Thursday, May 19, 2011

Roundhouse Roundup: Some Lawmakers Decide Against Hawaiian Trip

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
May 19, 2011

Last week, I reported that Gov. Susana Martinez's vetoes of parts of the Legislature's budget led lawmakers to talk seriously about cutting back on their own travel spending. I noted that these cutbacks could even affect our legislators' attendance at the annual meeting of the Council of State Governments --West  in Honolulu this summer.

State-paid travel to the Aloha State, of course, is a proven political hot potato. Such trips have come back to smack at least a couple of legislators in the form of campaign attack ads by opponents.

Apparently some lawmakers are having second thoughts about going to Hawaii. Raul Burciaga, executive director of Legislative Council Service, said earlier this week that eight legislators had requested and been approved for the Hawaiian trip.

However, in recent days, he said, five legislators changed their minds. Burciaga said some decided they'd rather go to the National Conference of State Legislators meeting in San Antonio, Texas, this year.

In 2008, two dozen New Mexico legislators went to the CSG-West meeting, which was held in Alaska that year.

Now only three are on the list for this year's meeting in Hawaii. Burciaga said it's possible that others could request to go before the meeting starts July 30.

Three travelers: The three currently on the list to attend are House Republican Leader Tom Taylor of Farmington, Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, and Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup. I spoke with all three this week.

All three said it's valuable to meet legislators from other states and to hear ideas on how they are tackling issues that New Mexico also is facing.

Taylor said he's somewhat obligated to go because he's vice chairman of CSG-West's Fiscal Affairs Committee. But, he said, he'll pay for his own airplane tickets and won't seek reimbursement for that expense. "I'll just put in for the per-diem," he said. Per-diem currently is $153 a day. He said he'll be traveling with his wife, daughter and son-in-law and will spend a few days with them in Hawaii after the conference.

Although he has been approved for the trip, Rehm said he hasn't decided whether he will actually go. "I haven't bought my ticket yet," he said.

Muñoz said this will be his second out-of-state trip in his four years as a senator. His first was a "legislative academy" in Colorado Springs, Colo. "I didn't want to go to the Energy Council meeting in Nova Scotia," he said.

Red eyes cryin' in the rain: There was some excitement in the Gary Johnson for President camp on Tuesday. After meeting with country music star — and pro-marijuana icon — Willie Nelson after a concert in Texas, Nelson's organization, the Teapot Party, endorsed the Republican former New Mexico governor for president.

But by Wednesday, that endorsement was only a pipe dream. The Teapot Party's Steve Bloom said, on the group's website, that Nelson in an email walked back the endorsement of Johnson, who is well-known for his stance on legalization of marijuana.

"My position is it's too early for me to endorse anyone," the singer said. "And I think every one should vote their own conscience."

Bloom said, "I wrote back reminding him that he had approved the endorsement."

" 'I know I said that,' Nelson replied. 'But I think I will wait and see where he stands on other things. My bad. Sorry. I still think he is a good guy but so is Dennis (Kucinich) and if he decided to run I would personally vote for him.' "

I hadn't heard anything about Kucinich, the Ohio congressman who ran for the Democratic nomination as president in 2004 and 2008, running against President Barack Obama in 2012.

In a later email to Bloom, Nelson said, "This will blow over and the world moves on. No harm done. We sound like a bunch of pot smokers, that's all. ... The more I get into politics, the more I realize that I am a guitar player."