Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Roundhouse Roundup: A Family Tradition

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
January 21, 2010

When Gov. Bill Richardson predicted in an interview last week that this would be a calmer, less contentious legislation session, some cynics said they bet that wouldn't last very long.
In his State of the State address Tuesday, Richardson evoked the memory of the late former Gov. Bruce King in asking lawmakers to cooperate.

"When asked what his legacy would be, (King) said, 'I guess just getting New Mexico to realize that if we were going to be successful, we were going to all work together and be one large family.' "

To which the current governor added, "I believe in this time of need, if we are to succeed, we must work together, maybe even as a family."

If you bet it would take more than two days before a family feud erupted, you lost.

The ongoing budget crisis, it seems, has some senators on edge.

On Wednesday, the second day of the session, longtime Richardson critic Sen. Tim Jennings, D-Roswell, let loose a tirade as he ripped into Richardson and his speech.

Jennings — who has been especially critical of the fact that the administration decided last year not to spend $10 million on a program to help families of the developmentally disabled — was upset that Richardson had warned against making too many budget cuts. Richardson said in the speech that "most state agencies have been cut to the bone."

To Jennings, that meant it's not OK to cut anything except programs for "the blind, elderly and disabled."

Jennings mocked Richardson's call for stronger drunken-driving laws. "Except for boats," he said.

This was an apparent reference to a Labor Day boat accident on Elephant Butte Lake involving the governor, Chief of Staff Brian Condit and Department of Finance and Administration Secretary Katherine Miller. Police didn't charge Condit, who was piloting the boat, with any alcohol-related offense. Richardson has denied any alcohol was involved.

Jennings also spoke disparagingly of Richardson's call for ethics reforms, saying the government agency most in need of ethics reform is the State Investment Council, which is under investigation by the federal government after a former state investment adviser admitted recommending investments to financially help politically connected people.

"I'm not a happy camper about what's going on," Jennings said.

We are family: A couple of senators came to Richardson's defense.

Sen. Phil Griego, D-San Jose, said he took Richardson at his word when the governor said he wants to cooperate. "We've got to work as a family," Griego said. "I hope we don't come in here every day blasting the governor."

Likewise, Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa, said the important thing is working together instead of "pointing fingers."

Cisneros, who has been a senator for 25 years, said he's seen other state budget crises, which were worked through by lawmakers and governors cooperating.

Taking the floor for a second time, Jennings said he was sorry if some senators were offended and said he's willing to work with anyone.

He added, "Some of my remarks were personal, but I think they're all true."

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen seemed surprised about the dust-up.

"It must be the snow," he said. "I hope we remain calm."
Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, might have made the understatement of the day when he said, "This is not going to be a fun session."

Smith continued: "What we lived in fear of has happened. ... I do not see (an economic) recovery to the levels we'd like in the foreseeable future."

There are 28 fun-filled — or not — days left in the session.

UPDATE: The original version of this said Condit wasn't charged at all in the Elephant Butte mishap. He actually was charged with two petty misdemeanors -- neither involving alcohol.