Widely criticized last Spring by the likes of Heath Haussamen (click here for story), Democracy for America (click here), and the New Mexico Independent (click here), for bottling up ethics reform last Spring in the Rules Committee she chairs in the NM Senate, Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, defended her actions today at a forum in Mesquite. As she explained it, the bill creating an ethics commission was flawed inasmuch as it applied only to legislators (not to other public officials) and it allowed the governor to appoint most members of the commission, which made it anything but independent. She also explained she had offered a bill extending the scope of the proposed ethics committee to other elected officials, but could find no support for it. She voted for a bill requiring contractors for projects over $50,000 to reveal campaign contributions, and supported the move to open up conference committees to the news media. She indicated she had voted to delay implementation of the bill to limit campaign contributions for statewide officers "to level the playing field" among Democratic gubernatorial candidates inasmuch as it would have been implemented this year, making it difficult for anyone to compete against Diane Denish, who had already acquired a hefty war chest.
Sen. Lopez, a candidate for Lt. Governor, was in Mesquite speaking at the Mesquite Volunteer Fire Station to a town hall-style meeting for group of community leaders from the surrounding area, including two persons from Sunland Park. The meeting was facilitated by Arturo Uribe, of the Mesquite Community Action Committee.
The exchange was lively and, at times, intense. Martin Lopez, manager of the Mesquite Mutual Domestic Water system, complained he sees millions of dollars going to much smaller water districts in Northern New Mexico, and "maybe a couple of hundred thousand dollars coming down our way." This sentiment was echoed by Robert Nieto, President of the Lower Rio Grande Mutual Water Users Association. Alfred Nevarez, the Mesquite Fire Chief, complained his department was unable to answer every call, since it was becoming increasingly difficult to recruit and retain volunteers, a problem that has become more serious in recent years.
At another point, Sen. Lopez defended her vote in favor of the SunCal tax incremental development district (TIDDS) this Spring, a $400 million bill to help SunCal in the South Valley. Asked whether she had received campaign contributions, Ms. Lopez replied without hesitation that she had received $7000 from SunCal for her campaign for Lt. Governor.
She also defended her support for Sen. Tim Jennings for President Pro Tem of the Senate, who was elected with Republican votes and eight Democratic votes, including Sen. Mary Kay Papen, Sen. Howie Morales, from Grant County, and Sen. John Arthur Smith, from Deming. This conservative faction, which preserves a good amount of power in the hands of Southern senators, has remained relatively independent of the governor's control, even when his popularity was high, and Sen. Lopez indicated she will remain independent in her politics in the future.
Uribe indicated this was the first of various visits he will sponsor to the South Mesilla Valley by candidates for statewide office.