Duelling Roundhouse Rallies: Occupy and Tea Party at Session’s Opening Day

By Matthew Reichbach

The Tea Party has been a force in politics, especially among conservatives, since it gained prominence in 2009. The New Mexico groups gathered for their third rally at the Roundhouse on Tuesday — but this time, the Tea Party had company.

Occupy groups from around the state gathered on the east side of the Roundhouse — and outnumbered the Tea Party protesters on the opposite side of the Roundhouse.

The two rallies had similarities — crowds of New Mexicans holding signs and cheering on speeches from speakers. But the similarities were superficial.

The Occupy crowd was filled with signs calling for the end of corporate involvement in campaigns and signs in Spanish opposing Martinez’s proposal to repeal drivers license for undocumented immigrants. The Tea Party signs were in support of the drivers license repeal and called for mandatory voter identification at the polls.

What the crowed responded to was different as well. The largest applause line at the Tea Party rally was when Lt. Gov. John Sanchez said, “The first thing we need to do is elect a new President.” At the Occupy rally, a large cheer went up when state Sen. Eric Griego said, “money isn’t speech — we need corporations out.”

Griego also signed the 99 Pledge in front of the crowd.

The Democratic state Senator, who is running for Congress in New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District, said he would support a Constitutional Amendment to overturn Citizen’s United, the controversial Supreme Court decision that allows corporations to contribute unlimited amounts of money in support or opposition to a political candidate.

At the Tea Party rally, Marita K. Noon, head of the energy group CARE, railed against the possible listing of the Sand Dune Lizard as an endangered species. Opposition to the listing of the lizard has become cause célèbre for conservatives, especially Congressman Steve Pearce (R-NM).

The Occupy group ultimately received more media attention for an attempted — though unsuccessful — “mic check” of Martinez at the beginning of her State of the State address. The Occupy protesters involved were quickly ushered out of the room.

Odds and Ends

  • The two candidates with major presences at the Tea Party rally were Rick Newton, a Republican running for Congress in New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District, and Greg Sowards, running for U.S. Senate.
  • The Santa Fe New Mexican reported that there “were no major confrontations between the two groups.”

A Lump of Coal for Noon

noon

(Photo credit: Peter St. Cyr)

Action started off early at the Roundhouse before today’s special legislative session with a Tea Party press conference starring discredited columnist Marita K. Noon and a lump of coal.

Noon is the executive director of the Citizen’s Alliance for Responsible Energy,  a trade industry group includes oil and gas producers.

Paul Gessing, from the anti-tax group the Rio Grande Foundation, also spoke at the rally – which many Capitol observers noted was much smaller than they expected.

Noon spoke in the Rotunda before a group of about 40 supporters who clapped and nodded as she advocated for increased oil, coal and gas exploration and more uranium mining in the state. Noon claims those industries account for about 50 percent of the state’s revenues.

To illustrate her point about the state’s abundant resources, Noon presented a huge lump of coal, which she said she had chipped out herself yesterday at a local coal mine.

Noon mocked the state’s recent designation of Mt. Taylor in Grants as a protected Traditional Cultural Property, which will make it very difficult for anyone to mine for uranium there.  Several Native American tribes consider Mt. Taylor a sacred site.

In the past, Noon has written many columns defending “extractive” industries such as oil, coal, gas and uranium.  Some of her columns have appeared in New Mexico papers, including a piece highly critical of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation that was later pulled from two websites for inaccuracies.

Stay tuned to ClearlyNewMexico.com for more legislative updates throughout the day.

Onlookers listen to Noon's speech in Capitol Rotunda (photo: Peter St. Cyr)

Tea Partiers and assorted onlookers listen to Noon's speech in Capitol Rotunda (photo: Peter St. Cyr)