« 12/4: DFA-DFNM Meetup to Feature State Legislators | Main | Time Waster of the Day »

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Guest Blog by John Wertheim: Bad Sport Tim Jennings Must Go as Senate Pro Tem

Wertheim2crThis is an Opinion Editorial by John V. Wertheim, former Chairman of the Democratic Party of New Mexico:

New Mexico's Democratic state senate Pro Tem Tim Jennings gave his most open signal yet on Monday that he will collude with the Republican minority to keep power.

In an interview with the Albuquerque Journal, Jennings said "When you look at it, I think I've got enough votes to be elected the pro-tem by all the members of the state Senate."

The Senate Pro Tem's comments came after a weekend when Senate Democrats met in caucus and ousted Jennings from his position. In January there will be 27 Democrats and 15 Republicans in the Senate. If Jennings convinces six other Democrats to join him on his proposed ego trip, he will remain Pro Tem with the backing of the Republican caucus. Instead of accepting defeat gracefully, Tim Jennings is just too special to play by normal rules. And just maybe, Jennings and his Republican backers have too much riding on the next legislative session.

The GOP and corporate special interests see Jennings as the one chance they have to jerk victory from the jaws of defeat. Jennings voted with Republicans in the Senate 80 percent of the time, according to New Mexico Legislative Reports. Elevating him to Pro Tem in January will represent a kind of coup d'etat.

"He has treated the Republican side of the aisle very fairly, and we're very satisfied with his leadership", said Republican Senate leader, Stuart Ingle. Indeed. While I'm all for fairness, Ingle should confer with New Mexico voters before deciding how content he should feel about the status quo.

The election showed that voters want change on energy, the environment, classrooms, health care and jobs. And not just Democratic voters, but plenty of independents and moderate Republicans helped win elections for Democrats up and down the ballot and send new progressive leaders to Santa Fe. How else could Tim Eichenberg, John Sapien and Steve Fischmann have defeated the incumbents in three Republican senate districts?

If Jennings is successful in his plan to grab the Pro Tem position by turning coat, it will be nothing less than overturning the outcome of the November election. Presidency of the Senate is a state-wide leadership position. Jennings is showing himself to be a poor specimen of Democrat, and is intent on proving that he is a poor 'small d' democrat too.

Why is Jennings doing this? No doubt, ego plays a big role. It's tough to lose. The healthy response is to man-up and take it with a measure of humility.

There also may be a more nefarious factor than egomania at work here. Look at Jennings' record:

He sided with Republicans in opposing Democrats' health care bill to cover 50,000 uninsured New Mexico children by saying they already are covered. "They only need to be signed up," according to Jennings. He dismissed his party's bill as "silly," although voters soundly rejected a similar argument about children's health care when it came from Steve Pearce in the U.S. Senate race.

During the legislative session that ended in February, Jennings led the Senate in defeating Richardson's plan to cover 400,000 uninsured state residents with healthcare. New Mexico has one of the highest levels of uninsured in the country.

Last month Jennings sent letters to all public school superintendents telling them to plan for classroom funding cuts and teacher layoffs in January when the legislature convenes.

On the other hand, Jennings is the author of a notorious 1997 law which gives farmers and ranchers the right to kill wildlife that present a supposed "immediate threat" to livestock or crops. The law encouraged one rancher in northwestern New Mexico to slaughter 39 pronghorn antelope by shooting them with a shotgun because they were grazing in his "dormant" alfalfa field. The wildlife were maimed and left to suffer before they died – sadly, a common occurrence across our state thanks to 'Jennings Law'.

Jennings doesn't stand with New Mexico voters on clean energy and the environment, either. He opposed an effort to strengthen the Efficient Use of Energy Act in 2008, requiring utilities to invest in better energy conservation methods (HB 305). Jennings was one of only two senators to vote No on a tax credit last year to promote greater use of carbon-clean power and solar generating facilities (SB 994).

And when it comes to the need for tougher ethics rules in the legislature, Jennings just doesn't get it. After the spectacle of former Pro Tem Manny Aragon going to jail for corruption, current Pro Tem Jennings' dismissed any calls for ethics legislation:

"How do you write legislation about being honest?" offered Jennings. "The things that Manny did were clearly illegal. It was clearly against the law. It doesn't have anything to do with ethics."

When it comes to working families' wages, Jennings sides with corporate interests. He strongly opposed Democrats' efforts to raise the minimum wage.

Jennings' public arguments for retaining the position of Pro Tem don't add up. They look like a smokescreen to hide the true motives.

After Sunday's ouster, Jennings cited his alleged ability to end negative campaign tactics in New Mexico as a reason to be kept on as Pro Tem. "I think I'm the best one suited for stopping the negative stuff that's going on," he said.

Talk about hypocrisy.

Tim Jennings is hardly the politician to end negativity in our state's politics. As the Senate's leader he has poured vitriol into the chamber's debates over the years, principally singling out Gov. Bill Richardson for negative attacks:

"I really have no earthly idea why we are in this building except to serve the political purposes of this governor," Senate Pro Tem Jennings said during a 2008 hearing on Richardson's proposal to provide health care to every child in the state.

"This whole process is just plain screwed up," Jennings said on the Senate floor in August. "I just wonder why we are here. I have no earthly idea. Other than for political purposes of this governor. Damnit it is true. We all know it. But we're too afraid to say it."

"I am going to tell you that if this body, and this Legislature, does not stand up on their feet and defend this institution, this governor will take us all straight to hell," according to Jennings last year.

When other senators lashed out with personal attacks on Richardson, Pro Tem Jennings listened approvingly and never once brought them to order.

Sen. John Grubesic, D-Santa Fe, for instance, urged fellow senators on the floor last summer to "don't trust the governor on this thing. There is nothing bold about this legislation. It's a rip off. This is a scam." But boss of the Senate Jennings was silent. Even when Grubesic finished by saying that accepting on faith the governor's argument for his health care expansion bill "is like accepting a dinner invitation from Hannibal Lecter," Jennings could not be stirred.

Tim Jennings rushed to the public defense of Republican Senate minority whip Leonard Rawson in the final days of the recent election, however, decrying supposedly "negative" attacks on "a good man". But Jennings was silent while Republicans savaged Democratic candidates in 2008 like Tim Eichenberg ("viciously opposed our men and women in uniform"), Victor Raigoza, (wants to "tear down" our state's "wholesome way of life and its traditional values"), and Rep. Andrew Barreras, (promises "policy for a price").

Contrast this record with that of Sen. Carlos Cisneros, who the Democratic caucus selected on Sunday for Pro Tem. Cisneros is a solid Democrat with strong progressive values through more than 20 years serving in the legislature. The decision of the caucus, reinvigorated with incoming progressives and representing the views of a majority of New Mexico voters, should be respected. Democrats across our state should demand that Cisneros be installed as Pro Tem in January.

After all, allowing Tim Jennings to remain as head of the New Mexico Senate would be like leaving Bush and Cheney in the White House for another four years. The voters have spoken in our democracy, and they don't want it. Are Senate Democrats listening?

This is a guest blog by John V. Wertheim, past Chairman of the Democratic Party of New Mexico. See another recent guest blog by John Wertheim on this topic.

If you'd like to submit a post for consideration as a guest blog, contact me by clicking on the Email Me link on the upper left-hand corner of the page.

Technorati Tags:          

December 4, 2008 at 09:57 AM in 2008 NM State Legislature Races, Democratic Party, Guest Blogger, Local Politics, NM Legislature 2009 | Permalink


great rant, John. Thanks for the substance to add to our wrath!

Posted by: Proud Democrat | Dec 4, 2008 10:06:19 AM

Bravo to Mr. Wertheim. He hits the nail on the head with his points and there is no escaping the fact that Jennings has always voted more like a Republican than a Democrat. Like too many in public office here and elsewhere, Jennings represents the politics of old and people have had their fill of that.

Obama, our new Democratic members of Congress and our new Democratic legislators are dedicated to making the changes we need for the 21st century. That is the message of the day and we need someone like Cisneros to help us make change. The good old boys network is being dismantled at all levels of government and Jennings is a part of that. He may have been effective in years past, but we need new ideas and and representatives who put the people first.

Posted by: dem for change | Dec 4, 2008 11:18:11 AM

Tim Jennings is going to be in for a real fight trying to pull off the policy outcomes he's committed to, once Diane is the Gov. She's serious about getting poor kids access to health care and will lock horns with him on every issue if she has to.

Best thing for Senate Dems is to get behind Cisneros who can fight the Fourth Floor on issues where the majority of New Mexicans agree with them, not her.

Posted by: PhoenixRising | Dec 4, 2008 6:42:20 PM

After listening to Wertheim, one would conclude that our wonderful Governor has done great things for "energy, the environment, classrooms, health care and jobs".

It simply isn't true. Look what Richardson has done with our jobs. To purchase votes before the November election he gave money back to voters only to be forced to now cut government jobs and raise taxes. Bravo Gov. Great thinking.

Oh yeah, he wanted to spend even more money that we don't have on health insurance. Don't worry he doesn't have to figure out how to come up with the money. He is off to Washington. Don't you see that he is using our money to get what he wants.

Wertheim why don't you critize someone who is really out for personal interests?

What about classrooms? With the government employee cuts he has forced now 2 new schools in Southern New Mexico are being put on hold.

With 4 Democrat Senators publicly on record about Richardson's reckless use of our money, why single out Jennings? Never mind, I am sure you are already working to get Sen. Smith off of Senate Appropriations. We should be buying move votes, not protecting the fiscal solvency of our state!

Sen. Jennings & Smith, you have my personal thanks for the way you have served the citizens of this state. I only hope more people recognize what you have done before it is too late.

Posted by: Ben | Dec 4, 2008 6:44:30 PM

After 96 years of Democrat control in this state you haven't fixed it.

I agree it is time for Change. Not more Democrat Bull.

Posted by: Republican for Change | Dec 4, 2008 6:49:58 PM

That would be Democratic Mr. Republican for Change. When you say Democrat you show disrespect and people don't listen to what you have to say.
It is really hard to believe that DEMS have had control for so long when New Mexican citizens have almost NO progressive benefits to speak of such as a true living wage, health care for all our children, mental health parity, gay marriage, a usury cap and so on and on. You really could not tell that we have had so called liberal rule for 96 years.
I suggest that you actually state the kind of change you are promoting rather than just throwing out some vague notion that we need "change".

Posted by: qofdisks | Dec 5, 2008 8:49:41 AM

Mr. Wertheim is just trying to garner attention now that he is the FORMER democratic chair. Like a little kid that feels like no one is paying attention to them anymore so they throw a fit to let everyone know that they are still there. Let the senate decide for themselves what happens.

A man who stands up for what they believe and what is best for their people is the kind of man that is a true leader. Senator Jennings has been elected year after year because he does not follow the status quo. People like Wertheim just dont like it when they cant control people.

If ALL the constituents in Senator Jennings feel like he is not doing his job, let THEM decide if he stays or goes. Mr. Wertheim is in no position to decide what happens in the Senate. Hungry for power Mr. Wertheim? Run for office!

Posted by: dissapointed dem | Dec 5, 2008 9:29:42 AM

I too am upset with Senator Jennings. I have argued with him on health care and I have heard his comments on ethics reform. I do not feel that he votes for Democratic issues. I asked him about that and he said that his constituiency is conservative and he has to vote that way. That may be true of his district but it is not true of the state. The proof of that is in the results of the past election. Senator Jennings should not be Pro-Tem because he only represents Roswell and the Pro-Tem should represent the whole state.

Posted by: Terry Riley | Dec 6, 2008 10:42:12 PM