Governor considers special session if major issues linger
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The focus of New Mexico lawmakers on “meaningless bills” such as establishing the official state dance may force Gov. Susana Martinez to call a special session to deal with larger issues such as the strapped budget, a spokesman for the governor said Tuesday.
Martinez, a Republican, might have no choice because the Democratic-controlled Legislature is debating measures such as a holiday song about the traditional foods of empanada and posole, said Michael Lonergan, a Martinez spokesman.
Later in the day, it emerged that the governor had injured her knee while skiing in Utah, where she had traveled to a meeting of the Republican Governors Association for several days.
“On Sunday during some downtime, I hit the slopes and took a spill,” the governor from Las Cruces said in a statement. “I’m getting my knee checked out in the coming days. But all is well. I thought I was a pretty decent skier, but there aren’t too many slopes in southern New Mexico.”
State lawmakers have considered declaring the green chile cheeseburger as New Mexico’s official burger. But the full Legislature has yet to pass a budget that would address a significant shortfall in funding for public education, Medicaid and other government programs.
In addition, the Democratic-controlled Senate has refused to hold confirmation hearings on some of the governor’s appointments, and both chambers have stalled items like payday loan and ethics reforms.
“Not only have they killed bills to protect children from predators — they are even neglecting to do their basic constitutional duties,” said Michael Lonergan, a Martinez spokesman.
Similar criticisms were leveled by Democrats against Martinez last year for pushing crime bills during a 30-day budget session.
New Mexico House Speaker Brian Egolf took issue with the contention that Democrats were squandering time during the current 60-day session.
“It seems as if the governor has not been following the progress made by this Legislature,” Egolf said. “This House passed a budget that prioritizes education, economic development and access to important programs.”
Egolf said House lawmakers also passed measures to open New Mexico to the hemp industry and to expand broadband access.
Senate Democrats say they’re working to find new revenue to prevent further cuts to public education and critical state services while Martinez has been “out of state campaigning and rubbing elbows with well-connected special interests.”
“The only solvency measure the executive has proposed is cutting the salary of teachers, law enforcement and health care professionals by 3.5 percent,” Senate Democrats said in a statement.
Chris Sanchez, a spokesman for Martinez, said the governor has only received 10 bills on her desk with less than two weeks to go in the session.
Allen Sanchez, executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, said lawmakers are wasting time rather than tackling child poverty in one of the nation’s poorest states.
“While our lawmakers are debating cheeseburgers, our children have no burgers,” he said.
Paul Gessing, president of the conservative-leaning Rio Grande Foundation, likened the measures facing criticism to “keeping up with the Kardashians” because they had little meaning but drew a lot of attention.
“Some people who are saying we need to have real conversations about real issues,” Gessing said. “But those conversations are difficult to have.”
Javier Benavidez, co-director of the left-leaning SouthWest Organizing Project, blamed the situation on rural Democrats who control key committees and are blocking items like payday loan reform.
The Republican Party of New Mexico used the governor’s threat to call a special session to attack Democrats for fixating on issues that won’t help struggling residents.
“When the legislative session ends in just 10 days, Democrats will be able to go home to their constituents and tell them that while their son still won’t be able to find a job in New Mexico after graduating college, their cousin’s car will still be stolen and their neighbor will still be addicted to heroin, they can proudly announce that at least now New Mexico has an official state cheeseburger,” Republican Party of New Mexico spokesman Tucker Keene said.
Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/russell-