COMMENTARY: Watching the sausage being made is often painful. The politically tainted special session of the New Mexico Legislature, which comes weeks before an election in which every seat is up for grabs, has in many ways has been a train wreck.
But the Senate’s 12-hour marathon on Friday was a pleasant surprise.
Faced with a daunting task, senators worked methodically and intentionally to find agreement on how to plug a massive hole in the state’s budget. They focused on the policy debate and, when they disagreed, they did it with civility and respect.
It was apparent Friday that many of the folks in the Senate are committed to seeing past their partisan disputes to treat each other as public servants who are working hard and have the best interests of New Mexicans at heart.
Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, kept the Senate moving. He works behind the scenes and controls the floor agenda. He effectively coordinated movement between Democratic and Republican caucus meetings, committee meetings, and floor sessions.
Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, who I assume faced immense pressure from the governor, House Republicans, and even some Senate Republicans, kept his side in negotiations and working toward compromise.
Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming and the money guy, chaired the committee meetings and brought forth tangible proposals to address complex issues.
Lt. Gov. John Sanchez, a Republican, was evenhanded while he presided over the Senate. He’s very good at that job and inserts humor to lighten the mood and diffuse tension.
At the end of that long day, senators had approved a complex package of budget bills – all but one of them with widespread bipartisan support.
No one was happy, but they did it. For example, Democrat Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque helped negotiate a deal on taking money from school-district reserve funds. “I’m going to vote for this bill. I don’t like it. I was part of the process that made it much better,” she said on the Senate floor.
This is no endorsement by me of the legislation the Senate passed or the decision by Senate Democrats to adjourn without hearing the governor’s crime bills. I’m simply praising the way in which senators came together.
Ingle, just before the Senate adjourned around 12:20 a.m. Saturday morning, said he wished the Senate would consider the crime bills. But he also praised his colleagues across the aisle.
“The Senate did work together today, and that is the important thing,” he said.
I’m concerned about the way the Legislature is structured. We don’t pay lawmakers or give them enough staff to thoughtfully consider issues and effectively create laws. And the special session was preceded by closed-door negotiations that should have been public. It’s been difficult to find analysis of the legislation senators considered.
Still, senators, in challenging circumstances, came up with a plan most believed was in the best interest of New Mexicans. They did it with civility and respect. They should be proud of that.
I’d love to show you video of the Senate’s work that day. I can’t because it doesn’t exist. By refusing to archive webcast videos, senators missed an opportunity to showcase sausage-making at its best.
But webcasting is a topic for another day.