t happen the way the pollster said. In those states, the supreme courts ruled that the domestic-partnership laws violated state constitutions by creating a separate-but-unequal institution. According to the ACLU, there are seven other states (Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont and Washington) with domestic-partnership laws that have not led to legal same-sex marriage.

The telephone survey of 500 registered voters in New Mexico, conducted Feb. 17-18 by Public Opinion Strategies, has a margin of error of 4.38 percent.

I first heard of the poll — or at least one very similar to it — a few days before Senate Republicans announced the results. One of the 500 registered voters who was contacted told me last week that she felt the pollster was “somebody who had an agenda.”

Suzie Clark of Albuquerque, who is active in the group Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, said she felt uneasy about the poll when the topic switched from “domestic partnerships” to “gay marriage.”

Using “domestic partnerships” and “gay marriage” interchangeably is common among opponents of SB12. A news release from Senate Republicans on Wednesday has a headline saying, “Domestic Partnerships and Same Sex Marriage on Senate Floor Tomorrow.”

For a moment I wondered who was doing the ceremony.

But one question that Clark said she was asked didn’t appear on the list of questions released to the public. She said she was asked whether she’d vote for or against a legislator who voted for “gay marriage.” No poll results have been released on that question.

Watching the grass grow: The Senate Rules Committee has had a whole batch of ethics bills on its agenda for more than two weeks now. The New Mexico Independent Web site has featured webcasts of several meetings in hopes of showing viewers an ethics debate.
Sen. Linda Lopez
But so far very little in the way of ethics discussion has come out of the committee. A bill to prohibit ex-legislators from becoming lobbyists, SB163, sponsored by Sen. Eric Griego, D-Albuquerque, is about it.

Although several ethics bills were on the committee’s agenda Wednesday, other bills came first. This caused much concern among ethics-reform advocates and in the state political blogosphere.
“More time was spent discussing antelope during a confirmation hearing for a Game and Fish official than anything else,” wrote Las Cruces blogger Heath Haussamen.

“What happened today was more of the same inaction and meandering rumination that those of us who’ve been following the (Senate Rules Committee) hearings have witnessed before,” wrote Albuquerque blogger Barbara Wold in Democracy for New Mexico. “... To me, their behavior seems more than a little insulting, cynical and irresponsible.”

Even before the meeting, Common Cause lobbyist Steve Allan wrote in an e-mail to supporters, “from our standpoint, watching ‘the action’ in this committee has been roughly analogous to watching grass grow. (I can almost hear the crickets chirping!).” In an interview Wednesday, Allen said he can understand how some complex bills might take time. “But things like campaign contribution limits should be simple,” he said. “Forty-five other states have been doing this.”

Asked later about such complaints, Rules Committee Chairwoman Linda Lopez denied there was any effort to stall ethics bills. “You know how it works here,” she said. “These bills will be heard.” Lopez promised a bill to establish a state ethics commission will be heard first thing Friday morning.