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.
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?