No hearings to Zoom, no calls to make, so time to clean the house, replenish the pantry, read and think more deeply…. Before we look at what’s next for Retake, we announce two Retake Zooms: a Debrief Huddle and a State Auditor Democratic Candidate forum with Joe Maestas and Zack Quintero. And though the session is over, there is one more action to take: contact the Governor to ask her to sign key bills that passed.
The session took it out of us, and so it took Roxanne a while to get her last Alert out in which she described how each of the bills we supported did: the good, the bad and the ugly. (Find that Alert at this link.) And it has taken me even longer to formulate thoughts on what happened and why, and the implications of that assessment on future action.
Over the past month, Roxanne and I also recorded three radio/video discussions of the legislative process, one conducted at the mid-point of the session, the second conducted with a week to go, and then a final discussion recorded an hour after the session ended. In addition, I conducted an extended discussion with Sen. Liz Stefanics this week that focused more on the legislative process than specific bills. Click here to view any or all of those recordings.
Legislative Reflection Huddle, Mar. 9, 6–7:30 pm
What Worked, What Didn’t, What We Learned, What’s Next?
We will assess how the legislature works and how it doesn’t, and reflect on the success of our advocacy work. If you measure success by how well we engaged, educated, and supported advocates across the state, we get decent marks. But if you measure success by the progressive legislation that was passed, then there is significant room for improvement. Let’s talk about it.
What can we do to change the system in which we work, and what can we do to change how we operate so that we can achieve more legislative success? That’s our two-part topic and we are adding 30 minutes to our usual 60-minute Huddle. So bring snacks and libations and let’s share ideas. We’ll post more thoughts on the topic in this and future blogs.
Candidate Forum: Thurs., March 17, 6:30-8pm: Joe Maestas and Zack Quintero, Democratic candidates for State Auditor
The Auditor has a critical role in holding government accountable. I had only a very vague understanding of the role of the State Auditor until I had a phone conversation with Zack Quintero about his goals in running for auditor and then a separate conversation with the current Auditor and candidate for Attorney General, Brian Colon. (When you are a Democratic Party State Central Committee member, candidates call to ask for your support.)
From these conversations I learned that the auditor has the authority to hold any state, county or city government accountable for failing to fulfill their purpose or for corrupting their function. So this is an important position, and with two great candidates we will be faced with a difficult decision in the June Primary, so plan to tune in on March 17 from 6;30-8pm for what should be a compelling discussion.
You must register to attend. Click here to register.
What Just Happened? What Didn’t?
I could spend hours cobbling together a synopsis of what got done and what didn’t, but The Paper beat me to it. So rather than reinvent the wheel, I’ll just share a link. Click here for an excellent, concise synopsis from The Paper of what got done and what failed in the 2022 Session.
As for the bills we supported, Roxanne wrote an Alert that broke down the fate of the bills we supported, which you can find at this link. Before you examine the dispiriting results, please recognize that one of Retake’s criteria for selecting bills is to choose bills that will need a big push to get passed. So, while we support teacher raises and opportunity scholarships, our view was that they would pass without us, so they didn’t make our list, while we knew that HB 132, the small loan rate cap bill, would need all hands on deck, which it did. So, many of our bills were big-idea bills or bills that were not high on leadership’s agenda. Especially in a short session, those bills face obstacles at every turn. The most forbidding of those obstacles is time, with other leadership-supported bills competing for limited slots on committee agendas.
The Whys Behind What Didn’t Get Done
The short 30-day session left many good bills behind.
Just two bills we supported were killed by a committee vote (Green Amendment and Public Bank) and no bills were defeated by a House or Senate floor vote. All but one bill we supported passed its first committee hearing. Unlike in past sessions, there was no single committee where bill after bill died for lack of a hearing.
Most all of the bills we supported sat for 3 or more weeks in committees that often never heard the bill, or if they did, the “do pass” was so slow in coming, the die was cast and the bill had no time to get through the remaining hearings and floor votes. Two bills we supported sat in their first committee the entire session without ever being heard (HM 20 Public Power Memorial and SB 44 Solar Market Income Tax Changes).
Our take away is that the failure of most all of these bills was not fervent opposition from a lobby or industry or a committee chair who held up bill after bill. Instead, it was the nature of the short session — if a bill doesn’t get off to a quick start, time becomes its biggest enemy, and even the briefest delay in a committee can spell doom for even a reasonably popular bill. For example, none of the tax credits for electric vehicles, solar market development or storage were voted down, but all suffered lengthy delays in being heard in one or another committee. That can’t happen in a short session because if one of those bills gets to the House or Senate floor for a vote with just a week to go, the Speaker or Sen. Floor Leader, seeing the clock ticking and knowing every vote will consume 3 hours of GOP filibuster, is reluctant to call bills for a vote if they still have to pass through 2-3 committees in the other chamber with only days remaining in the session. And so, while most all of the e-vehicle, solar development and storage bills passed two committees, only one achieved a floor vote.
The combination of an ambitious legislative agenda, with many non-budget items being considered, a 30-day time limit, and a filibuster-crazed GOP, forced committee chairs when considering which bills to schedule, not just to weigh if a bill had merit but if it had time. And those calculations begin in the second and third week.
What to do?
End the filibuster. Hard stop. A minority party deserves a voice and an opportunity to express a different perspective, but drawing out every bill debate for three hours just to run out the clock is simply not democratic. Republican Sen. Bill Sharer should not have been permitted to speak for over two hours, lecturing the Senate on a jingoistic version of NM history, and then when he ran out of steam on that, drawing out an absurd baseball analogy for another 45 minutes, while an important piece of legislation designed to foster broader involvement in democracy (voters’ rights) sat ready to be heard. That bill died as Sen. Sharer ran out the clock on the session.
In my very first committee hearing six years ago, I sat and listened to Republican Reps. taking turns in House Judiciary, asking and then repeating the same questions over and over and over again. When the hearing ended, I asked Rep. Daymon Ely what was going on and why it was allowed. He explained that the GOP was outnumbered, and stalling was the only strategy they had. He went on to explain that during the Martinez administration, that same strategy was all House Dems had to stall a death penalty bill and other noxious policies from becoming law.
I accepted that then, but no longer. If your ideas as a political party don’t prevail at the ballot box, stalling those ideas in the Roundhouse should not be used to suppress the will of the voters and the prevailing party. That practice can only diminish respect for democracy and the legislative process. We need to use valuable legislative time to get the business of NM done, not sit idly while some blowhard talks out the clock. Hard stop.
The Legislature Must Hold Longer Sessions
It isn’t just that time becomes more important than substance when weighing which bills are heard and have the opportunity to advance, but substantive discussion and reasonable public comment are also sacrificed in the interest of time. We discussed this in my radio interview with Sen. Liz Stefanics in which she bemoaned how there was far too little time for committee members to discuss and debate bills, and that public comment was so limited toward the end of a session that advocates for bills asked bill supporters to limit their comments to 30 seconds or, better yet, to offer no comment in support of the bill. How exactly does that build constituent engagement and enthusiasm for the legislative process? Democracy is strongest when it is a participatory sport, not theater where the constituents sit silently and watch legislators make decisions unfettered by the inconvenience of constituents with views of their own.
If Sessions Are Longer, Legislators Must be Paid and Have Paid Staff
You can’t address the time constraints by scheduling Saturday and Sunday hearings and, much worse, floor hearings that extend 8+ hours. In the last week of the Session, the House met until 11:30pm, 1am, 4am and then all night, finally adjourning at 9:30am. Aside from asking bleary-eyed, sleep-deprived legislators to craft cogent questions and answers about bills and then to vote, you are effectively excluding constituents from these discussions, as very few will stick with hearings that extend until dawn. So sessions need to be longer, even if we eliminate the filibuster.
But if you extend sessions, you can’t expect legislators to live on per diem allowances. They need to be treated as the professionals they are and paid accordingly. This would also facilitate more working class people to run and serve, bringing an important, but almost entirely absent, perspective on legislative deliberations: the real world and the people who live in it.
If you extend sessions to allow more bills to be heard and to conduct deeper discussions of bills, then legislators need their own staff who can research bills and their pro and cons. No matter how much you pay legislators, they still have limited time and bandwidth to review every bill and to learn so many wide ranging issues. This past session, I had one legislator tell me that in the first weeks of the session he would read every word of every bill and by the last week he’d look at the bill title and bill sponsor and little more. That is not good legislative practice, but it is inevitable when lack of time and lack of staff converge. And often the result is that paid lobbyists become a legislator’s only source of information on an issue.
Our legislature makes very important decisions that have powerful impacts upon New Mexicans, their futures, and the future of our land, air, and water. We need to give this the importance it warrants and dedicate the time and resources for making deliberate, well-grounded decisions.
Big Ideas Take Time and Cultivation: Ignore at Your Own Peril
The NM state legislature is not a body that rapidly embraces big ideas, and models imported from outside NM are viewed suspiciously. Every big idea failed. Count ’em:
- Hydrogen Hub
- Green Amendment
- Public Bank
- Public Power
The hydrogen hub failed, despite considerable political leverage, because there was just too much evidence that it was a bad idea.
Lesson #1: Do your homework and be sure that you have a good idea with a base of support. I am still mystified as to how the Governor, with access to so many experts, could not have recognized what Retake and Renewable Taos found in hours: hydrogen production and carbon capture & sequestration hasn’t worked anywhere, can’t work, and is transparently an idea initiated by and for the fossil fuel industry. For a raft of reasons, not the least of which is political, that information should have led to the Governor saying, “Not a great idea. Next?” Apparently, the Gov. had no such moment of pause and reconsideration. That didn’t happen, but thankfully our collective opposition did.
Yet, ever persistent, apparently, the Governor can move forward with this false promise, as she tweeted yesterday about coming to an agreement with the Governors of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming to join forces in competing for billions in Federal fossil fuel dollars.
The other three bills on the list are also good, bold ideas. So what can we do to advance those ideas and other bold ideas more easily and quickly?
Lesson # 2: Tons of emails and calls during a session are not enough to move big ideas forward. Big ideas need cultivation and dialog for legislators to become comfortable with that idea. No legislator wants a campaign legacy of supporting or voting for a bill that crashed and burned during implementation, costing the state tens or even hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars. So there is instinctive caution. How can we overcome that caution?
I was struck by a comment made by Rep. Javier Martinez in a hearing on the state public bank. To paraphrase: “I didn’t know much about public banking, but I had a small number of constituents who did and who reached out to me. They shared information about public banking and we had a series of conversations where I could ask questions and they could offer answers. In the end, I became a supporter of public banking because of them.”
Given Retake’s tracking 20+ bills in different disciplines, we don’t have the capacity to engage, train, and activate teams of constituents who collectively contact 20 or 30 key legislators to secure their understanding of a big-idea bill and cultivate their support. But ally organizations that are advocating for a single bill may well want to consider this strategy as this is the kind of deep legislative engagement that can move the needle on big-idea bills. Groups like Alliance for Local Economic Prosperity might want to consider this approach for public banking. Ditto Green Amendment and Public Power advocacy groups. Personal proactive contacts between constituents who know their legislator can make a big difference. Then during the session, when they receive huge numbers of calls and emails on that bill, they will know that those constituents with whom they met are not alone. In our next Huddle on March 9 (registration link near the top of this post), we will discuss the critical need to start our advocacy much earlier, months before a session begins.
Track and Support Fewer Bills
Each year we try to limit the number of bills we support, more for our personal survival than anything else. This year we said we’d track 10 bills, maybe 15. In the end it became 20 with another 20 we “supported” but did not actively advocate for.
But this session, of the 20 bills we supported 15 needed early advocacy to get out of the gate and through the first committee. Instead, we were consumed with derailing the Hydrogen Hub and seeking amendments to the Clean Future Act, worthwhile but enormously consuming efforts. With fewer bills, we could have devoted time to the Hub while still alerting you to bills that were stalled in their first committee.
Retake Going Forward
In our huddle on March 9, we want to discuss all of this. Roxanne and I are thinking we should devote more time to deep research into issues and policies that could become bills, and to share that research months before the Session with legislators in interim hearings and small meetings and with you in the blog and in Zooms. We will discuss this in our coming Zoom. See the top of this post for details and a link to register.
Call to Action
We have bills we supported that passed and are on the Governor’s desk. The memorials that passed do not require the Governor’s signature. But we need to write to her and call her office, asking simply that she sign these bills:
- HB 37 Community Energy Efficiency Development Block Grant
- HB 132 Interest Rates for Certain Loans (Small Loan Rate Cap of 36%)
Please also ask the Governor to not veto any of the $790K in junior bill funding that is dedicated to sustaining the Health Security Study & Design process.
Click here to leave a message for the governor.
To call the Governor’s office: (505) 476-2200.
Let’s finish the job.
In solidarity and hope,
Paul & Roxanne
Categories: Local-State Government & Legislation