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Our voters deserve strong debates on the big issues

In the late hours of the last days of this recent session of the Legislature, a controversy arose when a senator challenged a piece of legislation. Vigorous debate happens all the time in the Senate, and it did so during the 20 years I served in the Senate – including the eight years I held the position of Senate Pro Tem. What’s different about this controversy is that one of the sponsors of the bill claimed the debate was inappropriate and called it an act of “bullying” on the part of Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, against a female senator.

I take this very seriously. Senators should maintain a certain decorum in Senate debate. This does not mean, however, that they should roll over. In fact, vigorous debate is the hallmark of our citizen Legislature, and the public expects us to be deliberate and to fight for our positions.

So I went and watched the tape. Our Senate floor sessions are archived, so I could actually see the entire debate on the floor. (nmlegis.gov, webcast, March 18 Senate Meeting 8:19 p.m.-2:44 a.m., starts at 9:44 p.m.) The debate occurred late at night, and members were tired, so I expected some fireworks. I watched the debate to see if the behavior was inappropriate, to see if there was evidence Ivey-Soto was abusive or bullying because the sponsor, Sen. Mimi Stewart, also D-Albuquerque, is a woman. From my perspective, I felt Ivey-Soto, while asking tough questions (about the Healthy Workplace Act and its amendments), did nothing wrong and did not engage in inappropriate behavior.

The bill as it arrived on the floor was about requiring all employers to grant New Mexicans mandatory sick leave. Stewart, however, wanted to amend the bill to remove a Senate Judiciary Committee amendment that would have included public employees. Ivey-Soto believed the bill should include all New Mexicans. He made the argument, why should someone working at a private hospital be included but a similar person at a public hospital be excluded? It was a perfectly legitimate argument. Ivey-Soto and Stewart disagreed as to who should be included in this bill. Therefore, the debate was completely legitimate and Ivey-Soto had every right to press the issue and get answers to his questions.

I then turned my attention to the next issue, about whether Ivey-Soto’s behavior toward the sponsor of the bill was inappropriate or bullying. I watched the tape carefully to see if he crossed the line. I did not feel he crossed the line and his line of questioning, while tough, was completely appropriate. He fought for his position. That’s what we should expect senators to do.

The Senate is a family, or should be, and so when these policy arguments occur, we should make our positions known and then move on. People have to work together. Senators serve on behalf of the citizens of this state, and legitimate policy arguments should not be personal. In fact, bad feelings should be put aside when the next bill comes up.

I support women in politics. I always have. I have fought for the rights of women for decades. During the 20 years I served in the Senate I never felt bullied, but I also never allowed myself to be bullied. If women are to serve in the Senate, we must know our bills, be willing to face tough questions, and engage in serious and fierce debate at times, all without taking policy difference personally.

Having examined this issue, this was tough, passionate senate debate, and should be seen as that. So move on. The next tough issue is around the corner.

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