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Editorial: NM doesn’t need pettiness from governor, lawmakers

Eight vetoes in two days. More than 50 stalled political appointments. Zero specific explanations.

Gov. Susana Martinez has apparently forgotten her plea for bipartisan cooperation during her State-of-the-State address that kicked off the 2017 session in mid-January.

“We’ve met challenges before in a bipartisan manner, and we can do it again, but it will take courage,” she said when asking lawmakers to help craft a budget without new taxes that would promote economic growth, as well as address other signature issues, such as ending grade-school social promotions.

Lawmakers made it pretty easy to forget that plea by failing to go along with much of the Republican governor’s platform – rejecting once again her social promotion proposal and supporting legislation that would fund a budget, in part, with various tax increases.

And they’ve allowed Martinez’s political appointees to languish, refusing to even hold confirmation hearings on them, until March 1, when Martinez told the Senate she was withdrawing – at least temporarily – the nominations for 53 appointees to various state boards and commissions to try to get the Senate act more quickly on higher-profile appointees.

But that doesn’t excuse why Martinez would veto bills that would help local governments across the state develop infrastructure for high-speed internet to attract jobs to their communities, one of the first of eight bills this week to hit the veto trash bin. Senate Bill 24 was unanimously passed by the House and only received one nay vote in the Senate.

The governor’s action drew a sharp rebuke from one of the bill’s two sponsors, Senate Majority Whip Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque. “It’s hard to imagine why Gov. Martinez would stand in the way of our cities’ and counties’ efforts to bring high-speed internet that would attract needed jobs and support local small businesses,” he said in a written statement.

Perhaps it slipped Martinez’s mind that New Mexico has the highest unemployment rate in the nation.

Other bills on the governor’s chopping block this week seem to be mostly housekeeping measures: Senate Bill 184 clarifying rules for horse race licenses and tests, House Bill 126 clarifying rules for medical students to repay loans, SB 134 allowing a computer science unit to count for a high school math credit, SB 222 defining political subdivisions, SB 64 removing a sunset clause from a school capital outlay law, SB 67 notifying county treasurers of the creation of tax diversion districts and SB 356 notifying county treasurers of public improvement districts.

Seven of the eight bills originated in the Senate, which historically – and with bipartisan support – voted Tuesday to override her veto of a bill to ease sick leave policy for public school teachers. It was the first time the Senate had ever overridden a Martinez veto.

Late Thursday, she finally sent a one-page explanation to the Senate, citing that logjam on confirming political appointees as well as lawmakers’ failure to send her a proposed budget.

And she appeared to issue an ultimatum: “Until the Legislature sees fit to fulfill its constitutional obligations, including hearings (on regent nominees), I will continue to veto legislation that is not necessary for the well-being of this state and its citizens.”

The Thursday message from Martinez said she had vetoed the bills because they aren’t “necessary for the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of this great state.”

If the governor’s motives appear petty, she does not hold the patent on it. Lawmakers have displayed their own brand.

The list of the governor’s nominees still awaiting Senate confirmation includes Cabinet secretaries, university regents and appointees to a wide range of boards and commissions. As of March 1, 34 appointees had been confirmed by the Senate during this year’s session. Two years ago, during the last 60-day session, the Senate held 112 confirmation hearings.

Can’t somebody please take the high road for the good of the state?

If the governor has legitimate concerns that bills have so-called poison pills tucked in the legal language, she should explain why seemingly innocuous measures would be bad for the state. If the Senate has concerns about the qualifications of appointees, members should voice them and vote up or down.

Political payback is unbecoming of a governor and lawmakers who routinely drop the buzzwords of job creation, bipartisanship and improving the economy of this poor state.

Meanwhile, who do these partisan politics and tit-for-tat games hurt? Not anyone in the Roundhouse, but:

• Every board, commission and agency that is forced to operate at less than full-strength and every community that relies them.

• High school students who need a math credit.

• College students trying to pay off their loans.

• Public school children who benefit from responsible use of capital outlay funds for their districts.

• Rural governments that need all the help they can get to keep their communities viable and thriving.

Martinez, who is in the second half of her second term, doesn’t need voters’ approval to stay in the governor’s mansion. Senators aren’t up for election until 2020. But all were elected to be champions of the residents of this state, and a lot of positives can – and should – happen in the next few years.

All any voters can ask of their governor and lawmakers is they leave the state in better shape than they found it.

Stop the pettiness. Swallow your pride and figure out how to work together for the good of New Mexico.

There are one and a half days left in the 2017 legislative session. There’s no question the governor and lawmakers are behind in what they need to do. And there’s no question they still have time to lead.

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.