Bad blood from the first day of this year’s New Mexico legislative session is still boiling after more than three weeks.
Security crews denied ordinary people access to the gallery of the House of Representatives on opening day, when Republican Gov. Susana Martinez gave her State of the State speech to the full Legislature. In response, Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, introduced a proposed rules change to prohibit reserved seating during joint meetings of the House and Senate.
Sanchez’s resolution says “no seating in the gallery during a joint session shall be reserved. All gallery seating during a joint session shall be open to the public.”
Members of the Senate Rules Committee moved ahead Sanchez’s measure Monday in a bipartisan vote.
It has little chance of clearing the full Legislature, but exemplifies the animus between Sanchez and Martinez.
One Rules Committee member, Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, said his children and their families couldn’t get into the gallery because of the reserved seating. “I thought this was the people’s house,” Clemente Sanchez, no relation to the majority leader, said.
The House gallery has capacity for 296 people. Clemente Sanchez said about a third of the seats were open, but people were still turned away if they didn’t have a ticket for a reserved seat, he said.
Clemente Sanchez said Martinez’s Cabinet secretaries were admitted while people who had traveled long distances were denied access. “They can sit in their office and watch it on the Internet,” he said of the Cabinet members.
A spokesman for Martinez did not respond to a request for comment about the system of reserved seating and the criticism from senators.
Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, was one of two members of the Rules Committee to vote against the proposal to prohibit reserved seating in the gallery.
“I’ve been here 32 years, and I’ve never seen that done before,” Ingle said. “I don’t think it will be done again.” He said he preferred to settle the matter “by conversation with the leadership” instead of through formal action.
Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, voted for the rule change. She said some of her constituents complained about doors being closed on them as they tried to enter the House.
After Sen. Michael Sanchez initially complained about lack of access for the public, Steven Shaw, the House sergeant-at-arms, told The New Mexican that reserved tickets were distributed to House Republicans, House Democrats, the Governor’s Office and the Secretary of State’s Office for their guests. That left out numerous people with no political connection who arrived at the Capitol in hopes of hearing the governor’s speech from the gallery.
The rule change has little chance of being implemented. It would need approval from two-thirds of the membership of the Senate and the House. The legislative session ends at noon Thursday.