“Imagine what kind of a senator I can be when I’m sober.”
Then-Sen. Phil Griego, D-San Jose, in 2001 after being sentenced for his second DWI in 14 months
We understand New Mexico expects a lot from its volunteer citizen Legislature. But as the discussion on professionalizing our House and Senate heats up, it’s essential to add being sober to the list of requirements.
For generations, lawmakers have thrown back drinks with fellow lawmakers and lobbyists over dinner or at evening social events, sometimes returning to the Roundhouse for a committee meeting or floor vote. Some lawmakers have even been known to keep a bottle of booze in their office.
Sen. Harold Pope Jr., elected in 2020, says he’s seen enough. Pope, D-Albuquerque, has proposed a Senate rule prohibiting senators from drinking alcohol before floor sessions or before and during committee meetings.
“Quite frankly, I’ve just seen some things that, for me, I think are unprofessional for us to be doing on the job,” Pope says. And while he enjoys a vodka martini, “there’s a time and a place.”
“I think there should be some standards. I don’t think we would allow anyone in state government to be able to have a drink on break before doing state business.”
Mario Jimenez III, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico, says drinking is “something that we all definitely know takes place within the Legislature.”
More than a hundred years after statehood, alcohol isn’t mentioned in House or Senate rules. Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, says while the alcohol prohibition “is a discussion worth having,” he doesn’t drink during sessions but won’t disparage those who do.
If Wirth won’t, we will.
Lawmaking can be intense. Debating bills that impact the lives and pocketbooks of New Mexicans can be fierce. Tempers can flare and passions can run high. Alcohol consumption doesn’t help during all-night floor sessions.
Some lawmakers ask how the alcohol prohibition would be enforced. We’d encourage them to check with the HR departments of public- and private sector employers, who long ago figured out how to deal with drinking on the job.
If our state lawmakers truly aspire to be a professional Legislature, they can start by being sober when doing the public’s business. The Senate should adopt Pope’s proposed rule, and the House should follow suit.
Lawmakers can toast the rule changes later, when the work day is done.
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.