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Free Legislature is no bargain


State Sen. Siah Correa Hemphill, D-Silver City, missed almost as many votes as she cast this past session.

Of the 86 recorded votes on the Senate floor, Hemphill only cast an up or down ballot on 49 of them. She was marked “Excused” on 29 votes and “Absent” on eight votes. And now she has announced that she will not seek re-election in November.

The problem, Correa Hemphill said, is that she simply can’t afford the financial burden of serving in the New Mexico Senate.

“When I first started, I had money in the bank,” Correa Hemphill told the Silver City Daily Press, adding that she also believed she could both serve in the Senate and continue her work as a school psychologist. Four years later, harsh reality has set in.

The $200 daily stipend legislators receive during the session doesn’t cover the costs of living in Santa Fe, more less the loss of employment, Hemphill said. She noted that all lawmakers get the same stipend, whether they live in Santa Fe and go home each night, or in the far corners of the state.

Correa Hemphill was one of five new Democrats elected to the Senate in 2020 after challenging longtime legislators like Mary Kay Papen and John Arthur Smith who were ousted in the primary election after voting against a bill to remove an old abortion law from the books.

Correa Hemphill defeated incumbent Gabriel Ramos in the Democratic primary. Ramos has since switched parties and is running this year as a Republican.

After taking office, Correa Hemphill was named to the prestigious Legislative Finance Committee, which has control over the budget. The appointment immediately provided her with a position of power and influence, something most rural lawmakers take years to acquire. But it also required greater demands on her time when the Legislature wasn’t in session.

The LFC holds interim meetings throughout the year in all areas of the state to better understand the local needs. For a legislator living in Silver City, that can mean 10- to 12-hour drives each way.

“It’s so much work and required so much time away from home, and additional time that I’m not able to do work,” she told the Daily Press. “And ultimately it just wasn’t conducive to the life or the work of a school psychologist.”

I doubt if anything Correa Hemphill did as a senator provided the same personal satisfaction she gets from helping troubled students find a sense of peace and stability. But still, the job’s pretty important.

There are only 112 members of the New Mexico Legislature. Collectively, they are responsible for spending $29.3 billion (this year) in state tax money and writing all the laws that govern how we can live. It’s not something we should try to skimp on.

In a state with so much poverty, it’s not surprising that New Mexicans are bargain hunters. Me too. We are drawn to free stuff more than anywhere I’ve ever lived. And so, many residents believe we’re getting a good deal with our unpaid legislators. Why pay someone to do a job when you can get it for free?

While that may work for haircuts and yard maintenance, we need a professional Legislature. There’s a good reason why no other state does it this way.


Walter Rubel can be reached at waltrubel@gmail.com. Walter Rubel's opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of KRWG Public Media or NMSU.