A real disservice to New Mexicans

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Heath Haussamen

A change in House leadership was needed earlier this year, but most Democrats and Republicans instead opted for the status quo. While they’re busy playing games, who is doing the business of the people they were elected to represent?

When Republicans opted against supporting Rep. Joseph Cervantes’ attempt to overthrow House Speaker Ben Luján earlier this year, they made a political decision that they would have a better chance of taking control of the House in 2012 if the controversial Luján was speaker.

Now they’re upset that Luján broke House rules on Wednesday to stop their attempt to revive a bill that would make it illegal for undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.

What did they expect? Luján has a history of bending and breaking House rules, of twisting arms, and of not treating people fairly. He acts that way in full view of the public without concern for who’s watching. In fact, Wednesday night he broke the rules even though the governor’s office was recording him.

Luján plays dirty if that’s what it takes to win. He often displays a lack of respect for the process, and for his colleagues. This is apparent to anyone who’s paying close attention.

Bending and breaking rules

The speaker says he didn’t break the rules on Wednesday, but the governor’s video reveals that he bent and broke rules. Here’s how it played out:

Rep. Andy Nuñez had the floor, having made a motion to blast his bill out of committee and bring it to the House floor for consideration. Instead of having the members decide what to do with the bill, Luján unilaterally decided to delay the vote until today. What gives him the right?

The speaker uses a rule that says he is in charge of keeping order to say he can refuse or delay motions he doesn’t like. That’s an extremely (almost ridiculously) broad interpretation of a rule that doesn’t actually say that, but the speaker has done it before.

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On Wednesday, after the speaker said he would delay Nuñez’s motion, Majority Leader Ken Martinez made a motion to adjourn and Luján entertained it. Republicans demanded a roll call vote, and Luján ignored them, though rules require a roll call vote when it’s requested.

Then the most blatant act by the speaker: Though it was difficult to tell whether the “ayes” or “nays” won the vote, the speaker declared the “ayes” the winners and walked out of the chamber, ignoring an appeal of his ruling that House rules require him to recognize.

The rule (21-3 in this document) is this: “When the vote taken on any question by voice is uncertain, any member may demand a roll call.”

The vote was uncertain. The roll call was demanded. You can hear it on the governor’s video. And Luján ignored it.

Without question, the speaker broke the rule by walking off the House floor and ignoring the appeal of his ruling.

Getting away with it

Then Luján sent out a news release claiming that he complied with House rules. He isn’t telling the truth, but here’s what he said:

“According to House Rules, a motion to adjourn takes precedence over all other motions, including the one made by Rep. Nuñez. After a voice vote on the motion to adjourn was taken, it was clear that the vote was in favor of adjournment.”

To top it off, Capitol Report New Mexico quoted Luján’s chief of staff as saying the speaker had already recognized Martinez, which is why he didn’t accept Nuñez’s motion. Again, the video proves that’s false. (This is why some lawmakers don’t want to archive webcasts of their meetings.)

In short, Luján openly disregarded the rules, as he’s done many times in the past. It’s as if he doesn’t care, because he can get away with it.

Why shouldn’t he believe he can get away with it? He always has.

Who is doing the people’s business?

Sadly, many House Democrats voted with the speaker to adjourn on Wednesday and supported his unfair treatment of the other side, just like they voted to keep Luján in the leadership position last year. It’s shameful, really, that they won’t stand up to the speaker and show respect for House rules and their colleagues.

It’s also shameful that Republicans put politics over fostering an atmosphere of respect and adherence to the rules – an atmosphere in which people might be treated fairly and bills would have a greater chance of being debated on their merits instead of having their fates decided by politics. I wonder if the governor’s office had any role in this decision by the House GOP.

Regardless of who could have replaced Luján as speaker (Cervantes, Martinez, Minority Leader Tom Taylor, someone else), a change was needed.

Those who tried to make a change before this session started were a bipartisan group that included Cervantes, Nuñez, Taylor, Mary Helen Garcia, Dona Irwin, Dennis Kintigh and Don Bratton. Sadly, the majorities in both caucuses opted for the status quo – keeping a man in charge who breaks rules, divides people and leads through intimidation.

That was a real disservice to the people of New Mexico on the part of the majority of Democrats and Republicans in the House. While they’re busy playing games, who is doing the business of the people they were elected to represent?

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11 thoughts on “A real disservice to New Mexicans

  1. First of all, Democrats are equally outraged by Lujan’s actions and they only have themselves to blame. The Democrats had two opportunities to overthrow Lujan, first by nominating Cervantes and second by voting for a Republican, they did neither. Why are the Republicans held to a higher standard and expected to scrounge for the left’s scraps. As for Cervantes, what promises did he make that offered any change? The only promises he made were in private conversations to people individually, no public promises or written promises. As we saw last week Cervantes does not keep his word, he mentioned on newsnm last week that the bill allowing illegals to obtain drivers licenses needed to be repealed yet he voted against it in the “blast off”. Thinking that Cervantes would have been a better change is nothing but faith based politics since he provided no promise for change.

  2. I predict that the Tea Party disavowal of Cervantes would come back to bite Martinez. If the TP folks think Lujan is the Pelosi of New Mexican, I think they’re smoking something. Despite being House, I’m betting he’s virtually unknown outside Santa Fe County and most people don’t care about him.

  3. Great article Heath,

    I’m slowing witnessing individuals that are no longer afraid of challenging Speaker Lujan. He has ruled as a tyrant. Tyrants rule by fear, this is how they achieve their power. The ice has been broken. People need not fear him, as this will diminish his power. Look at what happened to the leaders in Northern Africa and the Middle East.

    The shame is in our current Legislature as you addressed in this article. We will see more new faces in 2012 as the people are getting tired of these self-serving incumbents that occupy the House.

  4. Well, Mr. Foley, if you had paid any attention for the past two days, you would see that I actually agree with everything else that was said. Your short attention span is hardly my problem.

  5. IcarusPhoenix clearly you have no desire to address anything else that was mentioned in my post? That truly explains a lot about you and your “courage”!

    It was his ammendment that started this entire process, he tried to fix it from what I have heard.

  6. Well, I for one do think that change was needed and I am delighted that Ben Lujan is House Speaker for this state. In general, this state was headed in the right direction before Martinez was elected.

  7. Mr. Foley:

    Why exactly do you keep praising Senator Adair? He abstained from the vote you’re talking about, which strikes me as even less courageous than the thirty-five Senators who voted in lockstep for the measure, never mind the three who had the fortitude to vote against it. As long as you’re going to lump Senator Adair’s lack-of-backbone in with Senators Wirth, Boitano, and Rue’s courage, why not include the other abstaining senator, Stephen Fischmann? Is it perhaps because he puts a “D” after his name and is thus in your partisan blind-spot?

  8. Heath great article, one I have been waiting to read from any reporter since Lujan started showing his real desire to rule with an iron fist. I to am shocked at the lost opportunity to make a change at the top but I am even more saddened by the apparent lack of respect for the process and the institution shown by those that allow this to continue. Invoking the “Nuremberg Defense’ is not acceptable and the citizens of this state should hold each and everyone of these members accoutnable for their actions.

    I must say I am also a little upset that those who wanted change didn’t push for it on openning day. Rep. Cervantes should have had his name placed in nomination and forced the hand of those that didn’t want change. Rep. Tom Taylor should have taken the leadership position in his caucus that he did not want to be nominated if it meant keeping Ben Lujan, none of that happend and we are were we are!

    To quote Thomas Jefferson:
    “In matters of style, swim with the current; In matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

    In the end Heath the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result! It sounds to me like there are a few insane individuals in the NM House.

    Hopefully allowing these things to be filmed and reported will hold everyone accountable, including the media that has been complacent for way to long.

    In closing Kudos to Senators Peter Wirth, Rod Adair, Sander Rue and Mark Boitano for fighting to allow access to the process. Maybe some of that leadership can make its way over to the House. Better yet maybe some of that leadership will rise to “leadership” positions in the NM Senate?

  9. Heath,

    You nailed it! Thanks for not pulling punches. Shamefull and disgracefull… all of it. I’m embarrased for our state and its policians (D’s and R’s), and sorry for our citizens (who apparently are rarely capable of exercise discretion and judgment, or holding anyone acocuntable at the polls).

  10. Until elected leaders at the state and national level return to being statesmen (and women), instead of self-serving narcissists, we will never have the people’s business conducted.

    In 2008, Rowland Nethaway wrote an appropriate piece in the Dispatch Politics blog page, entitled, “Washington was right: parties are bad news”, citing Washington as saying, “. . . political parties are organizations that exist to obtain political power. That’s the goal: political power in government. Ideas, ideals, promises and principles will be sacrificed if they interfere with expedient party politics.”

    Seems our elected leaders haven’t learned anything in over 200 years except what’s good for themselves and their party, and the people be damned.

    http://www.dispatchpolitics.com/live/content/editorials/stories/2008/05/20/neth20.ART_ART_05-20-08_A9_0RA8EC9.html?sid=101