One of the biggest winners in the just concluded 60-day session of the New Mexico Legislature was a man who never set foot in the Roundhouse and, in fact, never came close to crossing the state border.
His name is Donald J. Trump, the president of the United States.
Republican Trump lost New Mexico in November by 8 percentage points, and Democrats control both the state Senate and House of Representatives. Even so, several pieces of legislation aimed at Trump failed to get traction in the Legislature.
Senate Bill 118, sponsored by Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, would have required presidential candidates to disclose five years of personal income taxes to get on the general election ballot in New Mexico. The bill never made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
House Bill 292, sponsored by Rep. Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, would have prohibited any land owned by the state from being used for a federal barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border. The bill was at the top the House agenda for weeks but never received a vote. Neither did House Bill 116, sponsored by Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, which would have made New Mexico a sanctuary state, in which police would be forbidden to help enforce federal immigration laws.
Also failing were several bills that would have made New Mexico part of a bloc of states pledging to elect the president by the national popular vote. That compact was around years before Trump ran for office, but the fact that he won the White House while losing the popular vote added some urgency for those supporting the idea. Just not enough urgency to get any of the bills over the finish line.
Along with Trump, plenty of other people left a mark on the session as winners or losers. But Gov. Susana Martinez, as she’s seen fit to remind people several times in recent days, has the power of the veto. So some of today’s winners could be losers in the next 20 days.
Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho: He didn’t sit on the sidelines after Martinez vetoed the bill that would have allowed teachers to use more sick days without being penalized in their performance evaluation. Brandt, a co-sponsor, immediately said he’d try to override the veto. He said he respected the governor’s right to veto a bill. But he noted the Constitution gives the Legislature the right to override. Contrast this with the reaction of House Republicans, who in spite of supporting the bill in big numbers, scurried away like whipped puppies when the House voted to override.
Common Cause New Mexico: This government watchdog group has spent years pushing two big issues. One is establishing a state ethics commission, and the other is requiring independent expenditure groups — such as nonprofits, unions and advocacy organizations of all political stripes — to disclose their large political donors. Common Cause wasn’t successful until this year. The campaign finance bill is on the governor’s desk, while the proposed ethics commission will go on the general election ballot in November 2018.
Think New Mexico: This Santa Fe-based think tank can be considered a winner mainly because of what didn’t happen this year. Senate Bill 192 would have repealed a law — which Think New Mexico pushed for several years ago — that requires the state lottery to relinquish 30 percent of its revenues for a college scholarship fund. The lottery staff and lottery vendors backed the repeal. The lottery said it eventually could raise more money for the scholarship program if it could first pour more money into prizes and promotions to boost ticket sales. The bill died on the last day of the session. In addition, Think New Mexico was ready to fight any attempt to bring back taxes on food. Such a provision was in a House tax reform bill, but the House removed the provision before approving the measure.
Amber Royster: The executive director of Equality New Mexico, a gay rights group, lobbied for two bills this session, both of which passed. Senate Bill 121 would ban conversion therapy, the practice of trying to change a minor’s sexual orientation or gender identity. As a teenager, Royster went through this type of therapy. Her father spoke of the pain and torment it caused. Royster also led the charge for Senate Bill 120, which would make it easier for transgender people to change the gender on their birth certificates. Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, sponsored both bills.
Consumer groups targeting storefront lenders: Let’s call this one a qualified winner. House Bill 347, sponsored by Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup, was the first measure the Legislature has approved with a maximum interest rate for storefront installment loans. But the rate is 175 percent. The industry-friendly House Business and Industry Committee killed another bill calling for a limit of 36 percent. Several consumer groups that initially fought Lundstrom’s bill decided to jump on the bandwagon, saying the legislation was an improvement in a state where interest rates routinely dwarf the 175 percent mark. Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, voted against the measure, saying courts can impose rates as low as 15 percent in disputed cases. But a law establishing a 175 percent interest rate would take that option away from judges.
Domestic violence victims: This Legislature wasn’t sympathetic to gun-control bills. But, after much debate in both chambers, lawmakers approved Senate Bill 259, which would require people under domestic violence restraining orders to relinquish their firearms. Cervantes sponsored the bill.
Coyote-killing contests: Organizers of these bloody events can continue operating. The Senate approved a bipartisan bill — sponsored by Sens. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, and Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque — that would have outlawed such competitions. But the measure, Senate Bill 268, died in the House.
Gov. Susana Martinez: With Democrats controlling both the House and Senate, there was never much chance of Martinez getting her agenda through, especially the more divisive items. And the governor got very little from the Legislature this year. Even before the session began in January, many predicted Martinez’s main impact on the Legislature would be her vetoes. And so far, she’s used that power liberally. But Democrats say she may have bungled five vetoes because she didn’t write an explanation for them. Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, maintains that those five bills, including legalization of industrial hemp research, actually have become law because Martinez erred in her veto attempts. The dispute may end up in court. In addition to attacking Democrats, which is par for the course, this session Martinez and some of her supporters took to criticizing Senate Republicans who had bucked her. After a Martinez political action committee blasted Sen. Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, for sponsoring a bill to require an audit for the governor’s contingency fund, Rue struck back. He reminded people about the infamous pizza party in which Santa Fe police were called to break up a rowdy party in Martinez’s room at a downtown hotel
Sen. Steve Neville, R-Aztec: Undoubtedly, the most embarrassing moment for any lawmaker during this session came when Neville had to admit that he had misled his colleagues and ask that one of his bills, which already cleared the Senate, be withdrawn. Senate Bill 430 would have created an exception to state rules on renting property and would have allowed the Children, Youth and Families Department to extend its lease on office space in Albuquerque. During a hearing on the bill, Neville assured fellow senators the property owners did not have any connection to legislators or the governor and had not made any significant political contributions. But four days after the Senate passed the bill, Neville learned from General Services Secretary Ed Burckle and Children, Youth and Families Secretary Monique Jacobson that they had found records of $26,200 in contributions. Senators blamed the Martinez administration for the mistake, not Neville. Still, the embarrassing situation was a low point in Neville’s political career.
Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque: She carried the bills to reinstate the death penalty and hold back thousands of third-graders based on standardized reading scores. Both measures had Martinez’s backing, but Democrats said they were poorly conceived. Youngblood couldn’t get either measure out of its first committee.
Everytown For Gun Safety: This national advocacy group for gun control, founded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, was one of the biggest spenders in last year’s election, dropping more than $219,000 in campaign contributions to candidates and political action committees. But when it came to passing legislation to expand background checks on firearm purchases, all that money did little good. The gun-control bill by Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos, stalled and died.
Early childhood education: It was a festive moment for Democrats when the House of Representatives approved House Joint Resolution 1, which would have tapped investment revenues from New Mexico’s $15 billion land grant endowment to help pay for an expansion of early childhood education programs. Immediately before the actual vote, Rep. Jim Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, who had missed most of the session because of heart surgery, made a dramatic appearance on the House floor to help secure enough votes to pass the resolution. But the proposal died a few days later. Two Democrats on the Senate Rules Committee joined with Republicans to table the measure.
Solar energy: Once again, several lawmakers from both parties sponsored unsuccessful bills that would have extended the state’s solar energy tax credit, which expired last year.
Marijuana smokers: If you thought this might be the year that New Mexico would join Colorado and other states in legalizing marijuana for recreational use, you were wrong. Rep. Bill McCamley was able to get his House Bill 89 out of only one committee. Even if McCamley’s bill had cleared the Legislature, it faced a certain veto from Martinez. A bill by Sen. Cervantes that would have greatly decreased penalties for possession of marijuana passed the Senate, but died in the House.