SANTA FE – There was dissension under the Democrats’ big tent on Thursday as Majority Leader Michael Sanchez took to the Senate floor to blister state party Chairman Sam Bregman for his recent comments about another Democratic lawmaker.
Sanchez said it was “just not right” for Bregman to have publicly suggested that if Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, continues to block an early childhood education measure, he should consider becoming a Republican.
Bregman also said Smith likely would find himself with a Democratic primary opponent when senators are up for re-election in 2016.
Sanchez, a liberal Democrat from Belen, said he has disagreed plenty of times with the more conservative Smith, but “at the end of the day, he’s my friend. … one of the strongest Democrats I know.”
“No party should ever tell us what we have to do on this floor, or how we should vote on this floor,” Sanchez said. He said he was embarrassed by Bregman’s comments, and apologized to Smith.
“It was wrong. It should never have happened,” the majority leader said.
Bregman made the comments last week at a news conference at which he announced the party’s priorities for the 30-day legislative session: increasing distributions from the state’s land grant permanent fund to expand early childhood education, and raising the state minimum wage to at least $10 an hour.
Both proposals are constitutional amendments.
Smith refused to bring the permanent fund measure up for a vote in the Finance Committee last year. He says increasing the annual distributions from the fund would harm it in the long run.
The Deming lawmaker said Thursday that he has voted both ways on minimum wage proposals, but that he doesn’t like the constitutional amendment route.
“I’m in opposition to using our Constitution as a voter referendum” on any subject, he told the Journal.
Smith said that President Harry Truman was a hero in his family and that he has tried to model himself after Truman: “You know exactly where I stand.”
“I have thick skin, so that didn’t really rattle me,” Smith said of Bregman’s comments.
Bregman on Thursday defended his remarks. He said it wasn’t the fact that Smith opposed the early childhood amendment that irked him, but rather that he kept it from being voted on – that “one man is going to put the legislation in his pocket … and not let the committee, the Legislature, vote on this.”
Sanchez said the threat to run someone against Smith reminded him of a similar incident years ago on the other side of the aisle. In 2000, GOP infighting led to the primary defeat of Sen. R.L. Stockard of Bloomfield, who was criticized for being too close to Democratic leaders.
Smith, who has been in the Senate since 1989, had unsuccessful primary opposition in 2012 from a union-backed Democrat.
Smith last week received a letter of apology from Democratic Gov. Toney Anaya, who said he regretted “this personal, uncalled-for attack.”
“The Democratic Party is a strong viable political entity only because it is a big tent that has made room for all political views,” Anaya wrote.