You need to do political calculus before investing time and resources into a policy initiative. Fortunately, Common Cause did the calculations and they have a plan for achieving a professional paid legislature… in 2021, not 2020.
Senator Richard Martinez Convicted of DUI While Showing Zero Remorse & Taking Zero Responsibility. As bad has the video of his fumbling to count and as sad as his slurred efforts to recall how much and what he had consumed before his crash, his utter lack of remorse and failure to accept responsibility for his actions only magnifies the need for him to be replaced. The Governor showed leadership in asking that he resign. Less so, Senators Wirth and Papen. Senator Martinez should step down immediately and, failing that, Rio Arriba County activists have a golden opportunity to elect someone who really represents the interests of that community. Calling all activists. Someone needs to step up.
Retake Our Democracy on KSFR 101.1 FM, 8:30 Saturday, December 21, with Lyla June Johnston, newly announced challenger to NM State Speaker of the House Brian Egolf. Many times we have noted that for the most part Speaker Egolf has done a more than commendable job as Speaker, with the exception of issues related to climate change. He has lauded the Energy Transition Act and Produced Water Bill as game changing initiatives, while Retake opposed both bills vigorously. When he could have given favorable committee assignments to HB 398, a bill that would have increased royalties on gas and oil, he instead assigned it to three committees, effectively killing it. We need more from our political leadership on climate action. We feel that Lyla June’s candidacy will force a debate that is long overdue, and in perhaps the most progressive district in the entire state, where better to have that debate? So, listen in on Saturday and let the debates begin.
Common Cause Recognizes There is Work to Be Done Before Pushing a Constitutional Amendment to Pay Legislators
For two years, Retake has taken the position that NM State legislators need to be paid. Why?
- Our Legislature Does Not Represent Most New Mexicans and Their Life Experience. When you don’t pay legislators you wind up with representatives who are either retired, wealthy or work in professions with flexibility in scheduling their work, i.e. not 90% of the New Mexico population. As a result, the lawmakers making decisions about the future of New Mexico do not look like or represent the vast majority of us. If the vast majority of our elected officials come from privilege and do not have to collaborate with other legislators who have faced more life challenges, then the public debate suffers and bills that would more authentically address the needs of the working poor will never advance with the urgency required.
- Work Demands on Legislators Warrant a Salary. Legislators make incredible sacrifices just to manage 30 and 60-day sessions in alternate years, in addition to an endless number of 3-day Interim Committee hearings between sessions that can be held hundreds of miles from their home and their constituents.
- More Time is Necessary to Address Complex Legislative Issues. It is challenging for our legislators to be prepared on the hundreds of bills in a short session and over a thousand bills in a long session. With such short sessions, expedience and the rush to pass legislation trumps due deliberation. There is simply too much important work to be done in too short a time. So often when I have spoken with legislators as they are entering a committee hearing and ask if they had formed an opinion on a bill they are about to hear on the agenda and they have told me: “I’m not sure. I am about to read it.”
- Paid Industry Lobbyists Wield Too Much Influence. Increasing the challenge faced by our legislators is the absence of funding to pay staff to review legislation and communicate with constituents. Often this forces legislators to rely on “briefs” provided to them by paid lobbyists who could be lobbyists from Common Cause or NM Voices for Children or from NM Oil & Gas Association, PNM or the NRA. That is an injustice to both those elected and to New Mexicans.
- Inadequate Travel Subsidies are Punitive to Distant, Rural Legislators. Lastly, during the session NM State legislators get reimbursed mileage for only one trip home to their district. Many legislators face a 4 or 5-hour drive to get home to their district. It is hard to remain in touch with your family and your district’s constituents if you don’t see them for two months.
So Many Good Reasons, Why Delay?
So, I was very excited when I spoke with Heather Ferguson, Executive Director of Common Cause New Mexico, about Common Cause’s plan to introduce a Constitutional Amendment to finally pay our legislators and their staff. Common Cause discovered that there is a good deal of public education that is needed across the state before an effort to put a paid legislature on the ballot for voters would make sense.
Another reason to stall introduction of the bill is that introducing it in 2020 would have forced legislators to cast a vote to pay themselves, just before the 2020 election, when every seat in the Roundhouse will be up for grabs. While many legislators would proudly run on that vote and be rewarded by their constituents, for those running in moderate to conservative districts where mistrust of the legislature is common and the thought of paying legislators is not viewed positively, it will be important to do some community education first and ask legislators to vote on this after that work is done.
Finally, another reason for delay is that the amendment itself would have a very difficult time achieving the 2/3 approval required without more community education.
Here is Common Cause’s Plan
Common Cause will work with leadership from both chambers to convene a Legislative Council Services (LCS) task force that is similar to the legislative modernization task force that was convened in 2006. The work of that task force was much broader, covering all aspects of modernizing our legislative processes. The 2020 task force would focus solely on creating a legislative salary commission and paying both legislators and a full-time professional staff for our elected officials. By taking this path, no legislation is needed this year, not even a memorial.
Democratic leadership, including Sen. Peter Wirth and Representatives Angelica Rubio, Melanie Stansbury, and Abbas Akhil, are already working with LCS to draft guidelines for this task force. The LCS Task Force will then issue findings periodically after the session, findings that would guide Interim Hearing discussions.
At the same time, Common Cause, with support from other advocacy groups, will mount a statewide education campaign to ensure a more informed and receptive voter base. Using media, town halls, and meetings all over the state, they will educate the public and help them see that this is not just legislators wanting to get paid, but a matter of mitigating conflicts of interest that are inherent in a citizen’s legislature. Salaries will allow them to properly focus and paid professional staff will help them review legislation carefully and make better informed decisions.
Analysis of the practices of other states in terms of paying legislators indicates that NM is among the very least generous in compensating its legislatures. You get what you pay for and we are not getting enough.
For all the reasons identified above, it is past time to begin paying out legislators.
Paul & Roxanne