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No Time to Waste

Silly season at the Roundhouse.

 

People who think we ought to go back to the "good old days" when state legislatures, rather than direct popular vote, elected US senators obviously don't pay enough attention to New Mexico's Roundhouse. Every legislative session, our representatives in Santa Fe give us new reason to wonder whether they should be allowed to vote on anything at all — much less replace the will of the people in electing US senators.

Not that our legislature doesn't have a full plate this year. The state's two big pension plans need a $12 billion fix. A possible compromise to address the problem of non-citizens obtaining New Mexico driver's licenses — which could keep the rest of us from boarding airplanes with our own licenses — awaits action. Three bills have been introduced to implement the will of 81% of New Mexico voters who, in November, directed the Legislature to come up with basic requirements for PRC candidates. (For more on this session, see Jeff Berg's report in this issue.)

To her credit, though we may not agree with all her proposals, Gov. Martinez has laid out a clear agenda for legislative action, including fixing the license problem and stricter standards for school promotion.

Yet the legislature has responded, as in past years, by frittering away precious time in its 60-day session. Roswell Rep. Nora Espinoza introduced a clearly unconstitutional measure that would have made enforcement of federal gun laws a third-degree felony. Carlsbad Rep. Cathrynn Brown made headlines with a bill that would have punished victims of rape and incest for "tampering with evidence" if they obtained abortions. (Brown quickly recanted and said the bill had been badly crafted. But one would hope that legislators fine-tune their measures before attempting to enact them, not only after a public outcry.) However you feel about the difficult issues of guns and abortion, these measures are symbols, not substance, and only serve to inflame passions rather than bring us together for solutions.

Brown and Silver City Rep. Dianne Hamilton also both proposed bills to address the largely non-existent problem of voter fraud in New Mexico. (See "The Fraud of Voter Fraud," November 2012 Editor's Notebook.)

 

If Brown were looking for more carefully written extreme legislation, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) would no doubt be happy to oblige. Backed by big corporations and right-wing special interests, ALEC drafts and promotes model legislation on topics ranging from blocking environmental protection to attacking unions to turning back the clock on marriage and divorce. The organization's success is a cautionary tale in entrusting too much power to amateur state legislatures.

In neighboring Arizona, the controversial anti-immigrant SB 1070 had its roots in an ALEC closed-door meeting with for-profit prison industry lobbyists. This year, an Arizona bill with language similar to that pushed by ALEC in other states sought to empower teachers to be global-warming deniers. Arizona also had its own bill criminalizing federal gun-law enforcement — likely not a coincidence.

At least our Southwestern legislatures haven't gone as far as Virginia — yet — where a legislator introduced a bill calling for the state to issue its own currency. And then there's Tennessee, where the city of Memphis narrowly outmaneuvered a legislative attempt to bar it from renaming city parks that honor Confederate figures including an early "dragon" in the KKK.

While it's perhaps comforting to know that New Mexico isn't alone in wasting the taxpayers' time, there's no excuse for failing to prioritize the issues most vital to the state. The clock is ticking on yet another legislative session in which it looks like not nearly enough will get done.

 

 

Playing Chicken

Steve Pearce skips the State of the Union.

It's not only in Santa Fe where the people's business sometimes takes a back seat to extremist agendas. You may have wondered, for example, where our own Rep. Steve Pearce was during last month's State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress. Pearce, who never met an endangered species he didn't loathe, was home in New Mexico at a public hearing on the status of the lesser prairie chicken.

As he tweeted in explanation of his absence, "Public hearing on the chicken is the same day as the State of the Union. It's more important to be in NM, standing with you."

The US Fish and Wildlife Service is weighing whether to list the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species. According to Pearce spokesman Eric Layer, "The hearing date has long been on the congressman's calendar, since before the announcement of the State of the Union address. This is a very important issue to New Mexico. New Mexico jobs, as well as millions of dollars in state revenue for education, are at stake over this decision. Rep. Pearce believes that it was important to stand with his constituents at the hearing."

In an earlier statement, Pearce charged, "The push to list the lesser prairie chicken comes straight from a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity. It was chosen not because of science, but to attack our energy production, farming and ranching here in southern New Mexico." He gave no details, however, on how the listing would endanger jobs, just rhetoric like, "The Endangered Species Act is one of the most heavy-handed, unbending laws we have. As we've already seen, it gives bureaucrats the power to destroy entire economies with hardly a second thought."

Actually, US Fish and Wildlife has already bent to business interests in proposing a "threatened" status rather than the more stringent "endangered." The "threatened" status allows Fish and Wildlife more flexibility in crafting conservation measures for the bird.

We don't know enough about the issue to form an opinion. But Pearce's fervent opposition to conservation efforts — skipping the State of the Union! — shows a lack of balance on environmental issues.

This even extends to staffing decisions: The congressman recently hired Las Crucen Fred Huff as District Policy Advisor. Huff, described by the Sun-News as "a lifelong land access advocate," has frequently petitioned for extreme anti-environmental positions. Huff opposed creation of the Prehistoric Trackways National Monument and wrote Gov. Martinez about the conspiracy-theorists' favorite "Agenda 21" (according to Wikipedia, "a non-binding, voluntarily implemented action plan of the United Nations with regard to sustainable development").

Maybe the lesser prairie chicken really is a feathered job killer. That whirring sound you hear could be the UN's black helicopters. But it's more likely that Steve Pearce needs some input on environmental and other issues from outside the extreme right-wing blogosphere and beyond his corporate cash machine.

He might even have learned something at the State of the Union address.

 

 

David A. Fryxell is editor of Desert Exposure.

 

 


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