The Case for Campaign Contribution Limits: How Bob Perry bought a state Supreme Court

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As we’ve said before, the passage by the legislature of a campaign contribution limits bill – which now awaits Governor Richardson’s signature — was long past overdue.  New Mexico was one of only five states in the nation with no caps whatsoever. Texas is another.

Perhaps that’s why Bob Perry, the multi-millionaire Houston homebuilder, and his wife Doylene Perry have found New Mexico politics so hospitable.  In 2008, Bob wrote campaign checks to the New Mexico Republican Party totaling $240,000.  In the 2006 cycle, the Bob and Doylene dropped a total of $361,000 into the state — to the following beneficiaries:

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Putting the Brown Back in Green

What does this statement even mean?  Mainly it’s talking of how Hispanics, Native-Americans, and African-Americans across the country are getting reacquainted with their roots in the soil.

I’m sure that most people of color are aware of these roots, but they have other issues (getting a good education, finding a good job, surviving in this crazy world) to worry about, than to think about organic farming and working on sustainability and conservation.  Yet what I’m going to be saying by the end of this is that this green thing that many of us have been ignoring is one of the simple answers to help improve our lives and our communities.

My first major act of environmentalism was also an act of survival.

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The Twitter Debate

To tweet or not to tweet, that is the question.

PRO Twitter:  Matt at FBIHOP makes a strong case for the utility of Twitter – (How I use Twitter).

CON Twitter:  But then there’s this short vid on youtube –“Trouble with Twitter.”

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b5Ff2X_3P_4&color1=0x3a3a3a&color2=0x999999&feature=player_embedded&fs=1]

I tweet, therefore I am.

Week in Rewind: More on TIDDs, Monahan’s ego, Animal Spirits, Blockgate, NM’s New Media, Bogus Polls and Val Kilmer too

Just now recovered from the legislative session. Here’s a buffet of the past week’s posts to re-taste and savor.

Downfall of the SunCal TIDD revisited: It came down to the wee hours of the session — David vs. Goliath and you know how that one came out.  Read all about it.

Environment Wins in Final Hours of NM Legislative Session

What about the other TIDD bills?

We still don’t know how much SunCal spent on all those TV spots, slick mailers and its army of high-priced lobbyists.  It was curious how, with each successive SunCal ad, the estimated number of jobs the development promised to produce would coincidentally keep going up and up and up — inversely tracking with the economy that was going down and down. But 33 House members didn’t go for the $408 million taxpayer handout.   At the end of the day, maybe all those lobbyists  just didn’t take Nick Naylor’s advice to “argue correctly.”  (From the movie, Thank You for Smoking).

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_KzCSlxMDU&color1=0xb1b1b1&color2=0xcfcfcf&hl=en&feature=player_embedded&fs=1]

Veteran Roundhouse reporter, Jay Miller (Inside the Capitol) offered his authoritative postmortem on the legislative session – including a harsh verdict on who was to blame for the demise of some ethics reform measures:

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Session Wrap: Big Wins for Ethics Reform, Green Jobs and the Environment

gavel1The gavel has sounded, the 60-day session is over, and we’re pleased to report a number of significant victories for ethics reform, green jobs and the environment.

ETHICS REFORM

On the ethics reform front, three high priority measures passed and await the Governor’s signature.

Campaign Contribution Limits: New Mexico was one of only five states with no restriction on the size of campaign donations.  Now you can scratch us from that ignominious list. Thanks to Common Cause, Senator Dede Feldman, Senator Peter Wirth, Representative Jeff Steinborn and others for their tireless work on this issue. (link)

Open Conference Committees: In years past, six designated lawmakers would often meet behind closed doors, away from the prying eyes of the public and the news media, where they could then radically alter passed legislation.  And year after year, the Senate would kill efforts to open up these conference committees to the public.  But this year the Senate broke with tradition and passed this reform overwhelmingly.  Hats off to the sponsors, Senator Dede Feldman and Representative Joseph Cervantes.

Legislative Webcasting: 2009 was the year of sunshine.  Now audio webcasting of floor sessions of both houses is available to the public.  Primitive video webcasts of Senate floor sessions started in the last week.

Defense of Nonprofits: A number of bills were introduced to restrict the public education efforts of nonprofit organizations around legislative issues. All of these assaults of the First Amendment were turned back.  In an impressive show of unity, the nonprofit community rose up to meet the threat, including the ACLU, American Cancer Society, Amigos Bravos, Audubon Society, Common Cause, Environmental Law Center, New Energy Economy, Conservation Voters New Mexico, AFSCME and many others.

GREEN JOBS

New Mexico Youth Organized, working with a host of allies, passed SB318.  SB 318 creates a one million dollar job-training program for green jobs. In the final hour, the legislature also passed HB 622, creating a bonding framework for green jobs.  Extra special thanks to the bill sponsors, Speaker Ben Lujan and Senator Eric Griego!

TIDDs

Conservation Voters New Mexico worked tirelessly to kill a $400 million Tax Increment Development District proposal for sprawl development west of Albuquerque. The California developer SunCal spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on industry lobbyists and advertising.  Nice work, CVNM!

Thanks to all of you for following this blog, and for your commitment to social and economic justice!

VIDEO: Youth play vital role at the Roundhouse

It’s the last day of the 2009 Legislative Session I want to recognize the important role young people played in helping to shape public policy and educate our representatives on youth issues. During the week of March 2nd young people from across the state visited the Capitol for New Mexico Children’s Cabinet Days. I was lucky to catch some of these young leaders and interview them.

They spoke about the need for green jobs and renewable energy, teen pregnancy prevention and stopping bills that would cut youth programs among many other issues. I was impressed by their level of commitment and how organized they are. It was also clear that there is great respect from the youth for Lt. Governor Diane Denish and Claire Dudley for their work to make NM Cabinet Days a success.

Check out the video here:
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HAfWU_uHOeE&hl=en&fs=1]

It has also been exciting to see the fruits of their labor with the passage of the first Green Jobs Bill, Senate Bill 318 on 3/20/09. Democracy for New Mexico blogged about this important measure.

The passage of SB 318 is a huge success for groups like New Mexico Youth Organized, Green For All, Conservation Voters NM, New Energy Economy, the Coalition for Clean Affordable Energy, Natural Resources Defense Council and 1Sky.

Big up’s to our young leaders!

The Sayings of Senator Lopez

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Senate Rules Committee: Where ethics bills go to die

Feb. 25, 2009: She (Sen. Linda Lopez) also promised to begin discussion on the proposal to create a state ethics commission “first thing” Friday, but said working out disagreements and drafting a committee substitute bill that combines several existing bills related to that controversial proposal will “take a little more time.” NM Independent

Feb. 28, 2009: “We do not let out every bill on its own. That’s not good law,” she (Lopez) said, promising, “the list looks long, but we’ll get some stuff moving this next week.” Santa Fe New Mexican

March 3, 2009: After the meeting, the committee chair, Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Bernalillo, said that the bills were moving slowly because the committee was “trying to reach consensus.” NM Independent

March 19, 2009: When asked whether she believed the issue was dead, Lopez said: “At least for this year — yes.” Several other ethics commission bills — including one sponsored by Lopez — have been pending for weeks in the Rules Committee… Albuquerque Journal

So one of the key ethics reforms of this session — an independent ethics commission — has been pronounced dead for another year.

In the dizzying wake of so many public corruption scandals, and just two days after the sentencing of former Senator Manny Aragon, New Mexico finds itself stuck in the dwindling list of state that still do not have an ethics commission.

A key figure in this ongoing public policy quagmire, Rules Committee Chair Linda Lopez presents a fascinating study in contradictions.  On the issue of ethics reform, she strikes the pose of the ultra-cautious, deliberative lawmaker, working behind the scenes to hammer out a studied consensus between her colleagues.  They’re really the recalcitrant ones, you know. We must not rush to judgment in these weighty matters, she tells us.

So another week turns into another year, then another and another.

Yet in her other legislative persona, Lopez is the go-go-Senator-in-a-hurry,  boldly taking the TIDD tool where no TIDD has gone before, fast tracking a $400 million taxpayer handout to California developer SunCal — and obligating a good chunk of state revenues for the next 25 years.

Whoosh!

Here’s more of the backstory on Madam Chair and her committee — where ethics bills go to die:

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Senate webcasting opens to bad reviews

johnsapienI generally don’t encounter much free-flowing consensus when I’m wandering around the Roundhouse. But as I haunted the curving halls of the Capitol yesterday, I found one thing on which everyone agrees:

The new Senate webcasting sucks.

It seems no one – legislators, constituents, journalists – is happy with the single, fixed camera positioned in the back of the chamber that provides a stultifying view of the back of everyone’s heads.

The webcasting began Monday after a protracted battle in the Senate, waged mostly by legislators who apparently did not relish the thought of cameras recording them for posterity if they said something silly.

But proponents of webcasting, including an overwhelming section of the public, pushed for an officially-sanctioned, ever-present light on the sometimes impenetrable process of lawmaking.

In the end, webcasting friends (mostly rank and file Senators) and foes (mostly Senate leaders) compromised on a plan to install one stationary camera in the back of the Senate chamber. As one legislator reasoned, it was exactly the view anyone would get if he or she drove to Santa Fe and sat in the gallery – no more, no less.

It’s gone over like a lead balloon.

The New Mexico Independent’s Gwyneth Doland – who, in the absence of webcasting, has performed a public service by logging hours and hours of legislative webcasting and liveblogs for her site — posted this on Wednesday to register her continuing displeasure with the limited camera scope.

Let’s be clear – the frustrating footage is not the fault of the Legislative Council Services staff, who are working hard to improve the performance of the single camera it’s been tasked with operating.

No, the people I talked to place the blame squarely on the man who spearheaded the much-maligned compromise plan – Sen. John Sapien (D-Corrales).

Let’s recap.

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Leprechauns in the Roundhouse!

leprechaunsToday is St. Patrick’s Day, when leprechauns abound. From Wikipedia:

Leprechauns usually take the form of old men who enjoy partaking in mischief. Their trade is that of a cobbler or shoemaker. They are said to be very rich, having many treasure crocks buried during wartime. According to legend, if anyone keeps an eye fixed upon one, he cannot escape, but the moment the gaze is withdrawn, he vanishes.

Late last night in the House Judiciary Committee, there was much mischief afoot on HB 808, which we’ve dubbed the “Politician Protection Act of 2009.” The bill took a beating as numerous committee members cited its unconstitutional limitations on the free speech of nonprofit organizations. Although sponsored by Rep. Paul Bandy, this bill was based on the template set forth in HB 891, jointly sponsored by House Majority Leader Ken Martinez and Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez.

After a lengthy hearing, the bill was sent back for “further research and discussion” to plug its gaping holes. But do Rep. Martinez and Senator Sanchez have a treasure crock buried somewhere in the form of a dummy bill or floor amendment to bring back the Politician Protection Act? We have 5 days to find out.

And of the leprechaun’s propensity to vanish – it really looks like Rep. Martinez and Senator Sanchez hung Rep. Bandy out to dry. Bandy’s bill was eviscerated in committee, and he may well take the heat for this Politician Protection Act. But let’s be clear – this bill was crafted, developed and pushed by our two majority leaders.

Free Speech means the right to criticize politicians – and NM politicians don’t like it

free-speech-zone1Let’s face it.  Elected officials don’t like to be criticized – and especially not in public.

There’s nothing wrong with that.  They have feelings too.  But criticism goes with the territory.  And there’s a big problem when those same officials attempt to use their powers to stifle the public’s exercise of free speech.

Under the U.S. Constitution, the right of free speech, including the right to discuss and dissent and to criticize the public acts of governmental officials, is afforded the highest protection from government interference.

That’s why it’s so alarming that two measures to clamp down on free discussion of governmental actions are being rushed through the New Mexico Legislature. These two bills, HB808 sponsored by Rep. Paul Bandy (R-Aztez) and SB652, sponsored by Sen. William Payne (R-Albuq.), have earned the “Politician Protection Act” tag, along with HB 891, sponsored by House Majority Leader Ken Martinez and Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez.

Some of the legal theories being dredged up to attack the non-profits certainly should make any lover of the Constitution shudder.  Take the argument employed in committee testimony recently by Deputy Attorney General Phil Baca, who drafted HB808 at the direction of House Minority Leader, Rep. Ken Martinez (D-Grants).  “Under New Mexico state law, we’re sovereign… We don’t have to grant tax exempt status to any organization we want…We’re an independent sovereign,” Baca said.

Considering the source, such neo-Confederate legal argumentation was both surprising and more than a little shocking.  One half expected a band in the back of the room to strike up “Dixie.”

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