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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

NM Sen. Michael Sanchez, Ethics Reform, the DFNM Blog and Me

As anyone who's been paying attention this Session has discovered, Democratic Sen. Michael Sanchez is getting a reputation for publicly bad mouthing ethics and campaign finance reform measures and their supporters on the Senate Floor and in some committee hearings. According to Sen. Sanchez's rants, the proposed reforms allegedly have no purpose beneficial to New Mexicans and are primarily meant to unfairly besmirch the ethics of Sen. Sanchez and the Senate as a whole.

To Sen. Sanchez and his allies, it's all a nefarious plot to embarrass and harass the noble and beyond-reproach Senators for things they would never even think of doing.

Calls for transparency, accountability and common sense rules are apparently seen as an affront by the Senate Majority Leader and some of the Senators he helps lead. Never mind that the majority of states have adopted most of the ethical protections being proposed. Here in New Mexico, Sanchez and others believe we don't need any such safeguards because ... well, it can't be because we've never had any ethics scandals here. I think Senate leaders take a combative view because they don't want anything rocking the boat. Change is scary. Business as usual is safe. The easiest way to hold onto power is to protect the status quo. But the people feel differently.

We've watched as banks fail, crooks thrive and ordinary people suffer due to the greed and immorality of public figures and corporate powers. We've witnessed elected officials from the White House on down lie to the people without remorse. We're in the throes of intertwined and unprecedented emergencies, most of them caused or abetted by corruption. Of course we want to rock the boat and rock it hard. We want accountability and we want it now.

The Debate on SB 163
On Saturday the Senate took up a modest little bill (SB 163) sponsored by Sen. Eric Griego that would require former legislators to wait a year before serving as paid lobbyists at the Roundhouse. During the debate, Sen. Michael Sanchez launched one of his now trademark attacks against reform and reformers. His take seemed to be that Senators are being picked on by attempts to enact ethics and campaign reform, and that nobody but loud trouble-makers who dislike Senators are supportive of reform anyway. He singled out the Democracy for New Mexico blog while he was at it (although he misnamed the blog as Democracy for America):

... maybe it’s just we’re bending to a point where we say that loud group of people who doesn’t like us anyway — by the way – as legislators. Doesn’t trust any of us as legislators because they don’t think we do anything right — as legislators. They think that we’re out partying every night. They think we’re doing things in backrooms somewhere. I get some real interesting comments from Democracy for America [meaning the DFNM blog] and some really interesting blogs that they put out in terms of what we’re doing down here on this floor and what we try to do as a body. But I think by passing a piece of legislation like this, we’re just telling them, “yeah, you know what, that goes on here.”

And eventually, ladies and gentlemen of this body, we have to stand up for the body. It doesn’t happen the way people say that it happens. I know it’s not a popular thing to say. And I’m sure tomorrow in whatever publication that comes out, I’m going to be viewed as a person against ethics reform. I guess I’ve stopped all of the ethics legislation according to that blog I just named a minute ago. But you know what? Stand up. Take a stand in terms of what we do here as men and women elected officials.

... Our constituents send us up here because they trust us to do what’s right.

Oh I get it. Sanchez and others in the Senate are working against ethics and campaign reform bills -- and have been for years -- because it would be an admittance of guilt to support them. And it would play into the hands of people like me -- who obviously just have some kind of morbid mistrust and deep-seated dislike of legislators. Supporting much-needed reforms in a state that's long been known for way too many ugly instances of corruption would only serve to dim the sparkling reputation of New Mexico politicos. We get elected, so trust us!

Sen. Sanchez's odd defense of his fight against ethics reform continued:

But because there’s this push by groups of people who are the loudest group out there, we back off and we cower a little and we say, “Oh goodness, what in the world if we vote against this bill what’s going to happen to us?” Oh, our names are going to be here. Somebody’s going to say we’re this, somebody’s going to say we’re that. Well, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to stand up for this body. It’s time to say, “you know what? We’re not bad people.”

... Something like this is not ethics reform. It’s the popular thing to do because certain groups are saying you have to do it or else. I’m sorry. It’s the ”or else” for me because I don’t think this is the right thing to do. I hope this body stands up for itself and says “enough is enough” and vote this measure down

So, the tortured logic holds that only "bad" Senators would vote to support the most basic of ethics safeguards. Therefore, "good" Senators would fight to keep things as they are, regardless. Amazing.

Not surprisingly after that monologue, the majority of Senators sided with the powerful Majority Leader and defeated SB 163 by a vote of 14-22. You'll note many of the Senators who voted against the Dem Caucus choice for Senate Pro-Tem and for Sen. Tim Jennings also voted no on this reform bill. I don't think it's a coincidence.

Another View
An on-target analysis of what's going on with the Senate Majority Leader and ethics reform is contained in this post on Clearly New Mexico. But I want to take a more personal tack.

Message to Senator Sanchez
I want Sen. Michael Sanchez and other Democrats to know it's not easy for me to be publicly critical of their efforts related to ethics reforms. I've been a loyal Democrat since the first day I could vote. I've volunteered for Democrats, donated money to Democrats and been elected to offices within the Democratic Party. I was selected by the DNC to be the official Dem blogger from New Mexico at the Democratic Convention in Denver this past summer. I'm no slouch in the world of Democratic politics.

So I resent any suggestion by Sen. Sanchez or anyone else that I'm just some loud, unthinking voice of petty criticism, out to play some gotcha game. As I think is abundantly clear by now, nothing could be farther from the truth.

Trying to Remain Proud to be a Democrat
Why am I critical -- often pointedly so -- of a number of my fellow Democrats? Because some of the things Democrats have done in recent times have made me ashamed. Because ethics and corruption scandals involving Democrats have upset me deeply. Because I've learned a lot about local politics over the past five years or so. Because the patterns of corruption and the tactics used to cover it up or allow it to continue have become clear to me over time. And I can't let it stand.

I strongly believe the majority of Democrats (and New Mexicans) want basic ethics and campaign finance reforms that will help ensure the scandals won't happen again. So we can be proud of being Democrats. So we can convince others to join with us. So we can say Democrats were the ones to fix the problems, that Democrats were willing to go on record to say -- in no uncertain terms -- never again.

So when some Democrats in positions of power fight against needed reforms, mock the reformers, join with Republicans to keep reforms at bay -- I feel compelled to point that out and say it's wrong. Because it IS wrong.

I'm willing to stick my neck out, to put my opinions out here publicly on a blog with my name on it, as Barbara Wold -- as a Democrat being true to my values. I believe I have a right -- and even a duty -- to do so, especially when so much is at stake. And I'll be damned if I'll be cowed or silenced by anyone -- including the NM Senate Majority Leader.

Sen. Sanchez, I want you to understand why I feel the need to be critical. You know what's right and what's wrong. And so you must know that standing in the way of critical reforms is wrong. Ultimately, I hope you'll do what's right for the future of the Democratic Party, and for all New Mexicans. Help renew the people's faith in state government and the legislative process. Put aside your fears and listen to your conscience. Be part of the change, not part of the problem.

For previous posts on this topic, visit our ethics archive and our legislature archive.

March 10, 2009 at 07:23 PM in Ethics & Campaign Reform, NM Legislature 2009 | Permalink

Comments

Good for you, Barbara Wold. And I am proud to stand with you.

I don't think we have seen the last political scandal in New Mexico, and as another long-serving Democrat who has worked for years in the trenches without seeking a handout or a job or any kind of "payback" for doing the things I believe were right, there is nothing that hurts more than to see the folks we have worked to elect become entrenched and/or corrupt or imply that there is no way to make our system better.

The damage to government as a result of elected officials, lobbyists and their minions who put greed, entitlement and arrogance ahead of the public good is difficult to overcome. Ultimately, bad actors in the system do terrible damage to our democracy, particularly because the public trust is impaired.

Michael Sanchez doth protest too much.

Posted by: Barbara Grothus | Mar 11, 2009 3:09:42 AM

Nothing shouts ETHICS REFORM NOW louder than an elected public servant harboring the notion that "proposed reforms allegedly have no purpose beneficial to New Mexicans." The arrogance in that sentiment strongly suggests to this Democratic voter that its time for that Legislator to be voted out of office ASAP as he/she is no longer serving the needs of the electorate.

Posted by: VP | Mar 11, 2009 8:29:53 AM

I'll bet that robbers think laws against robbery are unnecessary and cast a bad light on the community.

Posted by: SFean | Mar 11, 2009 9:06:31 AM

Barb, you rock. You are brave to openly defy the backroom powers that be and take the lumps involved.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant. I'd like to be a proud Democrat too.

Posted by: PhoenixRising | Mar 11, 2009 9:18:21 AM

Michael Sanchez, Tim Jennings, Ken Martinez, Mary Kay Papen, etc. think the real threat to New Mexico is from non-profit groups that work on issues and getting the word out. Scary!

I haven't heard one good reason yet from M. Sanchez which explains why the ethics proposals are bad. All he does is pretend to be hurt and insulted that anyone would think we need such laws to keep things kosher. The act is getting old.

Posted by: roadrunner | Mar 11, 2009 9:35:22 AM

I doubt anything anyone says or does will cause Senator Sanchez to change his mind. He seems to see all this as a challenge to his manhood and wants to show how tough he is. Lawmakers this year are acting like a bunch of spoiled teenagers. It's all about them.

I've watched many legis sessions but this one takes the cake for bad actions and bad attitudes.

Let's keep pushing them. They need it and New Mexicans need to know what's really going on up there. Fiddling while Rome burns.


Posted by: Old Dem | Mar 11, 2009 10:46:48 AM

Crazy world where clean government forces are considered the bad guys and Sun Cal and other big money givers are considered the good guys.

Posted by: Josie | Mar 11, 2009 11:55:33 AM

I wish more Democrats would let Sanchez know they see through what he is doing. He gets away with it because people are afraid to confront him.

Posted by: DLR | Mar 11, 2009 12:08:35 PM

I agree Josie. It's pretty apparent that the SUNCAL folks are held in pretty high regard in the Roundhouse (especially seeing how much progress they are making with legislators towards stealing our taxpayers dollars), yet groups and media that are working for ethics and transparency in NM(which is a no brainer with the rise in exposure of our scandal ridden state) are somehow being cast as the bad guys.

Posted by: wanrey | Mar 11, 2009 1:07:29 PM

If the non-profit silencing act ends up being the only "ethics" reform that passes this year, it will be a major shame and embarrassment for the state. Ironic, SunCal doesn't have to disclose its contributions and expenditures until after the session, but little non-profits will be harassed until they go away.

Posted by: Michael Cadigan | Mar 11, 2009 1:33:49 PM

Hear, hear, Barb!

Posted by: laura | Mar 12, 2009 10:16:24 PM

Come on my fellow Dems be knowledgeable people that investigate the problem and don't just listen to a one sided web blog challenging the decision of experienced leaders of the legislature. Governor Wonderful previously pledged to sign the bill that would open conference committees and many other currently closed legislative meetings to the public, the governor's office now says Bill Richardson is concerned about "loopholes in the bill" and isn't certain he'll sign it. "The governor has concerns about what appear to be major loopholes in the bill," Richardson spokesman Gilbert Gallegos wrote in an email. Think before you speak my fellow Dems.

Posted by: Steven S. | Mar 25, 2009 4:22:27 PM

The "experienced leaders" have blocked too many things New Mexicans want and need and pushed through too many deals for their donors. The people have the power not those they elect to serve them. Richardson is suspect too. Most politicians are. The answer is pay attention to what they do not what they say.

Posted by: james | Mar 25, 2009 5:09:12 PM