The biggest media stories of the week--the resignation of Sen. Phil Griego and the non-confirmation of Matt Chandler--had little to do with the future well-being of New Mexico. Rejecting Chandler as a regent of the flagship university had less to do with his vision of the future of higher education in New Mexico than it did with his partisan past, the partisan milieu at this point in the session, and resentment about the way the confirmation was handled by the administration. The mild support AG Balderas and attorney (and former candidate for Lt. Governor) Brian Colon offered Chandler (in what appears to be a relatively benign non-partisan move) itself became something of a non-news gossip issue, giving rise to pointless speculation about possible political motives and consequences for such support.
Reasons given by James Koch for resigning from the UNM Board of Regents in protest of what happened to Chandler strain every sliver of credibility: that a hard-bitten and crafty political operative, fully at home in the darkly-lit backrooms of campaign money and deals, and whose exceptionally long tenure at UNM itself was certainly not the product of earnest, wide-eyed innocence during the Richardson and Martinez administrations, would be so shocked, (shocked!) by the presence of politics (politics!) in the selection of a regent that he would have no option but to resign in protest, should earn this whopper first prize for the title of Fib of the Session. Nominations for second prize, anyone?
The Griego demise was painful for Senate members. They forced one of their own to resign. And the emotional drain it produced hung over the hallways this afternoon like the stale, last day of a three-day rainy afternoon. But in the end they did it right: they got him to resign. Yes, there were political and partisan motives for the timing: this has been brewing a long time. But they did the right thing, quietly, without the glare of klieg lights or pious self-congratulation. Does this mean every conflict of interest in the future will be punished? No. Nor are there robust institutional mechanisms in place to deter other types of temptation. But this time they did the right thing.
But what about the larger scheme of things? What legislators and observers of all stripes seem to agree on is that this session doesn't make any difference. Very little on the agenda has anything to do with effective governance. Confirmation of an appointee, the fate of drivers licenses for immigrants, the fate of right-to-work, gimmicks and all--none of it will do a thing to move New Mexico out of the 49th-place stuck-in-the-mud mode we have suffered for many years. The stomach, ambition, for serious change, is absent. As BB King said once, "the thrill is gone." The passion displayed this year is for weakly symbolic issues that taste like warmed-over beans from last week's leftover dinner.
This week is a case in point, and the criticism here is as much for those of us who pretend to cover the news as it is for those with official responsibility: What we know this week is that Sen. Candelaria felt threatened by the administration over Chandler, and he told it to the press. We know that Chandler was treasurer of a PAC that spent money against Rep. Garcia Richards; that some attorneys in Clovis are not fond of Chandler. We know that the support Balderas and Colon offered to him was a "double eyebrow opener," whatever that means. In fact we know more about the possible non-academic motives Balderas and Colon might have for endorsing Chandler, than we do about what record Chandler might have established as a board member or his views about where UNM should aspire to be 20 years from now. And none of us picked up on a remark made by Rules Chair Sen. Linda Lopez, who questioned why our flagship university would not reflect the ethnic diversity of the state in its composition of the 7-person governing Board of Regents. If you need symbolic juice, is that not more important than Chandler's participation in a PAC?
What kind of leadership will we see in the final five days? Where will it come from? It does make a difference. Stay tuned.