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Friday, December 26, 2008

Guest Blog by Bill Porter: Pro-Tem Tim Jennings and the Failed Leadership by 'Coalition'

This is an op-ed by Bill Porter, a Democrat who served in the New Mexico House of Representatives from 1991 to 1999 in HD 36 in Las Cruces.

If Sen. Tim Jennings (D-Roswell) is re-elected as President Pro Tem of the New Mexico Senate in January, what can we expect from our legislature? The answer is more of the same, despite the fact that voters said No loudly to that in the November elections.

A successful bid by Jennings would constitute a new permutation of the "Rule by Coalition" we have seen in New Mexico in the recent past: a Democratic Senate boss elected only through the backing of the opposing party and against the wishes of his own. It's a prescription for disaster.

Last month, residents of New Mexico voted overwhelmingly for change in the policies coming out of the legislature, and change of a more progressive sort. After all, three new progressive Democrats were elected over Republicans incumbents in the Senate -- boosting the Democratic membership to 27 -- and three in the house.

Current Pro Tem Tim Jennings, however, can only be selected for the position with the support of all 15 Republicans in the Senate, because a majority of his fellow Democrats have already rejected him in a caucus vote earlier this month in favor Sen. Carlos Cisneros. One reason they did so was Jennings' campaigning on behalf of arch-conservative Republican Leonard Rawson against progressive Democrat Steve Fischmann. Happily, Fischmann prevailed anyway.

Now Jennings says openly that he will fight to maintain his job as Pro Tem and leader of the Senate with the backing of the disciplined GOP caucus. And it could succeed.

What kind of policies would we get from a Jennings-led, "coalition"-style Senate? To answer that, consider the past as prelude to the future.

Sen. Tim Jennings holds a dubious legacy on state wildlife policies as the author of a 1997 law giving farmers and ranchers the right to slaughter wildlife that present a supposed "immediate threat" to livestock or crops. They are not even required to obtain permission from the state Fish and Game Department.

This cruel law encouraged one rancher in northwestern New Mexico to slaughter 39 pronghorn antelope by shooting them with a shotgun from his ATV 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.'

States have authority to regulate the killing of wildlife by ranchers and farmers who fear depredation of their property by elk, deer, wolves or cougars. The key is to find a humane balance between the competing interests of wildlife management and the commercial needs of New Mexico's agricultural producers.

Tim Jennings, unfortunately, understands nothing of the need for such rational balance. A review of his record in the Senate reveals that Jennings has been driven by the desire to be well-compensated by taxpayers for his private commercial losses.

Repeated attempts to reform the worst aspects of 'Jennings Law' have failed thanks to the opposition of the law's author and his allies in a GOP "coalition." During one reform try in 2003, Jennings successfully amended the bill (which he went on to oppose) with a measure allowing "unlimited" compensation by taxpayers of ranchers like himself for "damages" caused by wildlife.

Another Jennings-led "coalition" effort in 2003 nearly derailed creation of the popular Rail Runner line from Belen to Santa Fe and its accompanying network of public transit. Legislation that created regional transit districts allowing residents the choice to invest in rail and bus, SB 34, narrowly passed the Senate over the opposition of Jennings and most Republicans. The coalition showed a remarkable lack of vision. New Mexicans strongly support alternatives to congested highways and CO2-producing auto emissions.

When New Mexico's legislature required utilities to invest in greater energy efficiency rather than in new coal and fossil-burning plants, the Jennings "coalition" stood alone in opposition. HB 305, passed earlier this year, was a strong consensus measure supported by consumers, environmental advocates and even the utilities themselves that guarantees the use of more energy-efficient appliances while lowering the future energy costs of customers.

Our state's history of "coalition"-run legislatures has been a failure because the "coalition" is far out of step with the desires of New Mexicans. We need new leadership reflecting the mandate given by voters to deliver progressive, commonsense solutions to some tough challenges our state will face in the months ahead. A "coalition" made up of the Republican caucus but headed by Tim Jennings is exactly what the citizens of New Mexico voted against.

This is a guest blog by Bill Porter, a Democrat from Las Cruces who served in the New Mexico House of Representatives from 1991 to 1999, in HD 36.

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

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December 26, 2008 at 10:53 AM in 2008 NM State Legislature Races, Guest Blogger, Local Politics, NM Legislature 2009 | Permalink


wow! worse than I even thought.
thanks for the wake-up...i think!

Posted by: mary ellen | Dec 26, 2008 11:04:36 AM

Mr. Porter gives good reasons why Jennings as Pro Tem with an R coalition would be terrible for New Mexico. I hope all the Ds in the legis. get it.

Posted by: J. Y. | Dec 26, 2008 6:16:20 PM

I would like to ask everybody who agrees with this guest blog, as I do, to contact your Legislators immediately. Tell them that you want them to vote against Senator Tim Jennings for Senate Pro-Tempre. We really need Jennings out of this position. We can make it happen. Please Do Something!

Terry Riley

Terry Riley

Posted by: Terry Riley | Dec 26, 2008 6:35:26 PM

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