By Jerry Ortiz y Pino
— At one in a series of legislative preview luncheons to which state representatives and senators are invited, I was sitting next to the host so I was asked to speak first. Generally, lawmakers say a few words about what they are anticipating during the coming 60-day session, which starts on Tuesday, Jan. 15.
Without the benefit of being able to work off of other’ comments, I took a deep breath and spoke as honestly as I dared: “I think this is going to be a very contentious session. The governor does not seem interested in finding common ground. Rather, she wants victory—and only on her terms. But the last election left the Democrats in control of both houses of the legislature, so we are likely to face the same type of stalemate that has characterized Washington in the last few years, with neither the legislative nor the executive branch able to pass its agenda.”
The next half dozen legislators to speak at the luncheon all disagreed with me. “I prefer to remain more positive,” one began. Another said that he at least was committed to accomplishing real achievements for New Mexicans. Others noted that they’d met the governor and were sure she would be easy to work with. I remained increasingly isolated, stuck in the lonely corner of my own negative outlook, clearly the naysayer and obstructionist in the bunch.
I’ve thought back over that luncheon a few times since then. Could I have been more positive? How would I change my prediction if I had another chance? Why was I so out-of-step with the rest of the legislators that day, and will I always be so?
My conclusion is that I wouldn’t change a word of what I said. I am still approaching the upcoming session with a combination of dread and excitement, the sort of emotional cocktail I associate with playing a basketball game on a tough opponent’s home court. Plus, Gov. Susana Martinez gets to choose the referees. I still think the mood will be contentious, and I still think very little good will likely result.
But I’ve certainly been wrong repeatedly in my lifetime, so I’ll try to keep an open mind and be as collaborative as possible. I have even helpfully written an outline for the governor to use in her opening day State of the State address, her formal presentation of accomplishments, goals and agenda for consideration during the session.
Use it to follow along during the actual speech. My wager is that my version will not be far off the mark. Martinez is that predictable—or to be more positive, she’s that consistent. Besides, this is taken largely from her last two State of the State addresses and the speech she gave at the Republican National Convention in August. I’ve inserted a few obstructionist comments … couldn’t help myself.
• First, Martinez will declare New Mexico a business-friendly state and note that this is the cornerstone of her economic development agenda. (This means she will seek to lower corporate taxes and reduce environmental protection regulations like the rules requiring lined pits at oil wells.)
• She will pledge to protect the children of this state and to improve their educational opportunities. (This means longer prison terms for child abusers and holding back third-graders who aren’t able to pass a reading test, even if their parents want them promoted. It also involves punishing teachers whose students don’t do well on standardized tests.)
• She will note the budget she is proposing is balanced and that it was balanced without having to resort to any tax increases, something to which she is adamantly opposed. Martinez will suggest that the budget surpluses should be used to reduce taxes on businesses rather than to restore government-provided services that were cut during our last four years of austerity. (She will once again fail to mention the tax increases passed during Richardson’s last year in office. They produced the surpluses that make it possible for her to propose bribing businesses to stay in New Mexico.)
• She will propose to make the state safer by increasing criminal penalties on practically every crime: DWI, child abuse, corruption, sex for money, drug use. It is an all-purpose response to anything judged not good citizenship: lock up the violators for ever-longer periods. (As a former prosecutor, she is eager to throw away the jailhouse key. The increased costs of prosecuting and imprisoning thousands of offenders will rapidly eat away those budget surpluses, Gov. Martinez, so we better not plan on giving tax breaks to very many businesses.)
• Finally, she will demand that the Legislature yield on the crusade to end driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, a mountain she’s been unable to climb in three previous tries. She will explain that the move will help fight terrorism, reduce illegal drug imports and enable New Mexicans to board airline flights without having to show a passport. As a final, convincing argument, she will ask, “What is it about ‘illegal’ you don’t understand?”
That’s pretty much her complete legislative package: short, tough, uncompromising. Listen carefully to her speech, though, and I’ll bet it won’t realistically deal with three of the biggest problems facing this state: jobs, water, and aging, about- to-collapse infrastructure. Dealing with those issues would take negotiating, compromise and a willingness to listen to all sources, not just campaign staff. I’d be surprised if any of that happens this year.
Jerry Ortiz y Pino is serving as state senator for District 12 in the New Mexico Legislature—essentially downtown Albuquerque, the historic neighborhoods that surround it, the UNM campus area and a portion of the South Valley. A retired social worker, he spent his entire 42-year professional career in New Mexico, working in private and public agencies in seven different cities in the state.