Monday, February 20, 2012

Roundhouse Roundup: Who's Buying Their Lunch?

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Feb. 19 2012

During the recent session, several reporters and political bloggers saw their stories blasted on the floor of the House or the Senate. I was among them.

In fact, one story I wrote early in the session, the one about the American Legislative Exchange Council, (ALEC) got blasted on the floors of both chambers.

Even though one lawmaker called the story “reckless journalism,” it wasn’t actually the story that got some legislators upset, but the fact that a handful of Occupy Santa Fe protesters barged into an ALEC dinner and a guest of a House member was injured by a piece of cardboard thrown by a protester.

Sen. Payne
 Folks in my line take stuff like this as a badge of honor. I do, too, even though I was horrified that somebody was injured. But something that stuck in my craw was said during the ALEC outrage.

That’s when Senate Republican Leader Bill Payne not only criticized the ALEC piece, but another story I had written that week — one of my weekly-or-so reports on the money lobbyists spend on parties, receptions, drinks and gifts during the session.

Payne said the lobbyist article, based on the reports lobbyists are required to file with the Secretary of State’s Office, implied that there was something wrong with lobbyists spending cash in local bars, restaurants and hotel ballrooms and thus contributed to an “anti-business” bias in Santa Fe.

Of course, that’s not true. I know a lot of folks in the hospitality business, and I’m happy that the big show at the Roundhouse gives local businesses a bump. And I know a lot of lobbyists. I don’t consider them to be the embodiment of all evil in politics. I know they aren’t trying to “buy votes” with drinks or fancy dinners — though social events are a good way to build relationships with legislators and other officials.

I’d be the last one to want to throw water on a party. But here’s the deal: I think you, the reader, has the right to know who’s buying lunch for your lawmakers. So expect similar stories based on lobbyist reports in sessions to come.

Here's links to my articles on lobbyist reports during the past session:


Rep. Bratton
A memorable memorial: As I’m writing this column, on the last night of the session, I’m listening to the Senate “debate” a memorial to encourage the chile industry in New Mexico. Not that I object to our chile industry and the marvelous product it produces. But jeeeeez! Meanwhile, all sorts of serious legislation is rotting on the legislative vine.

But there was one memorial this session that would have been worth passing. In fact, maybe it should have been a bill.

House Republican Whip Don Bratton of Hobbs introduced House Memorial 69 — calling for a second legislative session just to handle memorials. The idea for a special session for memorials is tongue-in-cheek, but the points that HM 69 raises are valid.

In this piece of legislation, Bratton notes that in 1996, there were only seven House memorials introduced. But this year, there were at least 76 House memorials introduced. (He doesn’t even mention the fact that the Senate introduced at least 87 memorials this year, up from the 55 that were introduced in the Senate in the previous 30-day session.)

HM 69 says that memorials in the House alone cost the taxpayers roughly $35 per page for 450 pages and that the House has spent an average of two hours a day debating and passing memorials.

The memorial says, “the people of New Mexico would be disappointed to know that their elected representatives are spending two hours per day debating memorials that carry no legal weight ...”

Sometimes in legislative-speak “disappointed” means horrified.

Bratton’s memorial went nowhere. According to the Legislature’s online bill-finder, it never got out of its first committee.