By ROBERT NOTT
In Rep. Rod Montoya’s view, this year’s legislative session was “terrific”. That is, for criminals, those wanting to close New Mexico businesses and lawyers looking to sue governmental agencies.
The Farmington Republican and around 20 other members of the GOP held a news conference Saturday afternoon to express disappointment over how this year’s session played out.
While Democratic lawmakers lauded their success in repealing a decades-old law criminalizing abortion, expanding tax credits for some New Mexicans and enforcing stricter environmental protections for the state, Republicans decried a lack of focus on issues that matter to working families.
Legalizing cannabis, enacting a state civil rights law that can hurt government workers and drawing down from the state’s permanent funds for any reason are not among those priorities, they said.
“If you look at all of the priorities that were presented, all of the big bills that were supposed to be done that were priorities [of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Democrats], they are not priorities of middle-class, taxpaying, traditional New Mexicans,” Montoya said. “That’s who lost.”
Referring to efforts to legalize the use of recreational cannabis — which may lead to a special session later this month — he said that if you look at what people in the state “really, really care about, pot is not up there.”
Republican leaders in both the House of Representatives and the Senate used the occasion to once again call for the removal of a protective fence and barriers surrounding the Roundhouse, put in place just before the session began in January in the wake of the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
“We have the public fenced off from their own building that they paid for,” said Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca, R-Belen. “We had no participation from them. We had no participation from outside interests who wanted to come in and discuss their problems.”
He said he hopes the fencing is down by the time the governor convenes a special session to push for cannabis legalization. The governor said the fence likely will be down by that time, though that decision is in the hands of the Legislative Council Service, which oversees the Capitol.
Republican lawmakers in both legislative chambers generally fought against most Democratic initiatives in this year’s session — well aware, perhaps, that theirs was a losing struggle. Democrats outnumber Republicans in both chambers by an almost 2-to-1 ratio.
House Minority Leader Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, often has said the ideological conflict in the state is not one of politics — Republicans versus Democrats — but of geographical differences, which leads to clashes over how best to steward the land and how much government should play a role in an individual’s life choices, among other differences.
“There continues to be the urban-rural divide that plagues our state,” Townsend said Saturday. “The ability to look and listen to people who live in a different area of the state who have different [beliefs], who have different traditions, who have different lifestyles … that’s what we should build on.”
Republicans did work with Democrats on at least two big issues: redistricting and overhauling the state’s liquor license laws. But on many other issues — how best to tackle the state’s crime problem, whether to tap money from the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund for education and how to support the public school system — they were mostly at odds with their Democratic counterparts.
And with the numbers favoring the Democrats, the best the Republicans could do, in many cases, was try to score votes from the other side in lengthy debates on the floors of their respective chambers.
In the end, they said they represent both Democrats and Republicans in their mostly rural districts, and they may know best about what those people want.
Simply put, Montoya said after the news conference was over, many New Mexicans want to know, “Do I have a job?”