Saturday, March 19, 2011
HB 78 Driver's License Bill Dies as Conference Committee Fails to Reach Compromise
There were hours and hours of acrimonious debate, a ton of right-wing hate emails and phone calls to legislators, several passionate pro-immigrant rallies and an enormous push by Gov. Susana Martinez and her cronies to make repealing driver's licenses for immigrants THE wedge issue of the New Mexico legislative session. Today, however, the much-amended HB 78 went down to final defeat in a morning conference committee meeting held on the last day of this year's session.
How did we get here? First, Rep. Nunez's version of the bill -- a committee substitute that was "blasted" to the House floor after being table in committee -- passed the House. Then the Senate Judiciary Committee made significant amendments to enhance license security, and the Senate tightened up rules and penalties even further and passed its own version.
Because of the differences, the legislation had to go through a concurrence process. A House-Senate conference committee consisting of Senators Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe), Howie Morales (D-Silver City) and John Ryan (R-Albuquerque) and Representatives Ken Martinez (D-Grants), Ray Begaye (D-Shiprock) and Andy Nunez (I-Hatch) tried to hammer out a finalized compromise bill to send back to both houses for a final okay. The committee could not reach an agreement, even though the amended bill that passed the Senate specifically addressed the issues Gov. Martinez had claimed she cared about -- a tightening of regulations and a hike in penalties to make it harder for fraudulent applicants to get a license.
Two amendments failed in the conference committee. Rep. Begaye proposed one to accept the Senate version with an added requirement that the question be put on the ballot. Rep. Nunez wanted all the Senate amendments removed. No go. And so, no compromise bill, no concurrence.
A Vicious Campaign
Does it really matter? Susana Martinez had already indicated she would veto anything other than Nunez's version of the bill. Clearly, though, Susana and her cronies and political strategists consider this a victory in terms of something they obviously believe is even more important than the bill itself -- successfully stirring up right wingers, tea party members and talk radio callers to foaming-at-the-mouth hate speech against Democrats. This, despite the fact there are very powerful public safety considerations that support the wisdom of making driver's licenses available without a Social Security number.
Many lawmakers complained they had never before experienced a legislative session so full of personal attacks, disturbing communications from the public -- including death threats -- and mean-spirited "debate" on the floors of the House and Senate, almost all of it coming from the right. That's what happens when the governor of a tri-cultural state makes it her primary business to score cheap and tawdry political points by scapegoating a minority, as Martinez and company did this session.
Senate Floor Leader Michael Sanchez even suggested that the invective-filled pressure might be at least partially to blame when Senate Rules Committee Chair Linda Lopez had to check into a hospital with health issues ten days before the end of the session. (Sen. Lopez's beloved mother then passed away during the turmoil, and the funeral is taking place today. Our sincere condolences go out to Sen. Lopez and her family.)
Martinez et al. went so far as to run radio ads pushing the driver's license repeal -- ads paid for in a questionable manner, with leftover campaign funds from her gubernatorial run. Although fellow right-winger Dianna Duran, in her role as Secretary of State, ruled the use of campaign funds was just fine and dandy, many folks with knowledge of the state law disagreed. Somos Un Pueblo United, which had filed a complaint about the funding with both the SOS, the Attorney General and the Santa Fe District Attorney, was one of them. Non-partisan good government group Common Cause was another. You can read about that here. Just this week, the Democratic Party of New Mexico began running their own radio ad calling out Martinez on her politicization of this issue.
The "Voter Fraud" Twist
In addition, late in the session, Dianne Duran announced that she was comparing driver's license lists and voter rolls, and claimed she had already found examples of possible voter fraud by undocumented immigrants. Nothing to back up that claim, of course, but it served to once again call attention to the immigrant wedge issue and another right-wing favorite, "voter fraud." That prompted the ACLU NM to file a massive document request so they can investigate what's really going on related to Duran's claims. And on Friday, the Bernalillo County Clerk's office filed a similar document request. Many are questioning the validity of Duran's comparison method, and she's getting lots of flack about making claims to the public that haven't been sufficiently documented. We'll see what she produces in response to the document requests.
GOP Plan: Spew, Divide and Conquer
One of the primary goals of the Martinez-Duran juggernaut on these issues clearly is the creation of an emotional and divisive wedge issue that can be used by campaign operatives against Dems in the 2012 election. Susana had staffers -- paid for by tax-payer dollars -- crowded into the press gallery videoing the floor debates with a laser-beam focus on capturing statements that could be used in future right-wing TV and radio ads. Just another example of Martinez's eternal politics-before-people campaign. Such tactics have long been a major part of the Republican playbook -- spew negative rhetoric to distract the people with shiny wedge issues while stealing them blind and obstructing every measure meant to actually fix the problems we face.
When folks look back at this 60-day legislative session, I think it may well be viewed as one of the most shameful, expediently political and nasty displays by a governor and GOP lawmakers of conduct unbecoming members of government. It was like having Karl Rove in the Roundhouse 24-7, creating gotcha moments -- while the unemployment rate in our state rose even higher and the critical issues of jobs and the economy got the short end of the stick. This isn't governing. It's grandstanding. And it should be judged as unacceptable to every New Mexican who cares about the future of our state.
We can disagree on politics -- but we should never allow anyone to undermine the unity in diversity that makes New Mexico such a special place for all of us. We can never let any right-wing politico make us into another Arizona or Texas, full of bigotry and scapegoating.
In 2004 Bush's justice department found, in a big push, 86 cases cases of voter fraud in all 50 states. David Iglesius refused to prosecute BS cases and he was replaced, remember. As an issue, voter fraud is a lie. People who field this as an issue are liars.
Posted by: Paul Eichhorn | Mar 20, 2011 7:11:39 AM