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At the Roundhouse

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

At the Roundhouse: Real deals

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The dust is still settling, but for me, these scenes from the 2014 legislative session attheroundhouse-150x150already stand out:

SD35-JohnArthurSmithA John Arthur Smith story: Critics of the fiscally conservative chairman of the Senate Finance Committee portrayed the Deming Democrat as a stand-alone barrier to Senate consideration of a proposal to take more money from a permanent fund for early childhood programs.

The Senate Finance Committee’s 8-2 vote to table the measure proved this implication to be simply not true.

A Michael Sanchez story: Respect for the Senate majority leader

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, makes sure a lottery scholarship bill passes the Legislature on Thursday. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, makes sure a lottery scholarship bill passes the Legislature on Thursday. His wife, Lynn, a recently retired school teacher, sits behind him. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

never was clearer than in the 2014 session’s final hour, when he worked both chambers to ensure passage of a solvency fix for New Mexico’s college lottery scholarship fund.

This was his baby. He was was the original sponsor of the scholarships back in 1996, and he deeply believes in the program.

A 66-1 House vote to pass his amended fix came with an hour left. A Senate voice vote, with only a few audible dissents, came with about a minute to spare.

 A minority courage story: In a far more articulate speech than normally offered in the House, Republican Rep. Jason Harper of Rio Rancho stood up with an hour to go to put some fiscal sense, as he saw it, into the college lottery scholarship fix shaped largely by Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez.

Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, argues for an amendment to the lottery scholarship bill Thursday morning. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, argues for an amendment to the lottery scholarship bill. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

The clock was ticking toward adjournment, and Sanchez and other Democrats were working mightily to get the scholarship bill through.

“I know I will never get another bill out of the Senate,” Harper told the House.

Harper’s amendment, apparently aimed at a self-sustaining program in the long run instead of perennially dipping into new pots of money, apparently made sense to enough people. It was adopted 41-25 in a narrowly divided but still Democratic-dominated House. Moments later, the amended bill itself passed 66-1 and returned to the Senate for its concurrence in the final two minutes of the 30-day legislative session.

A Michael Sanchez follow-up: I suspect the Senate retribution part of Jason Harper’s House speech probably won’t come true. There is evidence that Michael Sanchez does not operate this way as majority leader, or at least that he is not that predictably vengeful. To wit: John Arthur Smith and the Senate Finance Committee have at least twice shot down Sanchez’s constitutional proposals to take more money from a permanent fund for early childhood education program, most recently this session. The naysayer members are still around, and I’ve not seen evidence of abiding grudges.

A budget story: So the original $6 billion state budget drafted by the House Appropriations and Finance Committee fails to pass the full House late in the session. John Arthur Smith and the Senate Finance Committee take over the effort, probably relying heavily on the fundamental House committee work, and produce a budget that passes the Senate 42-0 and the House 58-8. The governor almost immediately calls it a good compromise.

This is amazing, folks.

Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, talks with Legislative Finance Committee Director David Abbey during the budget debate on the Senate floor Tuesday night.(Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, talks with Legislative Finance Committee Director David Abbey during a budget debate on the Senate floor. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

But most of the real work happened behind the scenes. I can tell you this much: It wouldn’t have happened without countless hours of staff work and constant, private discussion between the majorities and minorities of both the Senate and House and, probably, the Governor’s Office as well.

Behind all the political bluster, there’s always a lot more quiet, grown-up work going on than you might suspect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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