By Matthew Reichbach
There was considerable action throughout the Roundhouse even before the special session officially kicked off at noon — and very little of it was related to redistricting. Perhaps this was a signal that the other issues added to the special session agenda will hijack the decennial affair that is mandated by the Constitution to redraw new district lines.
A coalition of groups called New Mexico Can Do Better, which supports the law that allows immigrants to earn drivers licenses in New Mexico, held a rally in the Capitol Rotunda and an hour later a coalition of tea party groups from throughout the state rallied outside the Roundhouse.
Allen Sanchez, representing the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the bishops support the current driver’s license law and noted that Jesus was an immigrant.
“The bishops don’t always get involved but we do when it is an ethical or moral issue,” Sanchez said at the press conference. “This is an ethical issue.”
The tea party groups rallied to protest the law and support the policies that Governor Susana Martinez has added to the special session docket. A common theme among speakers at the tea party was to cut spending.
Therese Cooper, co-founder of the East Mountain Tea Party, likened spending by the state legislature to slavery.
“They have enslaved our state. They have enslaved our people,” Cooper said to cheers from the crowd.
Many speakers at the tea party said that if the legislators did not listen to the will of the people, they would be voted out of office.
The rally by New Mexico Can Do Better was focused on the drivers license issue.
Jose Manuel Escobedo, the Policy Director of the Border Network for Human Rights, said that “The law that we have now is a common sense law.”
Sanchez was more personal and mentioned a story about a couple who entered the country without a visa, but then went on to work hard so that their children could have a better life. He then went on to say that they were Susana Martinez’s great-grandparents. The revelation about Martinez’s great-grandparents made national headlines.
The two collections of groups disagreed on whether or not the law made the roads safer.
Tea party members said that studies have shown that the driver’s license law has not reduced the percentage of uninsured drivers on New Mexico roads.
However, putting aside the dispute over the numbers of uninsured motorists, a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that unlicensed drivers are almost five times more likely to be in a fatal crash than are licensed drivers
Sheryl Bohlander of Club 54, a conservative group from Santa Fe, said that those who support the current law “will use fear and emotion to push their agenda.”
Another speaker likened the debate to that of good and evil.
Lt. Gov. John Sanchez, who is running for U.S. Senate, also spoke at the tea party rally and noted that he supports Martinez’s initiatives during the special session, saying that it would be more beneficial to taxpayers to do more than just the redistricting during the special session.
Allen Sanchez led the groups in calling on Martinez to compromise with the legislature, chanting in the Roundhouse hoping that Martinez could hear on the fourth floor.