President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech made me think of the quandaries of Gov. Susana Martinez and the New Mexico Legislature.
Obama, elected by a majority of voters nationally, can say he has a national mandate. Martinez, elected by a majority of voters in New Mexico, can say she has a statewide mandate.
Both chief executives are confronted with hostile chambers of separately elected legislative branches.
Democrat Obama, at the beginning of his second term, continues to face a Republican majority in the U.S. House. Republican Martinez, at the start of her second term, continues to face Democratic majorities in the state House and the Senate.
Each of those legislative branch members was elected by a majority of voters in a congressional or legislative district — and by a fraction of all voters in the nation or state.
The legislators, whether in Washington or Santa Fe, have mandates, too, although more local. And, collectively, they have presented unyielding barriers to the agendas of the more broadly elected chief executives.
Some say the system isn’t working.
Obama clearly spoke to his national majority when he called in the State of the Union for things like more spending on early childhood education and increasing the federal minimum wage.
Even through the TV screen, you could feel the chilly reception from Republican U.S. House members — the Obama ideas antithetical to their deficit-reduction and economic liberty agendas.
Proposals from Martinez to the New Mexico Legislature for repeal of illegal immigrant driver’s licenses and for third-grade reading retentions, among others, have gotten similar receptions from Democratic majorities here.
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner has complained about Obama pulling federal deficit and budget deals off the table during negotiations between the two after the president’s second-term election.
In a PBS Frontline documentary called “Cliffhanger,” Boehner said he would make an offer and ask Obama what House Republicans would get in exchange. Obama, frequently noting his national re-election mandate, responded, “Nothing,” the speaker said.
“We won, too,” Boehner said, referring to the 2012 election. “Republicans maintained their majority in the U.S. House.”
But it also was pointed out in “Cliffhanger” that, in the previous Congress, Boehner’s own House Republicans pulled the rug out from under him on deals he offered to Obama.
This, of course, is part of the system that we have chosen to govern and serve us: a chief executive elected nationally — or statewide — and legislative branches elected more locally, by district or by state.
When gridlock or standoffs have resulted — in Washington or New Mexico — the answer for party leaders and political strategists increasingly has been to wait for the next election and try to clobber the other side into a helpless minority.
Meanwhile, decisions for the country and the state go waiting.
And in both Washington and New Mexico last November, the decimation strategy didn’t work.
So, what then? How to make decisions? How to make the system work for the people it’s supposed to serve?
I think my civics instructors would have said the word “compromise” should come to mind.