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At the Roundhouse: Governor Calling

At the Roundhouse: Governor Calling

Gov. Susana Martinez’s phone-call campaigns and New Mexico legislators’ long weekend – this is follow-up day.

Ringing off the hook: Earlier this week, I defended the Republican governor’s effort at a Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce lunch to enlist support for her 2012 legislative agenda.

➤ John Robertson, the Journal’s politics and state government editor, can be reached at

She encouraged members to call legislators to register support for her business tax cuts and regulation-relief pushes. She said she was urging members of similar groups all over the state to make calls, too.

I said it sounded like fair game.

But I’m also here to say that the phone-call campaigns organized by Republicans under her watch last year seemed to do little but antagonize opposing Democrats.

I walked around the Capitol and watched last year as orchestrated calls on the illegal immigrant driver’s license issue came into Democratic leaders’ offices.

Legislators themselves didn’t take them, of course. They were on the floors or in committee meetings. In the offices I observed, every staffer, say several per office, spent the entire day answering nonstop calls.

Democrats said many callers were angry and, to say the least, impolite.

I was told that a staffer in the office of Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings, D-Roswell, broke down and cried when the calling finally tapered off that night.

The calls were fueled by a radio ad paid for by Martinez’s campaign committee.

It said: “Some legislators are blocking a vote, protecting a bad law. … Tell your legislator you agree with the governor. Give the bill an up or down vote and ban driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants.”

The state Republican Party added automatic “robo calls” to the effort.

The bill backed by Martinez to repeal the illegal immigrant driver’s license law passed the House and died in the Senate – leaving the Republican governor to push for it again this year with a Senate membership that has one more Democrat than it did before.

The phone-call campaign last year looked like carpet-bombing when a surgical effort might have been more effective in terms of the voting outcome – if the governor, in fact, really wanted the repeal measure to pass.

I still wonder what Martinez could have accomplished by trying to persuade Democratic senators in face-to-face, one-on-one meetings instead of the campaign-like, take-no-prisoners approach typical of political consultants. It’s not been clear that she attempted such meetings on a significant scale.

Maybe Democrats were right when they asserted the governor and Republicans were less interested in legislating that winning the next elections – maybe wanting the driver’s license push to be an ongoing “wedge issue” that could be used against Democratic legislators when all seats are up for grabs this year. I don’t know.

Many voters, I’m sure, think Martinez speaks convincingly about her convictions on the illegal immigrant driver’s license and reasons for trying to repeal it. She is is a former prosecutor, for one thing, and a descendant of recent immigrants, for another. Plus, on the stump, all by herself, she just seems earnest.

At the same time, from speaking to Democratic voters since she took office last year, I know that some are poised in their judgment of Martinez – hoping that she has a bigger heart and better instincts than her political advisers.

I suspect that what already is her strong voter appeal and popularity would be even stronger if she convinced doubters that she’s always doing her own thinking rather than marching to the drums of consultants.

That long weekend: The governor took a shot at lawmakers’ Friday-Saturday-Sunday recess last week, after they convened their constitutionally set 30-day session on Tuesday.

Well, the three-day recess in the first week of New Mexico legislative sessions is nothing new, nor is the ridicule from New Mexico governors and others.

Martinez suggested New Mexico’s 112 part-time legislators were goofing off when there was so much do in a short amount of time – particularly on her agenda.

I have been told by legislative staffers for years that the real reason for the three-day break at the beginning of sessions is simply to allow the Legislature’s bill drafters to catch up on preparing the thousands of pieces of legislation the 112 members plan to introduce.

There’s little point in committees meeting if they do not have legislation in front of them. Meanwhile, some committees in the process of drafting their own legislation – like the House Appropriations and Finance Committee and the House Education Committee – do continue to meet during the early recesses.

The only constitutionally required work of the Legislature during its “short,” 30-day sessions in even-numbered years is to pass a budget.

The House Appropriations and Finance Committee, which drafts the first version of that budget, began meeting before the current session began and continued to work after other lawmakers went home last week.

And, in connection with the governor’s assertion that there is little time to get things in a short session, I would note that the Legislature usually is capable of getting done what it WANTS to get done, no matter the time frame.

Sometimes the separately elected lawmakers just don’t agree with the governor on what HAS to be done.
— This article appeared on page A4 of the Albuquerque Journal