Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Roundhouse Roundup: The Senate's Mr. Congeniality

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
February 18, 2010

A legislative session is full of funny little moments that provide a couple of chuckles during long and often tedious days. One of those took place this week on the Senate floor.

Senate Democrat Leader Michael Sanchez, took the microphone Tuesday afternoon to call attention to Sen. Eric Griego who was talking with Senate President Pro-tem Tim Jennings at Jennings’ chair. Sanchez joked that the two men were hugging. Taking the cue, the two men proceeded to actually hug. Everyone laughed.

Yes, this is what passes for humor in the stale Legislature.

But what was truly funny was that this happened shortly after a piece by Griego titled “An Open Letter to Fellow Democrats” started popping up on the blogs (I first stumbled upon it on Democracy for New Mexico.) .
Eric Griego
And one of the major topics of the piece was one Roswell Democrat named Tim Jennings.

There were no hugs in this letter.

“While Sen. Jennings is a nice enough guy, his political philosophy is in stark contrast to the majority of rank and file Democrats — not to mention the state party platform,” Griego wrote.

Recalling how Jennings was re-elected to his leadership post by a coalition — Jennings frequently has disputed that word — of Republicans and conservative Democrats, Griego wrote,
“What has been the practical effect of this coalition? No significant Democratic bills, other than repealing the death penalty, have passed the Republican/Democrat Coalition controlled Senate. They have worked with the Republican caucus to kill conservation, progressive taxation, consumer protection and equality legislation. Most of this legislation has died in committees set up by Senate leadership to minimize the influence of progressive members, and thus insure no legislation implementing the Democratic Party platform would ever come to fruition.”

Griego also railed against his party leadership on ethics reform. “Over the past two years the Democratic Senate leadership has bottled up, watered down, or otherwise stymied ethics and campaign finance reform bills.” (Actually, that had been going on years before Griego came to the Senate.)

A Valentine from Eric: Griego obviously isn't vying for the title of "Mr. Congeniality" in the Senate. In fact, the "open letter" wasn’t the first shot he took at the Senate Democratic leadership this week.

Over the weekend, Griego was irate about Majority Leader Sanchez’s handling of a bill pertaining to Webcasting.

So on Sunday night, he emailed a press release to reporters saying, “Sadly, the biggest obstacle to transparency in the New Mexico Senate has been the Democratic leadership."

The split between the Democratic Party’s progressive and conservative wings have been intensifying lately.

On Tuesday, 10 Senate Democrats joined the 15 Republicans to block the confirmation of political operative Neri Holguin to the state Environmental Improvement Board. Holguin had worked as campaign manager for Griego and at least two other Democrats in the Senate. (For the record, both Jennings and Sanchez voted in favor of her confirmation.)

This drift to the right by Senate Democrats is going to hurt the party in November, Griego predicted in his open letter.

“It has given our Democratic base no reason to show up in November,” he wrote. “If the talk of reform and change that brought in the overwhelming Democratic majorities at the federal and state levels was just that — talk — we are going to lose in November. And we should.”