Thursday, February 17, 2011

Two Perennial GOP Issues Go Down in Committees

The margins are closer than they were just last year, but House Democrats showed Thursday that they are still in charge. Two issues dear to Republicans were tabled in two different committees -- both on party-line votes.

In the case of Voter ID, House Bill 308, sponsored by Rep. Diane Hamilton, R-Silver City was tabled  in the House Voters & Elections Committee.

“Those thousands of New Mexicans who want voter photo ID should take a good look at those who voted against it today,” Hamilton said in a written statement. “I’m not finished with this fight,”

Voter ID is a GOP issue around the country. Republicans say it’s necessary to stop voter fraud. Former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, a Republican appointee, was fired partly because state Republican leaders complained he couldn’t find any evidence of mass voter fraud.

However earlier this week University of New Mexico political science professor Lona Atkeson testifying about the bill earlier this week, said there is no evidence that people are casting votes for dead people still on voter rolls.

Daniel Ivey-Soto, a lobbyist for the state’s county clerks, said the clerks are split on the issue. (Deputy Santa Fe County Clerk Denise Lamb testified against the bill.)

However Ivey-Soto said the clerks were unanimously opposed to HB308 because it didn’t apply to absentee voters who cast ballots by mail.

Therefore, Rep. Cathrynn Brown, R-Carlsbad, introduced HB577, which would require a photo ID for all voters who cast a ballot in-person or absentee.

Gov. Susana Martinez, apparently referring to Brown's bill,  weighed in on the issue Thursday afternoon, urging citizens to call their representatives and senators to demand they support voter ID legislation.

Then there's the gay marriage issue.

The House Consumer & Public Affairs Committee essentially killed two proposed constitutional amendments that would have defined marriage as being between one man and one woman for legal purposes in New Mexico.

House Joint Resolution 7, sponsored by Rep. Nora Espinoza, R-Roswell, would have made gay marriage unconstitutional if approved by the legislators and voters in the 2012 general election.

HJR8, sponsored by Rep. David Chavez, R-Los Lunas, also would have done that. But it also would have amended the constitution to prevented New Mexico from recognizing otherwise legal out-of-state marriages between persons of the same sex. Earlier this year, state Attorney General Gary King said New Mexico should recognize such marriages, even though same-sex marriage cannot be performed in this state.

The committee also tabled House Bill 162, also sponsored by Chavez. That bill would would have prevented the state from recognizing same-sex marriages from out of state.

All three measures were tabled in committee on a straight 3-2 party vote.

“We don’t dare call today’s development a victory, but we are clearly happy that these bills have been tabled for now,” said Todd McElroy of Los Alamos, a board member of Equality New Mexico, a gay-rights organization. “EQNM applauds our legislators who saw this bill as an affront New Mexico's families.”