Letter To The Editor: The Poison On The Tip Of The Veto Pen

By Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino
D-12-Bernalillo

I am once again astonished at how little attention is given by the mainstream press in this city to the damage that is done by the veto pen. 

Instead of simply working out the arithmetic of how many vetoes are exercised by the Governor or how that percentage of nullifying actions compares to previous Governors’ vetoes, it would be refreshing, and a genuine contribution to the enlightenment of the voting public if the Journal, for example, would actually write about what damage those vetoes have done.

Of course one person’s “damage” is another one’s “disaster averted”. I recognize that. But I would like to dwell on just a few of Governor Martinez’s recent negations to show how hurtful they have been—and to demonstrate how little attention the working press paid to them. Even more, I’d like to show that they reveal a vindictive quality that our Chief Executive has worked hard to camouflage from the public … but a very real nasty streak that will certainly undermine whatever national aspirations she may harbor.

The worst of her vetoes are her “pocket vetoes”, those that kill legislation simply by not being signed by the deadline, twenty days following the close of the session. This type of inaction doesn’t require an explanation or the kind of “message” she gives the bills she actually vetoes. At least for those she has to say why she chose to kill them. But for pocket vetoes, no words are needed: she lets them wither without comment. Among the many so slain through neglect, there are a few this year that are particularly revealing.

The most inexplicable was her decision to ignore the Legislature’s attempt (Senate Bill 391) at extending the solar tax credit. Yes, the State solar tax credit will be no more after this year due to her inaction on a measure that passed with strong support (37-5 in the Senate and 39-24 in the House). Incredibly, this would have given additional stimulus to our promising home solar electricity industry—one of the few bright spots on our economic horizon.

Why? We don’t know because she didn’t have to say. We only know that what little opposition the bill generated in the session came from legislators in New Mexico’s oil and gas-producing counties. And we know that the oil and gas industry has financially contributed heavily to Governor Martinez—and continues to do so even though she will not be able to run for her term-limited position again.

Then there was her pocket veto of the Republican-sponsored bill, Senate Bill 115, to overhaul New Mexico’s floundering Foster Care Citizen Review Boards (CRB’s). That bill was unanimously passed by the Senate and drew only one vote against it in the House (66-1). It solved one of the dilemmas facing Children’s Courts and the CYFD. Again, though we don’t know why Martinez opted to ignore it and let it pass into oblivion, I can’t help but wonder if the strong role it spells out for the Court System in operating the CRB’s and the fact that a Supreme Court Justice testified in favor of the bill might have drawn the wrath of a Governor who has frequently clashed with the Judicial Branch. Payback time? Just wondering.

And not all the damage done by her vetoes was buried in her pocket. Some of her active vetoes carried “messages” that leave us scratching our heads. Thus, her veto of Senator Cisco McSorley’s Senate Bill 94, the bill that would have created an Industrial Hemp industry in New Mexico, something supported by farmers of all political persuasions and endorsed by her own Agriculture Department, was vetoed enthusiastically by Martinez.

Especially weird was her rationale that “any permission to cultivate hemp for commercial purposes … would, of course, be contrary to federal law.” The US Department of Agriculture has actively been encouraging demonstration projects on hemp cultivation by states under provisions of the most recent Congressional budget.

New Mexico won’t be one of those states, now, since Martinez’s veto pen poisoned that option. It could be that her public displeasure with Senator McSorley might be the real reason for her poking New Mexico’s desperate farmers in the eye. She was furious over his mini-filibuster of her bill giving more tax breaks to corporations on the session’s final morning.

There are plenty of other examples of gubernatorial pique or ambition destroying solid proposals. It’s just a heck of a way to run a state. I wish the mainstream press would focus on them instead of contenting themselves reprinting press releases.

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