A few weeks back, in the depths of New Mexico’s legislative session, I wrote that the governor and lawmakers would end up compromising on the state budget, because that’s how the process works. “That’s politics, ‘the art of the compromise,’” I said.
Boy was I wrong! Instead, the session ended with a budget that Gov. Susana Martinez immediately declared unacceptable. She didn’t like the tax hikes and the minimum wage increase being advanced in the budget, and she wasn’t willing to compromise on either, so she threatened a government shutdown of nonessential services instead, and said she’d be calling another special session soon to straight things out.
Of course, you can also blame the impasse on the Democrats who control and state House and Senate. They’re the ones who doggedly insisted on more taxes and a higher minimum wage, knowing full well that those are gigantic no-nos in Republican ranks. The spirit of compromise was also lacking on the legislative side as well.
So now we’re left with a state government still in a financial crisis, owed in part to declining oil and gas tax revenues but mostly because of bitter partisan politics. Our GOP governor and the Dem-controlled legislature just can’t get along.
Still, I think blame for the do-nothing session falls more squarely on the shoulders of our governor than on the lawmakers. It’s part of her legacy as a governor who stubbornly holds the line against taxes, marijuana and hemp. She’ll be remembered for speaking up for law and order and federally approved driver’s licenses, while wreaking havoc on the state’s mental health services (and first-term fiasco) and alienating teachers like nobody’s business.
And this session really put the icing on the cake. Cases in point:
• We’ve already had a special session to address that state’s budget crisis last year, which paid the bills for a few months while lawmakers awaited this year’s 60-day session, where they would have the opportunity to address the crisis long-term. Needless to say, it didn’t work out that way.
Now in her sixth year as governor, Martinez has been consistent in opposing any sort of new taxes, but such ideological opposition has done nothing to advance economic development in the state, nor has it brought our state up from the bottom in educational standards. Under Martinez, our taxes haven’t gone up, but neither has anything else, as we’re as economically recessed and educationally oppressed as ever before.
• The Dems in this session self-destructed in their own efforts to liberalize marijuana laws, and that’s on them, but Martinez took her opposition to cannabis to an extreme by vetoing, once again, legislation that would have moved the state toward the legalization of hemp, marijuana’s impotent but very practical cousin. Growing hemp and manufacturing its many products is a no brainer for a state that needs an eco-agricultural boost, but to the governor it must look too much like pot, so she shot it down.
And speaking of vetoes, the Martinez administration handed out several without explanation, which created questions about their legality. That went well with the vindictive implications of the vetoes, so that only the governor came out looking bad.
• Among her ill-advised vetoes was one to nix a bill that would have allowed teachers to take more than three days of annual sick leave without being hurt on their performance evaluations. State Sen. Craig Brandt, a Republican out of Rio Rancho, actually produced a second vote in the Senate to override the veto (though a similar effort in the House fell short, so the veto stands). For a Republican lawmaker to come out against his own party’s governor speaks volumes about how weak the governor is these days.
Now in the lame-duck phase of her gubernatorial career, Susana Martinez doesn’t have much to look forward to. Her party is no longer in lockstep with her administration, her popularity with New Mexicans has waned, her relationship the country’s new president is dubious at best, and her performance with the state legislature this year was, well, pathetic.
If any sort of progress is to be made in New Mexico over the next couple of years, it appears that it will have to happen without our governor. After the legislative session just ended, she looks to be dead in the water.
Tom McDonald is founder and editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.