Well we made it through another special session of the New Mexico Legislature and a few weeks later we continue to reflect on the wins, the losses, and the absolute ridiculousness of some of the debates. While some important pieces of legislation were passed and a compromise budget was agreed to, there was a lot left to be desired. But we get it, the Senate specifically couldn’t do EVERYTHING on the table, they had to save THREE AND HALF HOURS to pat each other on the back and complement each other for all the work they haven’t done in the last 20 years. Sure will be nice to have new Senators in 2021 who seem willing to actually get to work.
If you’ve ever wondered why the NM Senate doesn’t seem to get things done, especially in the last few years since Progresive Democrats took back the House with such gusto in 2016, look no further than how SB4 was treated this past session.
SB4 is an election reform bill designed with input from the Secretary of State and multiple County Clerks from around the state. One of the major points of that bill was to allow County Clerks who chose to opt in to mail ballots directly to voters without having to go through the application process which confused and bogged down the system this past month during the primaries. There were and are (the bill did pass fortunately) other good portions of the bill including much needed protections for Tribal groups to have more control over their voting systems and increased time for applications and ballots to be delivered and counted; but that major portion of the bill was stripped out in committee before being heard on the Senate floor.
How did that happen? The NM senate has been controlled by corporate-backed Democrats for years and they have held a stranglehold on key positions within the Senate leadership.
Everything from Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen’s long standing ability to dictate what bills go to what committees to John Arthur Smith’s nearly lifelong control over literally ANYTHING related to budget issues by virtue of his chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee. In the case of SB4, a bill that should have gone to Senate Judiciary, but under the urging of Papen and other Corporate Democrats who voted with Republicans, that was changed to the Senate Rules Committee instead. Guess who sits on that committee? Fully THREE of the seven Democrats on Senate Rules are now lame duck Senators who lost their bids for reelection during the Primary: Papen, Clemente Sanchez, and Gabriel Ramos. Once again voting with Republicans on that committee, those three lame ducks all voted to strip out the measure that would have allowed absentee ballots to be mailed directly to voters. Thanks Senators, your parting gift to New Mexico was to continue to make it MORE difficult for voters to engage with democracy and you gave yourselves three and half hours of congratulations after doing so. COOL.
In other news, we were once again not surprised by the House and Senate Republicans complete lack of connection to BIPOC communities while making comments on SB8 (body cams), SB7 (state responsibility in dismantling institutional racism), and HB5 (creation of civil rights commission to review qualified immunity). Luckily, despite the attempts to amend and table the bills, all three bills did pass. While none of them alone are the solution for BIPOC communities, they are small steps and we are grateful for the Legislators that supported them.
For a full recap on the eye rolling, out of touch, and in some cases straight up racist comments check out our Twitter feed. Highlights range from Rep Schmedes (R) and Rep Cowder’s (R) extreme concerns over less cops (despite BIPOC communities asking for exactly that), to Sen Sharer (R) going on a rant about how “conquistadors were welcomed” (not usually what happens when murderers come into town), that slavery is okay because slavery happens all over the world, and blaming communities of color for institutional racism because of “dadlessness,” to pretty much EVERY Republican in the House worrying about police agencies “funding and timing” for cams BUT NOT about funding or timing for BIPOC who suffer disproportionately at the hands of those agencies is the epitome of privilege. For those of us watching one thing was absolutely clear, New Mexican Republicans and the NMGOP are out of touch with our communities and need to go.
As communities across our state continue to call for police reform and changes to systems that uphold institutional racism we look to the November election with excited anticipation. The special session made it clear that New Mexicans want change…let’s show our Legislators what that change means and vote out those who don’t listen to our voices.