Monday, July 30, 2012

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: Tom Udall and his Pet Issues

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
July 17, 2012

For a senator who isn’t up for re-election this year, New Mexico’s Tom Udall sure seems to be at the forefront of a lot of interesting national issues.

REP. TOM UDALLUdall’s pet causes, for the most part, are not the ones driving the national political conversation. But no matter what position you take on the issues — or what you think of the senator himself — it’s interesting to watch how Udall is building a national profile by taking strong positions in the face of strong opposition.

Just last week Democrat Udall, along with New Mexico’s retiring senior senator, Jeff Bingaman, and a handful of other senators from both political parties, sent a letter to James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, requesting information about Americans’ communications that have been secretly collected by the federal government under a 4-year-old surveillance law.

“We are alarmed that the intelligence community has stated that ‘it is not reasonably possible to identify the number of people located inside the United States whose communications may have been reviewed’ under the FISA Amendments Act,” the letter said. FISA is short for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Udall has a long history of being concerned with government intrusion on people’s privacy. In 2001, back in the immediate wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Udall was one of just 66 House members who voted against the U.S. Patriot Act.

Earlier in the week, Udall testified before a Senate subcommittee on a constitutional amendment he’s introduced that would nullify the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision by giving Congress and state legislatures the right to impose campaign spending limits.

“Support is building for my constitutional amendment,” he told radio reporters in a conference call Tuesday. “Over 1.7 million citizens have signed petitions in support of an amendment. Over 275 local resolutions have passed calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. And legislatures in six states, including New Mexico, have called on Congress to send an amendment to the states for ratification.”

Udall can’t claim bipartisan support on this one, though. According to national news reports, no Republican senators even attended the hearing. And Udall conceded at the hearing that “an amendment can only succeed if Republicans join us in this effort.”

Good luck.

Earlier in July, Udall was in the news for chairing a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on proposed legislation to ban race-day medication in horse racing. He and U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., are the sponsors of a bill called the Interstate Horse Racing Improvement Act.

“Across the United States, and sadly in New Mexico, the sport of horse racing has reached a terrible level of corruption and exploitation,” Udall said before the hearing. “Horses are being drugged to run through injuries. When they break down, jockeys are seriously injured, sometimes fatally, and the horses are euthanized. And all of this for profit.”

One of Udall’s pet issues, ending the U.S. Senate filibuster, was thought to be dead after the Senate in 2010 voted down a resolution Udall co-sponsored that would have allowed the Senate to halt debate on a bill by a simple majority vote. However, this month Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — who opposed Udall’s bill in 2010 — said he now would push such a change if Democrats retain control of the Senate.

If that happens, Udall undoubtedly will be out front on this issue again.