Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Scarantino/Gessing/RGF/ALEC Corporate Right-Wing Political Machine



I'm usually amused when I discover flagrant hypocrisy of the first order. But, in this case, the matter is too serious to permit me that luxury. When the perpetrators of a generously funded, extremist, partisan-aligned echo machine claim to be anything but -- while wrongly accusing genuinely nonpartisan, good-government  nonprofits of breaking the rules -- what results isn't funny; it's dangerous.

Recently, local blog Clearly New Mexico featured a post on the blatant campaign interventions of Paul Gessing of the Rio Grande Foundation (RGF) and Jim Scarantino of New Mexico Watchdog -- which is supported by funding from the Rio Grande Foundation, among others. The article offered up significant evidence -- like Scarantino's speech at a tea party rally -- that the Gessing-Scarantino-RGF cabal is operating as a sort of right-wing hit machine -- targeting Democratic candidates and pushing right-wing, tea party talking points with abandon.

The post contrasts the over-the-line antics of the tea party support brigade with the by-the-rules actions of two nonprofits that were recently targeted for alleged electioneering, only to be vigorously exonerated by two court rulings. The right-wingers have been critical of the two targeted nonprofits, while claiming they, themselves, are pure as the driven snow. Gessing recently wrote that, "... the Rio Grande Foundation has never come close to the lines these organizations have so clearly pushed."

He has some nerve.

Rather unbelievably, Gessing is now chortling about how last week his boy Scarantino was a guest presenter at a meeting of ALEC in San Diego -- and how "The Rio Grande Foundation is quickly becoming recognized as one of the most effective free market public policy organizations in the nation.” Well, in some nefarious circles, anyway.

So Who the Heck Is ALEC?
ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council, a Washington-based think tank that was lauded by George Bush for its success in “mainstreaming” the corporate agenda at the state level. Among ALEC’s big corporate funders are Amoco, Chevron, Coors Brewing Company, Shell, Texaco, Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America, Waste Management, Philip Morris Corporation and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco.

ALEC’s specialty is developing and creating "model" legislation and -- through its national political network lobbies -- to get it passed in state legislatures. To get an indepth picture of what ALEC is really about, check out the Mother Jones article, “Ghostwriting the Law,” as well as “America’s Corporate Trojan Horse in the States,” a detailed report by Defenders of Wildlife and the National Resources Defense Council.

Those two sources are chock-full of facts that reveal the secretive, right-wing, corporate-funded nature of ALEC, strongly contradicting the claim that ALEC is merely a generic "good government" organization out to do good deeds. For instance, in 2002-2003 alone, Exxon gave ALEC a half million dollars to produce pseudo-research to counter the science of global warming. And we all know where that led.

ALEC was founded by one of the godfathers of the American right, Paul Weyrich, who also co-founded the Heritage Foundation and coined the term “Moral Majority” for the Reverend Jerry Falwell. Weyrich’s attitude toward democracy was neatly summed up in his infamous quote of 1980:

"Now many of our Christians have what I call the Goo-Goo syndrome -- Good Government. They want everybody to vote. I don't want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of the people. They never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down."

AlmightyDollar No wonder Scarantino was invited to speak at the ALEC convention -- he's one of them. Good government my ass. Evidently, Scarantino and his keepers would like nothing more than to depress the vote in New Mexico by filling the airwaves with negativity and dishonest smears. They know voters don't like that kind of thing, and they know when there's low turnout, right-wingers can sometimes win.

What WE know is that ALEC, Scarantino, Gessing, the Rio Grande Foundation and their funders are carrying water for some of the worst forces in American politics today -- the mega-corporations that are bent on trampling the interests of working people and middle-class families. These are the forces bent on defeating anyone or anything that threatens their freedom to pollute, poison, steal or dominate legislative bodies and Congress with big money and powerful lobbyists. 

An ALEC Blast From the Past
Here in New Mexico, we got a first-hand experience on how ALEC operates.

In 2007, big industry groups were pressuring the NM state legislature to pass HB 685, the so-called “Administrative Accountability Act,” a far-reaching attack on workplace and environmental regulations in New Mexico. Sponsored by State Representative Dan Silva (whom you may recall was defeated in a Dem primary by reform Democrat Eleanor Chavez), HB 685 posed serious threats to workplace safety and to our air and water quality.

The groups that were pushing the legislation were the usual suspects: Association of Commerce and Industry, Homebuilders’ Association, Dairy Producers of NM, NM Farm Bureau, NM Mining Association and the Independent Petroleum Association of NM. Those industry groups touted HB 685 as “regulatory justice.” In truth, it was environmental in-justice to our communities -- a real "Polluter’s Bill of Rights." Yes, you guessed it. Silva's bill was the work of none other than ALEC. It was developed by ALEC as a piece of "model legislation" touted by the group.

Fortunately, environmental and community groups were on alert. They generated hundreds of calls and letters to legislators and succeeded in stopping HB 685. This was one time when the corporate oligarchy didn’t get its way. 

The Attack This Time
Of course, back then, the stealth GOP/right-wing Scarantino-Gessing-RGF-ALEC juggernaut was a mere twinkle in the eye of "conservative" extemists like Paul Weyrich. This election cycle, however, their anti-democratic, anti-Democrat, anti-environment, pro-corporate echo chamber is even better organized and cooking with gas -- and oil. And all the other industries and financial interests that don't want to deal with common-sense regulations, public scrutiny, economic fairness or -- perhaps most threatening -- the FACTS on any given issue. 

This year the pseudo-good-government coalition is prepared to go all out to prevent Democrats from winning at the ballot box in November, while pretending to be nonpartisan keepers of The Ethics. Do you believe that mega-corporate interests are dedicated to good government, ethics, working families, education, equality, economic justice or protecting the environment? Me neither. Make sure your friends, neighbors, co-workers and family members know who's supporting the right-wing Republican media blitz this year -- and why.

It's high time for the Scarantino-Gessing-RGF-ALEC-corporate cabal, and others like them, to get called out on who they really are, where their loyalties lie and what their goals actually are -- in no uncertain terms. Our democratic form of government may just depend on it.

And, remember, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck .... (Where have I heard that before?)

August 10, 2010 at 05:39 PM in 2010 General Election, Corporatism, Ethics & Campaign Reform, NM Legislature 2007, Regulation, Republican Party, Right Wing | Permalink | Comments (6)

Friday, February 06, 2009

Anti-Reform Dems Teaming Up to Defeat Ethics and Campaign Finance Bills AGAIN

First, to set the stage, be sure to read Cocopost's piece on the dinosaurs in suits that populate the New Mexico Legislature -- especially on the Senate side. As she says:

There is a quaint charm to our New Mexico State Senate. It's the Jurassic Park of New Mexico politics -- dinosaurs in suits. The place still runs under Manny's Rules - just without Manny. It's where good bills go to die horrible deaths - like Domestic Partnership. And the bills it spawns just rise straight out of some primordial political muck.

SSANCSenate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez: Ethics Obstructionist
The latest legislation that is emerging from the NM Senate's "primordial political muck" is designed to kill all the campaign finance and ethics reform bills introduced this Session by lumping them together into a super-bill. Even worse, the anti-reformers -- led by Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez -- are threatening to add a provision to require nonprofit groups that work on issue advocacy and voter education to be treated like PACs. This, despite the fact that the nonprofits are NOT political action committees, and are required to follow stringent rules and laws that bar them from partisan actions. Cute, isn't it? This way, certain long-time foes of change can pretend they're for reform while making sure it won't happen. And they apparently believe we won't see through their antics, or won't care.

But New Mexicans are noticing that the State Senate has been the serial killer of major ethics laws over the past few years. That they’ve killed contribution limits, an independent ethics commission, public financing of statewide races – you name it. And that they’ve killed the reforms not just once, but repeatedly. Meanwhile, many Democratic anti-reform legislators continue to claim to be FOR ethics and campaign finance reform. Somehow, however, they just can't get it done with a Dem-dominated House and Senate, as well as a Dem Governor. Funny how that happens.

Unfortunately for the obstructionists, folks are noticing that ethics bills almost always die in Sen. Linda Lopez's Rules Committee, and that Sen. Lopez is close with Michael Sanchez. Folks are witnessing how Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez works with Senate Pro-Tem Tim Jennings and others to make sure change-agent legislators are given committee assignments that ensure their power is diluted or negated. People are getting the reasons why Sen. Michael Sanchez -- who's supposed to be the leader of the Democratic caucus in the Senate -- stayed "neutral" when Sen. Carlos Cisneros, the caucus choice for Pro-Tem, was successfully challenged by Dem-In-Name-Only Jennings.

Sen. Michael Sanchez was clearly more concerned with ensuring that the anti-reform, anti-domestic partnership cabal retained power within the committee structure than in representing his Caucus.

Let's travel back to 2007, to examine how Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez handled the ethics issue at a prior Session where it was getting a strong push. Remember how he defended the Senate’s killing of ethics reform?

'What did the Legislature do to warrant the push for the change?’ Sanchez asked. ‘Give me something factually that we've done to warrant all the changes that have been proposed’ [Reform Proposals Find Little Momentum, Albuquerque Journal, February 17, 2007].

Okay, ignore the fact that it's more than a little wacky to claim the Legislature shouldn't act to improve ethics until someone's been caught. But now that the Manny Aragon courthouse scandal has resulted in convictions, shouldn't ethics reform be at the top of Sen. Sanchez's to-do list? Think again:

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, meanwhile, said Tuesday that ethics proposals in that chamber — campaign contribution limits and an ethics commission, for example — may be rolled into a comprehensive reform bill. And he said some senators have suggested broadening campaign reporting laws to include nonprofit groups that get into political activity.

"If they're going to get involved in campaigns, they should probably disclose where the money's coming from," he said. [Denish promotes ethics bills to lawmakers, Deborah Baker, AP]

First of all, nonprofits DON'T get involved in campaigns, by law. They are strictly prohibited from acting during prescribed dates before and during election cycles. But what we really have here is a situation where the Senate Democratic Majority Leader finally pledges to allow ethics reform, but in a manner that is guaranteed to kill the bill. Clearly, he intends to once again bury ethics reform -- this time by tossing all the measures into one unwieldy bill -- and then amending it with unacceptable and unconstitutional provisions targeting nonprofits.

HmartHouse Majority Leader Ken Martinez: Ethics Obstructionist
Another recent example of the anti-reform herd's antics -- this time on the House side -- is on display in a video by GOP Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones of the Feburary 5th meeting of the House Voters and Elections Committee. While discussing Rep. Jeff Steinborn's campaign contribution limits bill, Rep. Ken Martinez, the Majority Floor Leader, reveals his anti-reform fervor. He also manages to showcase his ignorance about the legal identities of the groups he's trying to hand-cuff and discredit.

Click on the "On Demand" button at the video website, go to Part II of the February 5th HVEC video and move to the 20 minute mark. Here we have Rep. Martinez holding forth on how campaign finance reform would put legislators like himself at a disadvantage because "the 527s" would still have free rein.

The 527s? Which 527 groups are active in legislative matters? I haven't heard of any, have you? Obviously Rep. Martinez doesn't know the difference between 527s and the nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy groups that status-quo legislators are so up at arms about. Why? Because their perfectly legal work shining the light on voting records and campaign donors lets ordinary people in on what's really going on in Santa Fe. Message to Rep. Martinez: 527 groups can legally be active during election cycles. The 501(3)(c) nonprofits cannot, because they are not political action groups. They advocate on issues and educate on records. Period.

At any rate, Martinez claims these 527's would "force" legislators to vote against the wishes of constituents and their own personal positions on issues. I'm not sure how voting to represent the majority views of your constituents would jeopardize your electoral chances with your constituents, but Martinez is definitely scared about it. Could it be that he's really worried about votes legislators take to please their big donors that really AREN'T supported by constituents? And that, in fact, Martinez's fear is related to the chance that legislator voting records and campaign donor lists might be revealed by groups dedicating to keeping citizens informed? After all, citizens took a more negative view of their legislators in at least three Senate districts last year when they were provided with factual data on their records. Can't have that!

Act Now to Stop the Charade
So where do we go from here? Clearly anti-reform Dems, led by their Senate and House Leaders, are hooking up with anti-reform Repubs to make sure nothing significant in the way of ethics reform gets passed again this year in Santa Fe. Their behavior is becoming more and more blatant and more and more arrogant. They obviously believe they'll be immune to the wrath of the voters if they keep PRETENDING to be for change. We need to show them otherwise.

Take a minute and call or email your legislators and Democratic Senate and House Leaders to let them know you see through their shenanigans and don't approve. Do it now, before it's too late:

  • Find your legislators here.
  • Find Senate Leaders here.
  • Find House Leaders here.

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February 6, 2009 at 01:57 PM in Ethics & Campaign Reform, GLBT Rights, NM Legislature 2007, NM Legislature 2009, Progressivism | Permalink | Comments (13)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

DEA Ordered Seizure of Medical Marijuana from Paraplegic Patient

Priorities, priorities. Goon squads on parade in New Mexico.

From the ACLU New Mexico: CARLSBAD, NM - According to a sworn affidavit filed this past week by an Eddy County law enforcement official, the seizure of medical marijuana from a local paraplegic man, "was done at the direction of and under the guidance and control of the [Drug Enforcement Administration] DEA."  The affidavit, submitted by David Edmondson, Commander of the Pecos Valley Drug Task Force, which conducted the seizure on September 4, 2007, makes clear that the federal government directed local law enforcement to seize the medical marijuana of a patient fully authorized to use the medicine under state law.

"This is yet another glaring example of the federal government's improper obstruction of states' ability to implement compassionate and sensible medical marijuana policies," said Adam Wolf, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union's Drug Law Reform Project.  "For the DEA to co-opt local law enforcement in its misguided assault on medical marijuana patients is both callous and unconstitutional."

On September 4, 2007, at least four Eddy County deputies, acting as members of the Pecos Valley Drug Task Force, arrived at the home of Leonard French in Malaga, New Mexico. French, a paraplegic who experiences intense pain and severe muscle spasms stemming from 1987 motorcycle accident, holds a license issued by the state of New Mexico identifying him as a medical marijuana patient under the Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act.

Assuming that the deputies had arrived to check his compliance with the state compassionate use law, French presented the deputies with his identification card and showed them his hydroponic equipment, including two small marijuana plants and three dead sprouts.  Acting under the guidance of the DEA, according to yesterday's affidavit, the deputies seized the equipment and plants and later turned them over to the federal agency.

The ACLU, which represents French in a pending legal challenge, says the seizure violated not only New Mexico's Compassionate Use Act, but also state forfeiture laws and a constitutional prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. French has not been charged with any violations of federal or state drug laws.

The affidavit is available online here. The ACLU's legal filing is available online here.

The New Mexico Legislature passed the medical marijuana bill during its 60-day Session in 2007.

See our previous post on the ACLU lawsuit on behalf of French.

February 17, 2008 at 01:22 PM in Civil Liberties, Crime, Healthcare, NM Legislature 2007 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, January 04, 2008

NM Senate Leaders Pre-File Bill to Restore Petition Signature Option for Candidates

The pre-filing of a bill to restore the petition signature option for statewide and federal candidates to get on the ballot if they don't get 20% of the vote at party pre-primary conventions was just announced in the press release below. Don Wiviott, a Democratic candidate for Congress in NM-03, filed a lawsuit yesterday asking the Santa Fe District Court to determine whether the 20% requirement, passed unanimously into law last legislative session as part of a larger bill, is constitutional.

Press Release: Santa Fe, NM – Senate Majority Leader Michael S. Sanchez (D-Valencia County) announced that on December 17, 2007 he and Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle pre-filed Senate Bill 1, Primary Ballot Access for Certain Candidates. The bill allows candidates for statewide offices to be placed on primary ballots by petition of signatures. During last year’s legislative session that provision was removed in House Bill 1156 thereby requiring candidates to receive at least 20% of preprimary convention delegates before their names could be placed on the ballot.

Senate Bill 1 restores the language that was deleted in last year’s bill. “It’s important that candidates continue to be allowed other avenues for getting on the ballot. The system we have had for many years was working well. Restoring the original language is the right thing to do because giving voters choices is what it’s all about,” said Sen. Sanchez.

Pursuant to Senate Rule 11-12-1, amended during last year’s legislative session, senators may pre-file legislation from December 15 through the Friday before the regular session. This year senators may pre-file bills from December 17, 2007 through January 11, 2008. Pre-filed legislation will be introduced and referred to committee on the first day of the regular session which begins on January 15, 2008.

Senate Bill 1 and all other pre-filed bills are posted at the New Mexico Legislature’s website. A link to the website is available on the Senate Democrats’ website www.nmsenate.com.

January 4, 2008 at 12:39 PM in Election Reform & Voting, NM Legislature 2007, NM Legislature 2008, NM-03 Congressional Race 2008 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Guest Blog: Reminiscence on the Passing of Senate President Ben Altamirano

This is a guest blog by Stephen Fox, founder of New Millennium Fine Art in Santa Fe. He is working towards a ban on aspartame and the establishment of a New Mexico Nutrition Council, with powers to question and even challenge the FDA. He is presently the Managing Editor of the weekly Santa Fe Sun News.

A Truly Great Statesman
For two years, he endorsed and volunteered to sponsor the bill to create a powerful new Nutrition Council for New Mexico, of which I was the author, and he saw the need to have express powers to challenge the FDA when it was wrong. He spoke of the need to have viejos and comadres serving on the council, if it was really going to help the people improve their health, not just industry apparatchiks. He told me many times that although he didn’t have a lot of confidence in the accuracy of newspapers, he had never gotten such good press nor such positive feedback from constituents in his entire legislative career than he had gotten from taking on the Nutrition Council legislation and its related issues.

Then the corporate lobbyists who had nothing to gain and everything to lose if the Nutrition Council ever were passed by the Legislature, turned on him and forced the bill's evisceration in a couple of Senate Committees.

He always had time to talk and always saw deeply into matters of ordinary people and the problems deriving from poverty, stemming from his own experiences growing up somewhat poor in Grant County. He was no "hack" like some of the very powerful in the Roundhouse; I think the main reason he rose to power was his even handedness as Senate Finance Chairman for 18 years, disbursing the state's money even handedly, fairly, judiciously, and without the faintest hint of scandal or dishonesty!

Michael Sanchez noted in his personal eulogy that Ben got the Pro Tem job after he asked the Democrat Caucus after Richard Romero resigned to run for Congress if anyone objected to his being Pro Tem, because he wanted it to be unanimous, and of course, no one objected and he got the job. I was in his office a day or two later and he was beaming with happiness and saying “By golly, President Pro Tem of the New Mexico Senate: it sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?”

All of New Mexico will miss him profoundly. House Speaker Luján noted that legislation sponsored this year by Altamirano took effect on New Year's Day, to increase minimum wage benefiting the lowest-paid workers in New Mexico. "He was a gentleman in a place that does not always treat gentlemen kindly. He was a statesman in a place that too frequently rewards those with more narrow concerns," said Luján. "He brought a calm, reasonable voice to a place that needs more calm and more reason."

What Killed Benny Altamirano?
At the Memorial Service in the Rotunda, his son Paul briefly touched on the “negative” aspects of what 36 years of public service in the New Mexico Senate really means: the 4:00 A.M. calls asking him to come to Santa Fe, the very long trip starting with the tortuous winding road over the Black Range, the 1 and 2:00 A.M. sessions in Senate Finance, the stress, the cumulative fatigue (all of which led his doctors to recommend that he “cut back and slow down.” Not Benny . . . no one was as driven as he was by a love of public service and legislating.

After visiting him in his office, I noticed several perpetual cans of diet Coke in his office refrigerator. I was horrified for his health: the sweetener Aspartame is metabolized as methanol and formaldehyde, obviously two horrible effects on anyone, particularly someone recovering from cardiac surgery and on a later occasion, from a severe bout with bronchial pneumonia. I gave him dozens of bottles of Organic Apricot Nectar from the Italian firm, BioNaturae, but he kept drinking the Diet beverages. His physicians were right to be alarmed. Anyone would suffer from the grinding schedule of New Mexico’s Senate President.

In retrospect, maybe he shouldn’t have gone to Santa Fe in the later years, and shouldn’t have carried on those 100 hour weeks. Someone suffering from cardiac impairments and later a total knee replacement, the last of his surgeries, should have retired and told stories of his accomplishments to his eight grandchildren and five great grandchildren. But not Ben Altamirano ...

It was almost as if he believed his personal powers of civility and persuasion would allow him to prevail over the Grim Reaper himself. After all, he had conquered a divisive and even embittered Legislature and six different Governors with his civility, decency, and wit. Alas, that was not to be. My own theory is that a disproportionately large number of aged and ill people die after our gluttonous holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, much as Halloween is bad for all of the children goring on sugar, candy, and junk food and much as hundreds die in auto wrecks after imbibing on New Year’s Eve.

Ben and his family no doubt welcomed the lighter load as Pro Tem, compared to the 18 years of physical draining as Senate Finance Chairman. Having grown up in the Depression in New Mexico made him glad to accept the travel and perks offered the Pro Tem, like a trip to the Netherlands to examine nuclear fuel reprocessing, and international legislative conferences in China and in California. I even warned him several times about the impact of such travel on his health.

Altamirano’s Service to New Mexico
His service to New Mexico was profound and ongoing. I won’t baste his memory with any more honorifics than those already accorded to him by his sincere and grief-stricken colleagues speaking in the Rotunda, except to say that his enduring gift of Collegial Civility will almost be everlasting, and I hope Governor Richardson will find some buildings in both Santa Fe and Silver City to name after him. Richardson prefers to bestow such honorifics on the living, when the person is still alive, and we all know that Ben Altamirano deserves this as much or more than some of those already deemed to be so worthy. He touched every single area of state government. There is housing named after him at New Mexico universities, and there is the Altamirano Leadership Conference at Luna Community College, which might be developed at all of the New Mexico state universities, in the Political Science Department or at UNM Law School. Ben would have liked that ...

Corporate Lobbyists’ Stranglehold on Legislation
I am still angry about the way that the corporations involved and their lobbyists robbed New Mexico of the powerful new Nutrition Council sponsored by Ben in 2005 and in 2006. Actually, on the strength of his great personality and power, the bill made it all the way through in 2005 passing resoundingly in both Houses, but died on the last day as a result of a long and destructive filibuster by Roswell Republican Dan Foley which in fact killed about six bills and five memorials. Throughout both years, the lobbyists leaned on Ben about this bill: he even shared with me in 2006 that particularly Coca Cola was upset with him for sponsoring such pro- consumer legislation, reminding him that they had donated many thousands of dollars to his slate of Senators for reelection, in golf tournaments and in outright direct contributions.

Like many parents with large families, he wanted all in his Legislative family to be happy, even the lobbyists, although I told him many times that if you are going to do real consumer protection to benefit the families, the poor, and the minorities of New Mexico, you are going to make some corporation angry, perhaps even several.

Ultimately, he caved into the demands of these unscrupulous lobbyists, because they too were his long time friends. The same corporations hired “friends” of Bill Richardson to be their lobbyists one year, which resulted in a 15-day delay in putting the bill on the Governor’s “call,” and in a 30-day session, a fifteen-day delay is a death knell for even the most profoundly needed legislation.

It is a bathetic and a pathetic ghastly situation in which corporate lobbyists from Ajinomoto, a Japanese company making aspartame and monosodium glutamate, can purchase their stranglehold on government, as they do in Santa Fe, in Washington, and in every international capitol, a condition that will go on and on, even as human bodies pile up from Multiple Sclerosis, Cancer, Sudden Cardiac Death from Aspartame in Diet Cokes (please take the time to read Neurosurgeon Blaylock’s alarming article on this), mesoepithelioma cancers from asbestos, brain damage from lead paint, autism from mercury in flu shots and infants’ vaccines–the list goes on and on. Not a pretty picture, is it?

Genius of Finance and Civility That He Was ...
Altamirano couldn’t remedy all of the above, but for two years, at least he tried to establish a Nutrition Council, to advise the schools, and even occasionally challenge the FDA when it was obviously dead wrong. Ben once told me he how he passed a bill in 30 minutes for the Secretary of State on the last day of one session to pay for some voting machines the legislature had previously voted to require, but had forgot to secure funding for. He personally walked the bill through the Senate Committees then over to the House, which voted on it and passed it with three minutes to spare before noon.

Altamirano’s Last Joke
His son Paul at the Memorial Service told a joke that Benny would have liked to share with his fellow legislators: a fellow was extolling the virtues of his new hearing aid to his neighbor. “I can even hear a bird chirping across the street.” “Well, that is some hearing aid.” “Yes, I can even hear a butterfly flapping its wings on the next block.” “Great! What an amazing hearing aid. What kind is it?” The fellow looked at his watch and said: “2:15.”

What a legacy Altamirano leaves. As Lt. Gov. Denish said: "Of all the people that I thought made the Senate kind of balanced, warm and welcoming, it was Ben. He was such an even-handed, upbeat, optimistic person. Someone will be appointed, but no one will ever replace him.”

What comes next in the New Mexico Senate?
Insiders as well several un-named members of the Senate speculate that what is likely to happen next is that an Interim (or "caretaker") Pro Tem President will be chosen, and later a formal election will be conducted next November. Many speculate that if the decision were based entirely on Seniority, as occurs in Senates all over the world, John Pinto (Navajo of Tohatchi) will get the job, and it would be the first time for any Native American in the state legislatures of our nation. Others wonder if Roswell's Tim Jennings, Finance Co-Chair, will press hardest for the job, yet might not because of the time it would require away from his wife, Patty, who is being treated for cancer.

Majority Leader Michael Sanchez might also be interested, although he is quite happy with the power inherent in the Majority Leader's position. Appropriately, Sanchez declined to speak of such questions of ambition after the New Year's Eve Altamirano Memorial Service in the Rotunda concluded. Still others surmise that Deming's John Arthur Smith, Finance Co-Chair, would be a likely candidate who would be acceptable to Conservative Democrats and to the Republicans, and that more might actually get accomplished with a strong conserative in the position.

We encourage all of them, particularly one of our favorite Senators, Cisco Mc Sorley of Albuquerque, Judiciary Chairman; Linda Lopez, Rules Chair; and Dede Feldman, Public Affairs Chair, all of whom are liberals and would do the job very commendably. In due course, may the best person win, and above all, may the entire 2008 Legislature refresh the unforgettable civility of Ben Altamirano!

This is a guest blog by Stephen Fox of Santa Fe. Guest blogs provide readers with an opportunity to express their views on issues relevant to DFNM and may or many not reflect our views. If you'd like to submit a piece for consideration as a guest blog, contact me by clicking on the Email Me link on the upper left-hand corner of the page.

January 3, 2008 at 11:10 AM in Guest Blogger, NM Legislature 2007, NM Legislature 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Final Observances Announced for Sen. Ben Altamirano

From the office of the New Mexico Senate Democrats:
Santa Fe, NM—Details of the official observances in the State Capitol Rotunda in Santa Fe and public services in Silver City for Senate President Pro Tempore Ben D. Altamirano (D-Catron, Grant & Socorro-28) were released today. Senator Altamirano died suddenly and unexpectedly on Thursday evening, December 27th, at his family home in Silver City.

Senator Altamirano’s body will lie in state for public viewing beginning at 8:30 AM and ending at 5:00 PM on Monday, December 31, 2007 at the State Capitol Rotunda in Santa Fe. A memorial service honoring Senator Altamirano will commence at 11:00 AM on Monday. Speakers that day will include Senate majority and minority leaders, Barbara Richardson, New Mexico’s First Lady, Diane Denish, New Mexico’s Lieutenant Governor who is acting Governor in the absence of Governor Bill Richardson, majority and minority leaders of the New Mexico House of Representatives and other leading public officials.

Members of Senator Altamirano’s immediate family will be present for the memorial service. “We invite the people of New Mexico to come pay their last respects to this great leader and legislator,” said Senator Michael S. Sanchez (D-Valencia-29), the Senate Majority Leader.

On Wednesday, January 2, 2008, the public may pay their respects from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM at Bright Funeral Home, 210 W. College Ave., Silver City, New Mexico. A Rosary will then be recited at 7:00 PM that evening at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church, 420 W. Market Street, Silver City, New Mexico – which was Senator Altamirano’s parish church. The funeral mass will take place at 10:00 AM on Thursday, January 3, 2008, also at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church. Internment will follow at Memory Lane Cemetary, Memory Lane Road, Silver City.

Flowers and messages may be sent to the family home at 1123 Santa Rita Street, Silver City, New Mexico 88061. The family has requested that memorial gifts in Senator Altamirano’s honor be sent to the New Mexico Heart Association, 2201 San Pedro, NE, Building 2, Suite 102, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87110. The Association may also be contacted at 505-353-5800.

See our previous post on the passing of Sen. Ben Altamirano.

December 29, 2007 at 01:21 PM in Democratic Party, Local Politics, NM Legislature 2007, NM Legislature 2008 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Friday, December 28, 2007

(Updated) R.I.P. State Senator Ben Altamirano: 1930-2007

Senator Ben. D. Altamirano:
October 17, 1930 - December 27, 2007

UPDATE 12.29.07: See our subsequent post for details about final observances to honor Sen. Altamirano.
Ben Altamirano, the New Mexico Legislature's Senate President Pro-Tem, passed away Thursday at his home in Silver City at the age of 77 after a heart attack. In recent years he had suffered with coronary problems and underwent surgery. He was also hospitalized in 1981 after suffering a heart attack. According to an AP article, Gov. Bill Richardson made the announcement late Thursday, saying Altamirano was a true statesman whose love for New Mexico helped him earn the respect of everyone who crossed his path.

"I am deeply saddened by the passing of a great New Mexican and my dear friend, Benny Altamirano. ... Benny will be dearly missed," Richardson said.

Click to read a statement (pdf) released this afternoon by Senate Majority Leader Michael S. Sanchez on behalf of the New Mexico Democratic Senators. An update on funeral arrangements is expected to be available soon at the New Mexico Senate Democrats website.

According to a report by KRQE News:

Senate Majority Whip Mary Jane Garcia of Doña Ana saw him last week when Democrats caucused in advance of the opening of the Legislature on Jan. 15.

"He looked so healthy and so happy looking forward to the holidays," she told KRQE News 13. "We were visiting and chit-chatting.

"Then he was in caucus, and there we were discussing the healthcare initiatives that are going to come before the session. He's always been a kind of peacemaker working with both sides of the aisle."

Senator Altamirano, a prominent Democrat, represented District 28 encompassing most of Catron, Grants and Soccoro Counties since 1971, and was the longest serving member of the New Mexico Legislature. For 17 of those years he held the powerful post of Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Over the years he served on Senate Committees dealing with public school appropriations, capital outlay funding and conservation. For the last three years he was President Pro-Tem, following Democrat Richard Romero in that post.

Governor Richardson will appoint a replacement Senator from among a list of nominees recommended by the county commissions in the three counties represented in District 28.

Altamirano worked in insurance and retail outside the Legislature and unsuccessfully ran for lieutenant governor in 1994. He was one of four Democratic candidates that year in a primary election race won by Patricia Madrid.

Born in Silver City on Oct. 17, 1930, Sen. Altamirano enlisted in the United States Army in 1946 and served with the European occupation forces during World War II. Upon returning to Grant County, he attended Western New Mexico University. He served as a Grant County commisssioner from 1966 to 1970 and a city councilor in Silver City from 1960 to 1970 before he got elected to the Legislature. For 40 years Altamirano also owned several grocery stores.

He is survived by his wife, Nina Melendez; his two sons, Ben Jr. and Paul; and daughter, Yolanda Manzano.

December 28, 2007 at 01:20 PM in Democratic Party, Local Politics, NM Legislature 2007, NM Legislature 2008 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Friday, November 16, 2007

NM Interim Health & Human Services Committee Endorses Health Security Act by 10-1 Vote

From the Health Security for New Mexicans Campaign:
The New Mexico State Legislature's Interim Health & Human Services Committee endorsed the Health Security Act yesteray afternoon by a vote of 10-1, on a motion made by State Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino (D-Albuquerque).

This was the last scheduled meeting of the Interim Committee before the regular legislative session begins in January of 2008.

The Committee did not consider endorsing Governor Bill Richardson's universal health care proposal.

The Health Security Act has also been endorsed by 132 diverse organizations statewide, and by 27 New Mexico municipalities and counties, including Albuquerque and Las Cruces and Bernalillo and Dona Ana counties.

The Health Security Act sets up a health insurance cooperative that guarantees health coverage for most New Mexicans regardless of employment, economic or health status. It guarantees choice of doctor (even across state lines), a comprehensive benefit package, and would be run by an independent, non-governmental, geographically representative Commission.

The role of private insurance companies would be shifted to provide supplementary insurance, just as they did under the original Medicare.

Click to read more about the Health Security Act or Governor Richardson's universal health care proposal.

November 16, 2007 at 06:11 PM in Healthcare, NM Legislature 2007 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Register Now for Sicko-Health Security Act House Party


Jason Call, who's running for Congress as a Dem in NM-01, is organizing a house party in support of the New Mexico Health Security Act on Wednesday, November 14, 2007 at 7:00 PM at his house in Albuquerque's NE Heights. Those gathered will view Michael Moore's movie SiCKO and discuss strategies to get the Health Security Act passed in the State Legislature in the next session. To learn more or RSVP, visit this DFA Link page. For more info on Call's campaign visit his website at Call4Democracy.org

November 6, 2007 at 11:39 AM in DFA, Film, Healthcare, NM Legislature 2007 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Sign the Petition to Support Domestic Parnerships in NM

From Equality New Mexico:
Families formed by same-sex couples have been denied the basic protections all families deserve for far too long. Equality New Mexico is committed to passing the Domestic Partnership Bill early next year.

If the DP bill is to be passed in the 30 day legislative session that starts in January, we must start now lobbying our legislators and growing our network of supporters. Today we ask you to start this process by signing our petition in support of the Domestic Partnership Bill. We'll immediately let your State Senator and State Representative know you signed the petition. After you sign the petition you'll have an opportunity to send it to your friends and family.

We urge you to ask everyone you know throughout the state to sign the petition. Now is the time to strengthen our movement for the struggle ahead. Together we will win!

Alexis Blizman, Executive Director
Equality New Mexico

Editor's Note: You can review the fate of the Domestic Partnership Bill in the January 2007 New Mexico Legislature and the Special Session called immediately afterwards by Gov. Bill Richardson in a previous post. Basically, the bill came within one vote of passage.

October 25, 2007 at 10:47 AM in Civil Liberties, GLBT Rights, NM Legislature 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 22, 2007

Guest Blog: NM Health Security Act & Legislative Health & Human Services Interim Committee

This is a guest blog by Terry Riley, who is an advocate for the Health Security Act for New Mexico:

New Mexico needs health care reform as badly as any other state in the union. We are in a very fortunate position because our legislature has been studying the problem over the last two years at least and there are several proposals being considered. There is only one proposal that is significantly different from the other proposals. I have been attending the Health and Human Services Interim Legislative Committee all around the state this year. There have been some very amazing presentations from experts from outside of New Mexico and from within New Mexico. I have learned a tremendous amount about the problems of health care financing as have our legislators. I believe that they have enough information to make an intelligent decision.

The Health Security Act is offered as a co-op and as such is the closest thing to a single-payer universal coverage plan. All of the other plans being considered protect the position of the private-for-profit insurance companies. The insurance companies provide a service that has nothing to do with your care.  In addition to the cost of processing the claims from health care providers and collecting the premiums from their clients, the health insurance companies have to provide a profit to the investors of their companies.  One company, United Healthcare, paid out a retirement package to their CEO upon retirement of $1.6 BILLION.

I like to consider how many medical procedures could have been paid for out of that obscene payout. I also ask you to consider how much more could the insurance company have paid their base employees if they had not paid this huge retirement?

The most recent sessions were held this month in Espanola on Wednesday and in Santa Fe on Thursday and Friday, Oct 17, 18, and 19. I attended the hearing on Thursday Oct 18th. During the previous meetings around the state I have been impressed with the overall tone of the discussions. Thursday I became terribly disappointed. Chaos prevailed! My best assessment of that session is that nobody wanted to be responsible for the decision. Individual legislators were strong in their support of the Health Security Act or the other plans but the committee wanted nothing to do with the decision. 

At one point the committee chair, Senator Dede Feldman, called for a straw poll by ballot for who supported a single-payer system and who supported an insurance industry system. The results were 8 supported a single-payer system and 6 supported the insurance industry system. Senator Feldman moved quickly on to further discussion. NOTHING was done about the vote that supported a single-payer universal health care system!

Call Senator Feldman and ask her why she did this! She suddenly reminded me of House Speaker Nancy Peloci. I doubt that the committee will be able to propose any legislation other than the Governor's plan. The Governor's plan may be the worst legislation that he will have offered in his whole term as Governor of New Mexico. You can contact Senator Feldman at:

Senator:  Dede Feldman, District: 13
County(s): Bernalillo
Senator Since: 1997
Party: Democrat
Occupation: Public Relations
Address: 1821 Meadowview NW
Albuquerque, NM 87104
Capitol Office Phone: 986-4482
Office Phone:   
Home Phone:  (505) 242-1997
E-mail:  dede.feldman@nmlegis.gov

The New Mexico Legislature almost always has a public input period in committee hearings. I would like to share with you what I had to say. The very last part of my comment had to be trunkated because I ran over the two minutes allowed. I cut it off of the recording because it did not make sense because I did not finish my statement. Download rileyclip.wav

Information regarding the Health Security Act is available from www.whatifyouknew-nm.com and www.nmhealthsecurity.org . You can read the Health Security Act on either web site and you can read the Mathematica Report on the www.whatifyouknew-nm.com web site.

Terry Riley
Advocate for: Health Security Act for New Mexico

Editor's Note: This is a guest blog by Albuquerque activist Terry Riley. Guest blogs provide our readers with an opportunity to express their opinions on relevant issues of the day. They may or may not express our views. 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.

October 22, 2007 at 10:16 AM in Guest Blogger, Healthcare, NM Legislature 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 19, 2007

NM Sen. Feldman Wins Women Legislators' Award

FeldmanFrom NM Senate Democrats:
New Mexico State Senator Dede Feldman (right) joined hundreds of women activists and state legislators from across the country earlier this month in Washington, DC to say: “We can change our national priorities. And women will set the course in a new direction.”

Senator Dede Feldman just returned from a national conference in Washington, DC, where she joined hundreds of women strategizing about how women can help change our national priorities and build a better future. “Women at the Table of Power” brought together luminaries, women state legislators, and women activists – all working to empower women to step up to the tables of power and make our country safer, more democratic, more respected.

Sen. Feldman was one of 22 women legislators honored with the organization’s Pacesetter Award. WiLL Pacesetters are recognized for their noteworthy legislative service, their contributions to sound, progressive policy, and their groundbreaking leadership in the states. Feldman was lauded for her environmental, consumer and health legislation. The Award was presented on October 1, 2007, at a ceremony on Capitol Hill that also honored Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund.

At the conference, women from across the country shared ideas and strategies about how to move forward toward greater peace and security. Among those speaking were Jane Fonda, Marian Wright Edelman (founder and president, Children’s Defense Fund), Ellen Bravo (founder, National 9 to 5), and many more. On October 2, the women headed to Capitol Hill, where they visited Members of Congress and lobbied for better federal budget priorities and a fresh look at our national security.

Activists Mari Santelli, of the Another Side Project, Ruth Koury, of the Pockets of Poverty Alliance, and Jessica Wilbanks, of Women’s Action for New Directions, were part of the New Mexico delegation.

“The staggering amount of money that we are spending for the Iraq war and a continued build up of obsolete weapons has its price back in the states,” says Feldman. “The opportunities that we are sacrificing can be counted in the number of children that will continue to live without health care insurance, and the number of people who cannot afford a decent home.”

So far we’ve spent almost $610 billlion on the Iraq war. The cost to the taxpayers of New Mexico now totals $1.4 billion, according to the National Priorities Project. That’s in addition to the 31 New Mexico soldiers who have paid the ultimate price, and the 245 who have been wounded.

“We need to readjust our priorities to provide real security here,” says Feldman. “$1.4 billion could have covered 136,000 New Mexico kids with health insurance.”

Feldman says she was heartened to join with women legislators from around the country who would like to see a shift of funding from military spending to helath and human services in their own states. “This conference gave me hope that women can help steer our community in a new direction. And we must do this. And it’s not just the Iraq war, which is ruining our world standing and robbing us of our best and brightest young people. Our state, and our country, are seeing dangerous trends. Over the last few years, the current administration has chipped away at things that are vital to our country’s peace and security. Today, we are more isolated in the world; our poorest are more at risk than ever; our economy grows weaker each day. ”

The biennial conference is a project of Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND) and Women Legislators’ Lobby (WiLL)

“Women at the Table of Power” took place September 30 – October 2, 2007 at the Washington Court Hotel on Capitol Hill. More information: www.willconference.org.

Women’s Action for New Directions
WAND empowers women to act politically to reduce violence and militarism, and redirect excessive military resources toward unmet human and environmental needs.

Women Legislators’ Lobby
WiLL is a national non-partisan network of women state legislators who work together to influence federal policy and budget priorities.
The national office is located in Washington, DC.

October 19, 2007 at 12:31 PM in NM Legislature 2007, Women's Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)