Analysis and Commentary by Better Together New Mexico Founder Carla J. Sonntag
There have been some attempts to justify what’s happening in Santa Fe, but let’s look at some facts rarely discussed.
New Mexico has a two-party system. But the truth is that it often functions that way in name only.
Why? According to Ballotpedia, New Mexico has roughly 44 percent registered Democrats, 31 percent Republicans, and 22 percent Independents. This indicates an obvious Democrat majority, but how does that play out in the state legislature?
In both chambers, the Democrats enjoy roughly a 64 percent majority, much greater than registrations would indicate. They also have the governor’s office that largely dictates what legislation will be entertained – even in the 60-day session. This is because the governor indicated what s/he wanted accomplished during opening day remarks and issues a mandate during 30-day sessions.
What does that mean? With one-party control, there is less opportunity for robust debate or discussion on meaningful legislation. Instead, we have the governor’s agenda being carried out by those in her party – with or without the participation of the minority party.
There are many demands on our elected officials. While they are assigned to serve on certain committees, they are also tasked with carrying their own legislation and presenting it in other committees. They can’t be in two places at one time, which is particularly hard on Republicans. The Democrats serve in such high numbers that there are usually plenty of them to carry out the governor’s wishes on any given committee. This allows Democrats to coordinate their schedules, and then take care of whatever business they have without much concern for missed committees.
For Republicans, committee meetings can, and often do, go on without them. For example, in Senate Judiciary, the committee consists of six Democrats and three Republicans. The Chairman, Senator Cervantes, has, at times, chosen to conduct business without Republicans present. He doesn’t need a single Republican present for a quorum and can carry on with his agenda. And he does.
On Friday, 2/17/23, both parties held Senate caucus meetings after floor session adjournment. When the Democrats completed their meeting, they went to Senate Judiciary and discussed important bills. There was no ‘debate’ on the merits of the legislation because all the Democrats were united in their stance and passed the legislation without a single Republican being in the room. There was also no consideration for those wishing to speak online via the Zoom connection.
In other committees, some Chairs have stated they will continue hearing bills but will not take a vote until there is ‘adequate representation present’. That could mean hearings without quorums, but it can – and often is – subject to interpretation.
How does that impact New Mexicans? Bills are passing committees and third readings on the respective chamber floors without fair or adequate representation of the peoples’ needs and desires.
The governor promised she would do something about the out-of-control crime rate in this state. Many sighed with relief. New Mexico is receiving U.S.-wide recognition for its crime, and it is often rated among the highest in the nation.
But fast forward to the midpoint of the legislative session and what has been done? Nothing worthwhile. We’ve had multiple bills introduced that would make meaningful strides in correcting the ridiculous ‘catch and release’ policy of the state. Originally misrepresented to correct overcrowding of our jails and prisons, it has become a criminal’s dream. Criminals are usually released to continue committing crimes and frequently escalate their antics even to the murder of innocent victims.
We have for the past several years had numerous Republicans step up and try to fix this bad law. None of these bills have passed. This year we even had Democrats attempt to fix it and their bill was also tabled
But what about the governor’s promise?
The Democrats are unilaterally killing most Republican crime bills. Some of those bills are being copied to be sponsored by a Democrat. To the public, people are sick of petty games and just want something meaningful done.
Instead of getting serious about crime, we’ve got an endless stream of bills to tell us if or how we can own or carry guns. The governor promised to have the strictest gun control in the nation. That’s great; how many criminals do you think will abide by them? And yet, if you take guns away from law-abiding citizens who want to protect themselves from this out-of-control crime, you make them sitting ducks for the criminals. And the criminals could care less what laws are passed – unless that law keeps them incarcerated and away from harming others.
We’ve seen horrifying bills that strip away parental rights while glorifying the taking of life. There are bills attempting to strip away any security of our election systems, codifying past questionable practices and adding even worse measures. They are attempting to register ‘residents’ to vote who may not be New Mexico citizens. And they plan to register people to vote without their knowledge or consent, allow 16-year-olds to vote, and restore felon voting rights prior to the completion of their sentence.
Then we’ve got the usual parade of bills to increase our taxes, continue to overregulate our businesses, and decimate or destroy the oil and gas industry that funds our economy.
There is still plenty of time for good legislation to be passed and the nonsense to be stopped. But if this session ends the way it started and what we are seeing at the midpoint, New Mexicans will have no question about who is responsible.
We’re not interested in finger-pointing; we want real solutions. Let’s hope the governor and majority party make good decisions and that New Mexicans can be proud of the work that was done in this 60-day session when it’s over.
Carla J. Sonntag is the founder and CEO of Better Together New Mexico (BTNM), a statewide grassroots alliance creating important change in our state. Working together as a cohesive team, we are uniting, activating, and empowering all those who want to drive New Mexico to reach its full potential.