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Udall ‘worried about our democracy’

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., speaks to a joint session of the New Mexico House and Senate on Tuesday at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE – U.S. Sen. Tom Udall told state lawmakers Tuesday that an ongoing federal government shutdown and other factors have shaken voters’ already fragile trust in elected leaders.

“In all my years of public service, I have never been so worried about our democracy,” Udall said in a 25-minute speech to members of the Legislature.

A Democrat who has served in the U.S. Senate since 2009 and is the senior member of New Mexico’s delegation, Udall said congressional leaders have not been responsive to polls that show broad support for gun safety measures, more humane immigration laws and legislation related to climate change.

“It’s no wonder trust in Congress is so low,” he said. “Root canals, famously, have a higher approval rating.”

On the subject of the partial federal government shutdown that reached its 32nd day on Tuesday, Udall said roughly 10,800 federal employees in New Mexico have been furloughed or are working without pay.

Affected employees include more than 3,600 Department of the Interior employees and more than 3,200 Indian Health Service workers statewide, according to Udall’s office.

The veteran senator called on President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans to first reopen the government and then continue a debate over border security funding levels.

“I support strong border security – but I want to see smart, cost-effective and locally appropriate measures,” said Udall, who added that most Americans do not support the creation of an “ineffective and wildly expensive” new border wall.

Democratic House leaders rejected Trump’s recent offer to end the shutdown, which called for a three-year extension of a program that offers temporary legal protection to immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children in exchange for his requested funding levels for the border wall.

Meanwhile, Udall also urged lawmakers to approve legislation during their ongoing 60-day session that would allow for automatic voter registration and to create a strong framework for a new state ethics commission.

Voters statewide approved a constitutional amendment in November – with about 75 percent of those who cast ballots voting in favor – that called for the creation of such a commission.

He also praised Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who previously served three terms in Congress, specifically citing her call for new state renewable energy standards.

Udall, who met with the governor earlier in the day, said Lujan Grisham will be a “great governor” who understands the importance of a strong state-federal partnership.

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