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At the Roundhouse

Daily roundups of the N.M. legislative session by John Robertson

At the Roundhouse: Return of Service

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If the legislative session were a tennis match, I’d say New Mexico lawmakers this week had a couple of effective returns of service.At The Roundhouse

I’m not saying they aced Gov. Susana Martinez, but they did spin balls back into her court, forcing her to respond and seeming to leave her a little off balance.

Staring off the session, the governor told lawmakers in her State of the State speech that two critical issues they must deal with are repealing the law that allows New Mexico driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants and granting manufacturers who contribute to spaceport operations a waiver of legal liability.

Both issues have resulted in lawmaker-governor standoffs since the start of her term, and there’s been a lot of finger-pointing about gridlock.

The governor, of course, has served up her owns solutions to the Legislature, but this week lawmakers sent her back a couple of their own.

Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, and Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming., told the Journal they are considering a compromise proposal if the first-term Republican governor’s repeal-period approach in the long-running driver’s license debate falters again.

Then, Democratic leaders and New Mexico trial lawyers said they had reached a deal on the spaceport liability issue — another long-running struggle.

Both developments were disclosed outside the governor’s presence — no joint press conferences here — leaving her to respond to reporters coming to her with news.

Both times, lawmakers suggested their potential solutions to these 3-year-long standoffs had bipartisan support within the Legislature.

In Friday’s Journal,  I saw one of the governor’s more powerful challenges to the Democratic-controlled Legislature standing at the side of the court. She announced New Mexico’s high school graduation rate had improved but said the state still has far to go, still lagging behind the national average. www.abqjournal.com/2013/01/25/news/hs-graduation-rate-soars.html

When Democratic leaders have rejected her ideas for reform, Martinez often has posed this challenge: Since Democrats have had control of the Legislature for decades, why haven’t things gotten better, faster in New Mexico during their watch?

That question can lead  to a circuitous argument, whose premise is that all New Mexico problems are rooted in poverty. The debate often is carried out in simple, one-dimensional terms: How do you get out of that hole — government investing in people or government investing in businesses, which give people jobs?

So I’m not saying lawmakers and Democrats are winning the legislative match with the Republican governor. I think the question from the governor about why things like student achievement haven’t improved more conspicuously under Democratic control remains largely unanswered. I’m only saying that the lawmakers and Democrats seem to have raised the level of their game.

Instead of sputtering angrily about the governor’s “political” agenda, lawmakers — Democrats, in particular — this week  seemed to seize the initiative in a couple of familiar standoffs with Martinez and suggested they had come up with solutions.

In the Democratic response to Martinez’s State of the State speech, Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez accused the governor of continuing to pursue “wedge issues” instead of workable solutions.

I saw more glimmers of this contention in another story in Friday’s Journal, when Democratic Rep. Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque criticized Republican opposition to her plan for shore up the state’s school worker pension fund.

“I hope it’s not turning this into a political issue, because this is something we need to get done,” Stewart said.

Interesting. But then, I don’t know an  issue at the Roundhouse that isn’t political.

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