Lawmakers returned to the state Capitol for a 30-day session that was awash in politics even before it officially began.
Critics of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez held a protest outside the Capitol: a pizza party of sorts featuring slices and speeches and calls for her impeachment.
Immigrants’ rights advocates, meanwhile, flanked a walkway at the Capitol’s entrance wearing “Choose Dignity Not Discrimination” T-shirts, underscoring the divide on the issue of driver’s licenses for immigrants who are in the county illegally.
And Martinez has been welcoming lawmakers back to Santa Fe with a $35,000 television ad campaign – paid for by a political action committee – promoting a bill that would end the issuance of driver’s licenses to those immigrants and provide driving privilege cards instead.
The governor’s reference to that issue in her State of the State speech drew a shout of “Shame on you” – or something close to that – from an unidentified guest on the House floor.
Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, said in the Democrats’ response to the governor’s speech that she must be living in a “parallel universe” because she painted such a rosy picture of New Mexico in her speech.
“Maybe it’s a ‘Star Wars’ movie that she’s in,” he told reporters.
The pizza references – which included pizza-themed socks worn by Sanchez and some other Senate Democrats – were a reminder of the late-night gubernatorial staff party at Eldorado Hotel in Santa Fe last month that was the subject of complaints about noise and objects being thrown from the balcony.
The governor was recorded telling police dispatchers to call off officers who had come to check it out, saying partygoers were just eating pizza and drinking Cokes.
The rally featured a pizza box cover depicting Martinez in a chef’s hat and signs including “Party Like Susana.”
But the message was pointed, as speakers went after the governor for not doing enough to improve the economy and child welfare.
“We’re dead last. The nation’s laughing at us,” said protester Dinah Vargas of Albuquerque.
The television ad in support of Republican-backed House Bill 99 touts a “two-tier permit compromise” as a way to bring New Mexico into compliance with the stricter identification requirements of the federal Real ID Act.
The bill would halt the issuance of driver’s licenses to immigrants who are in the country illegally and instead offer them driving privilege cards. Everybody else would have to get Real ID-compliant driver’s licenses.
“This is not about immigration. It’s about public safety. And it’s time to repeal this dangerous law,” Martinez says in the 30-second spot that is airing statewide and was paid for by Advance New Mexico Now, a political action committee associated with the governor.
It raises the specter that New Mexicans “will be forced to use passports” to board commercial aircraft, which Martinez also mentioned in her State of the State speech. The federal government has said that will be the case, but that it won’t be for another two years.
But some federal installations that require ID already are refusing to accept New Mexico licenses as the sole identification from visitors.
New Mexico is one of a few states that are not in compliance with the federal Real ID law, enacted after the 9/11 attacks, and that also have been denied further extensions by the federal Department of Homeland Security.
Democrats in the Legislature are supporting a bill similar to one passed by the Senate last year, allowing immigrants here illegally to continue to get licenses – although they would be stamped as not for official federal purposes – while giving New Mexicans who qualify for Real ID-compliant licenses the option to get those.
According to information from the three major broadcast TV networks, the ads are scheduled to run through Thursday.
It’s not clear whether others would follow during the 30-day session. Advance New Mexico Now’s treasurer, Missi Sousa – who was the campaign manager for Martinez’s 2014 re-election – said that although the PAC discloses expenditures and contributions, it doesn’t disclose internal strategy. She said the PAC has spent about $35,000 on the project.
Sanchez and House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, in separate comments, left open the possibility some compromise can be reached on the driver’s license issue. Sanchez said that if the Martinez administration and the House GOP “will just work with us a little,” some accord could be reached. But he cautioned that the Senate would not allow any “discriminatory” bill to be passed.
“If we need to make certain concessions to get a bill done, that’s something I’d say our caucus is willing to do,” Gentry told the Journal. But, he added quickly, “They have to meet us halfway.”