Delay Tactics Sink Voting Bill for This Year
State Senator William Sharer is a marvelous storyteller with the ability to go on at length on a wide variety of subjects.
Last week, he regaled his restless Senate colleagues on the final day of the session, as time ran out on a voting rights bill that had been one of the top priorities for Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham.
Sharer took the floor during the “announcements and miscellaneous,” portion of the session, when lawmakers can talk about whatever they want for as long as they want. He began by thanking legislative staff for their work on a tax bill that had passed unanimously the night before after lengthy debate.
“I’m sure there are people who wanted to beat me with a stick,” Sharer said of the contentious debate prior to the final compromise. “Fortunately, we are still a fairly civilized place and nobody did that.”
That civility remained for the next two hours as Sharer kept talking. His monologue included discussion of military history, baseball, fly fishing, Navajo Code Talkers and whatever else happened to float through his mind at that moment.
It didn’t take long for other senators to recognize what was happening, and that they were powerless to stop it. The only time the minority party has leverage in the Legislature is on the final day of the session, when all actions must stop by noon.
Delay is about the only weapon in the Republicans’ arsenal. Earlier in the session, Minority Leader Greg Baca issued a Call of the Senate, which requires all members to be present, as a means to hold up progress on a different voting rights bill when Senators Gregg Schmedes and Jacob Candelaria were both nowhere to be found in the Roundhouse.
While I support most of the provisions in the voting rights bill, I also believe it was more of a political priority than something desperately needed by New Mexicans. The 2020 election had the largest turnout in recent history, with 928,230 voters - nearly 70 percent of all registered voters - casting ballots. It’s hard to argue there’s a crisis.
Not all was lost this year. Thanks in part to an all-night session at the end, lawmakers were able to get quite a bit done, including the tax bill lauded by Sharer, as well as bills to address the state’s rising crime rate, increase teacher pay and end usurious interest rates on short-term loans. They passed a constitutional amendment that, if approved by voters, would amend the anti-donation clause to allow state funds to be used for “essential household services” such as Internet, energy, water and wastewater.
And, they passed a budget of nearly $8.5 billion, an increase of 14 percent that will provide raises for all state workers, with those at the bottom earning no less than $15 an hour.
Still, it’s a crazy way to operate. Legislators who pulled all-nighters in college during the 1960s are probably not their sharpest at 4 a.m. these days.
On the other hand, a running clock is the only ally of the minority party. And even that is a temporary victory until next year’s session.
At the close of the session, House Speaker Brian Egolf announced that he will not run for re-election in the fall, meaning another shakeup in House leadership. Former Majority Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton was forced to resign last fall after her arrest on 28 criminal counts including fraud, racketeering and money laundering. Caucus Leader Doreen Gallegos of Las Cruces will become the longest serving member in leadership after Egolf’s departure.
Walter Rubel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org