Monday, January 14, 2013

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: Robots Gain and Santa Fe Lose Clout in Roundhouse

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Jan.13, 2013

Why does Rep. Jim Smith want to unleash
this on innocent New Mexicans?

Looking at the 100-plus bills that have been pre-filed this session, you see some good ideas, you see some bad ideas, you see familiar ideas that seem to come back every year, and you see a lot of boring, technical bills.

But definitely the coolest bill introduced so far is House Bill 25, which has the intriguing title “ENMU Robot Workshops.”

This legislation would appropriate $300,000 to Eastern New Mexico University for the purpose of managing and conducting statewide robot workshops “and subsequent international robot competition.”

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Jim Smith, R-Sandia Park. No, Smith is not a mad scientist. Just a good-natured high school science teacher looking to get kids interested in science in general and an emerging technology in particular.

Smith's bill will need
some safeguards
Maybe the Legislature could amend it so the international competition could include killer robot death matches. That could become a high-tech substitute for cockfighting.

(Hey, I just realize that I wrote about the danger of a robot uprising in New Mexico this very column back in 2006. You can find that HERE. Somebody book me on Alex Jones!)

Is Santa Fe losing clout in the Legislature? Sometimes the Legislature seems like a big game of Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots. And with the death of longtime House Speaker Ben Luján of Nambé, you have to wonder whether Santa Fe has lost some of its punch at the Roundhouse.

Luján almost certainly will be replaced as speaker by Kenny Martinez. There’s no evidence that Martinez is hostile toward the area. But he’s from Grants, so it just won’t be the same as having Daddy Ben looking out for us.

None of the other House leaders are from these parts either. Both Rick Miera, elected by the Democrats last month to replace Martinez as majority leader and Antonio “Moe” Maestas, the new Democratic whip, are from Albuquerque.

In the Senate, Santa Fe hasn’t had anyone in a leadership position since the days of Eddie Lopez back in the ’90s. Lopez was majority leader when he died in 1996.

Sen. Pete Campos of Las Vegas was chosen by the Senate’s Democratic Caucus to replace Tim Jennings as Senate president pro-tem. However, he’s being challenged by Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces, who has told me and several other reporters that she’s got enough votes from conservative Democrats to build a coalition with Republicans to take that post. We should know that outcome of that by Tuesday afternoon.

None of the other Senate leaders — Majority Leader Michael Sanchez of Belen and Majority Whip Tim Keller of Albuquerque — call Santa Fe home.

(Yes, I’m ignoring the Republicans here because all of Santa Fe’s delegation are Democrats.)

But this isn’t to say that Santa Fe is completely lost in the Legislature. Several of our locals are in powerful positions when it comes to committees.

Unless the new speaker has some radical ideas about cleaning house in the House, Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela of Santa Fe will remain as co-chairman of the Legislative Finance Committee and deputy chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Rep. Jim Trujillo of Santa Fe, as vice chairman of the House Taxation and Revenue Committee, has been the major dude when it comes to capital outlay. And Rep. Brian Egolf, for the past two sessions, has served as chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

In the Senate, the only Santa Fe area committee chairman is Sen. Phil Griego of San José. He bangs the gavel at the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee. But Santa Fe’s other two senators have decent committee assignments. Sen. Peter Wirth is vice chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, while Sen. Nancy Rodriquez is a member of the Senate Finance Committee.

Of course Senate committee chairmanships and committee assignments also could change. That will be up to the weirdly named Committees Committee (I’m not kidding), which will be appointed by and presided over by then new president pro-tem. Stay tuned.