The late, esteemed Sen. Joe Gant slowly shook his head while waving his finger back and forth, saying to the young man at his Roundhouse desk, the quiet whisper of his voice forever in memory, “There are things you don’t understand.”
It was the early ’70s, and the eager editor, new from Southern California and determined to change the world, had recently joined the Carlsbad Current-Argus. Having become aware of the atrocities of the cockfighting culture, he had asked Senator Joe why the state Legislature didn’t wipe out cockfighting like, I mean, today.
The newspaper guy began the learning process as he embarked on his own two-decade campaign, a steady stream of newspaper columns basically ridiculing the Sunday, fun-filled family gathering to watch drugged birds claw one another to death with blades attached to their feet.
What he learned is the cockfighting folks were backed by a strong lobbying effort juiced with lots and lots of money. New Mexico lobbying is a brisk business. We elect 112 legislators who, in a recent, typical year, were subjected to the education efforts and “persuasion” of 692 lobbyists representing 811 clients.
It is not all bad and it does not all involve envelopes exchanged at sumptuous dinners. Everyone from your corner pharmacist, to your puppy dog, to the newspaper you are reading, is represented by a lobbyist. But do lobbyists play a hand in stalling legislation that to the average citizen would seem to be a slam dunk?
This past legislative session considered a bill watched closely by New Mexico residents in mountain communities. It would have simply permitted individual towns to ban the sale of fireworks in times of extreme fire danger. This was a no brainer, or so one would think. It got voted down. The lobby influence? It certainly doesn’t pass the smell test.
Another piece of legislation that looked to be a breeze never made it to the Senate floor. The sponsor of the bill to make it illegal to text while driving tells me, however, lobbying had nothing to do with it. Sen. Peter Wirth, Democrat of Santa Fe, said, in fact, cell phone companies supported his measure.
Let’s follow the journey of Wirth’s SB 17.
On Jan. 29 the legislation went to the Public Affairs Committee and was approved 7 to 1.
On Feb. 18 it went to the Judiciary Committee. There, a substitute bill that in effect lessened the penalties for violation of driver texting was approved 6 to 0.
On to the Senate floor and a quickie approval, right? I mean, look, my teenage granddaughter Sarah can keep her gaze fixed on me and whip out a comprehensive text message in a matter of seconds, but there is no way she or anyone else can do that while driving, not without endangering herself and everyone else on the road. No one can argue differently with any conviction.
Wirth’s bill was placed on the Senate calendar but was never called to the floor for a vote by Majority Leader Michael Sanchez.
Wirth declined conjecture as to why fellow Dem Sanchez didn’t call his bill to the floor. He suggested I ask Senator Sanchez directly. Nope. I suspect 40 years down the road I would have received just another version of the finger wagging “There are things you don’t understand.”
I hear that a lot.
Ned Cantwell is a former newspaper editor and current New Mexico columnist. He receives email at email@example.com. No texting, please.