The New Mexico Senate has 42 citizen legislators who each take their unpaid, part-time jobs very seriously. Each gives up at minimum a month every year to conduct the people’s business, and in doing so puts his/her life, job and family responsibilities on hold.
Yet despite each of those 42 senators making the sacrifice inherent in serving in a representative democracy, only one of them decides what actually gets done each session.
Now one of the other 41 wants to change that.
Many will frame the suggestion from Sen. Phil Griego, D-San Jose, that the Senate actually vote on any and all legislation that has passed committee as a direct challenge to the authority of Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, who has set the voting calendar since 2004.
That story line makes for a great soap opera but poor politics. The real point is not which individual senator has the power of the calendar.
It’s that one senator has the power of the calendar.
Griego says he will ask members of the Senate’s Democratic caucus, which will likely meet in November, to change the practice of having the majority leader set the voting agenda in favor of something similar to what’s done in the New Mexico House, where bills that clear committees automatically go on the voting calendar.
And while Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, had predicted an “all-out floor battle” had last session’s plan to let utilities offer reduced electric rates as an incentive to companies made it to a vote, isn’t a robust – and transparent – debate followed by an on-the-record vote what real democracy should be all about?
And isn’t Griego correct that “it’s a little unfair for those of us who introduce legislation, and the legislation gets through the process, and it’s never heard”?
That processed-but-never-heard legislation also includes the governor’s proposal to hold back third-graders who don’t read at grade level. Sanchez explains the Senate should vote on no bill before its time, “and I make sure the bills that are on the calendar are good, honest, solid bills that are good policy.”
That’s an admirable approach. There is no reason to assume his 41 colleagues would do any less.
New Mexico voters elect their lawmakers to represent their interests in the Roundhouse, and all 42 senators have a responsibility to debate the important issues facing the state and vote on them. When it convenes, the Democratic caucus should give Griego’s proposal serious consideration.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.