Legislative session ends on collegial notes
Mar. 18—In the end, as Dean Martin liked to sing, everybody loves somebody — at least, sometime.
That was true in the waning minutes of this year's legislative session as lawmakers from opposing parties and with markedly different views of political philosophy bid goodbye to one another with hugs, handshakes and fare-thee-wells.
Absent was any sense of partisan conflict as legislators, weary after 60 days of debates, decisions and defeats — as well as victories, of course — bid adieu to it all for another year at noon Saturday.
In the House of Representatives, there was a more collegial feeling of mutual respect, even if the two parties' respective legislative goals were often at odds.
After debating and voting on a broad omnibus tax package that had curved its way through the last week of the session like a hard-to-catch serpent, members of the House took on about six Senate bills, approving them rapidly in the last hours of the floor session.
The House benefited from an influx of new vitality courtesy of over 15 new members in both major political parties as well as the energy of two new floor leaders — House Speaker Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, and House Minority Leader Ryan Lane, R-Aztec.
The two set a tone of mutual respect that enveloped the entire body for most of the session. Debates on potentially divisive issues as the budget, abortion, gun control and crime-prevention initiatives did heat up, but not to the fiery heights of past House floor interactions between the two parties.
House lawmakers from both camps praised Martínez for his calm, professional demeanor as the clock ticked away.
"We have not always agreed but because of leadership we remained agreeable. ... We treated each other with respect," said Rep. Alan Martinez, R-Bernalillo, to the assembly.
When Rep. Reena Szczepanski, D-Santa Fe, expressed gratitude to Javier Martínez and said, "Thank you for a wonderful year," the assembly rose as one and applauded.
Both Martínez and Lane briefly broke into tears as they tried to describe how the session had impacted them and how the people around them, including family members, had helped them through it.
"I think the change of culture that has happened in this body starts at the top," Lane said.
Things were not always so calm on the Senate side.
Senators hurriedly passed a series of bills in the final hours of the session, including a measure to make the smell of roasting green chile the official aroma of New Mexico.
Senate Bill 188, which had already passed the chamber, required a concurrence vote to approve a House amendment striking "in the fall" from the language.
Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, called SB 188 the "stinkiest bill" of the session.
"I really do think that this bill gets the stinky award this year because it really has been a waste of time," he said. "It really sends a message to the people of New Mexico that we're not that serious up here."
Moores said he received questions from constituents asking why lawmakers were debating such a trivial bill when other pressing matters were at hand, including addressing issues with the state's medical malpractice law, which doctors in independent clinics said had left them unable to obtain insurance.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she plans to sign SB 188 into law.
"I know that some folks around the world might not see the relevance of touting what you're really proud of," she said. "It is a huge economic driver in the state. It is what we're known for."
While senators pushed a number of bills through before adjournment, they also took time to introduce family members and revel in the final hours.
Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, who closed last year's Senate floor session with a filibuster on a voting rights bill that was revamped and passed this year, treated lawmakers to a poem.
"Into the wee hours we fuddle and spuddle," he said. "On med mal and medical leave, both sides huddled. Our differences are clear; they're not so subtle. Can we just go to the popcorn patch and have a group huddle?"
As with every session, there was bound to be upset, conflict and a touch of scandal mixed into the legislative bag. Martínez's removal of Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup, as chairwoman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee on the first day of the session sent shock waves through the Capitol.
Lundstrom was long seen as the financial guru of the House as she presided for years over the committee and the shaping of the state budget.
But the angst over Martínez's decision soon subsided, and Lundstrom, after an initial expression of anger, continued to voice her concerns and provide input in committee and floor debates on varying pieces of legislation.
Meanwhile, a rising star in the Senate got caught up in a scandal when his wife told sheriff's deputies she caught him frolicking with another woman in Santa Fe. If the allegations and Santa Fe County Sheriff's report briefly shook the ground under Sen. Cliff Pirtle's feet, the Roswell Republican regained his stride and showed up at subsequent floor sessions and hearings to play his role in the proceedings.
The governor had her share of trouble too — and not just in terms of pushing for legislation that did not win approval with lawmakers and thus died along the legislative vine.
Lujan Grisham lost three Cabinet secretaries at the start of the session: Dr. David Scrase as Department of Human Services secretary, John A. Garcia as secretary of the General Services Department and Kurt Steinhaus as secretary of the Public Education Department, which is on its fourth Cabinet secretary under the governor's administration.
The appointment of James Mountain as secretary of the Indian Affairs Department stirred controversy over a 15-year-old rape charge against the former governor of San Ildefonso Pueblo, and the reappointment of Cultural Affairs Secretary Debra Garcia y Griego triggered pushback amid high-level turnover in the agency. Neither went before the Senate Rules Committee for confirmation.
In the end, it was a simple line uttered by Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, R-Roswell, that said it all.
Speaking of the hard work lawmakers did, she said of the results, "Not all of it was good, not all of it was bad, OK?"
Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.