Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Roundhouse Roundup: Richardson's Final Legislative Action

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
March 25, 2010

The biggest news to come out of Gov. Bill Richardson's Wednesday news conference, of course, was the fact that he was vetoing the food tax. But to me, the most striking thing he said was, "Today I'm taking my final legislative action as governor."

His final legislative action as governor.

It's true. He can't seek a third term, so — barring any unexpected special session between now and Dec. 31 — the tax bill, Senate Bill 10, is the last bill that Richardson will ever act upon.

And as far as special sessions go, Richardson said he doesn't think any more special sessions will be necessary. He made a very astute observation, saying, "The public doesn't want another special session. The legislators don't want another special session. I don't want another special session."

So, this was Bill Richardson's final bill action.

The last of many memorable signings.
Bill Signs a Bill
The first major bill he ever signed as governor was a huge public event. It was Valentine's Day 2003. In a ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda, Richardson signed his first tax-cut bill, reducing personal income taxes for the highest income brackets. Attending the ceremony were leaders of both parties.

Just a couple of weeks later, Richardson returned to the Rotunda to sign a bill returning state employees the right to collective bargaining through unions. This signing was even more festive as state workers, many wearing the green T-shirts of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, filled the ground floor of the Roundhouse to cheer and praise the governor.

Most of the bill signings in the years that followed didn't take place in the Rotunda. But some such events up in the fourth-floor Cabinet room were so crowded it might have been a good idea to have it in a larger place.

Typically, the bill signings were packed with public officials, advocates and members of groups that had pushed certain legislation all gathered around the oversized marble table. Almost everyone there would be recognized to give a short statement that usually began, "I just want to thank the governor ..."

Some of them were kind of fun. When Richardson signed a couple of bills dealing with dogs in 2005, then-Albuquerque Mayor Marty Chavez brought his dog Dukes, then just a puppy. Sometimes they were somber, like last year when Richardson signed the bill repealing the death penalty. When the governor said he'd agonized over the bill, he was entirely credible.

One of his best Richardson "bill signings" was a fantasy I made up myself in this very column in 2005.

"... this time it's not anti-driving-while-intoxicated activists or election-reform advocates or animal-rights crusaders who crowd into the room.

"No, this is the official signing of Senate Bill 384, which would allow the state Gaming Control Board to grant gambling licenses to people and organizations that have had their gaming licenses revoked in other states. Dozens of disgraced casino operators, crooked racetrack owners, card sharks, con men and shady ladies from around the country have come to take turns saying, 'I'd just like to thank the governor.' "

No, that never really happened. Richardson vetoed that bill the very day that column was published. Though I'd like to believe my golden prose made a difference, I assume he'd made up his mind to veto the before he saw the column.

I'm sure we haven't seen the final news conference with Bill Richardson up on the fourth floor. He's still got nine months in office, and he's promised to be active for the rest of his term.

But Richardson's "final legislative action as governor" Wednesday is a poignant reminder that the Richardson era rapidly is coming to an end.