Thursday, April 13, 2017

Breaking News:  Legislative Council Sends Ten Vetoed Bills to the Supreme Court

The Legislative Council, a bipartisan body of 18 leaders of both chambers, voted today to send ten bills vetoed by the governor to the Supreme Court.  Unlike the federal government, the legislature under certain circumstances may ask the Supreme Court to rule expeditiously on important issues, so the request has constitutional standing.  No formal vote was taken to over-ride any of the governor's vetoes, probably because there are not enough votes to do so.  But enough Republicans joined with Democrats to challenge the governor's vetoes in court.

Right now the political winds appear to be favorable to Democrats in the legislature.  The governor's veto of the entire higher education budget has been ridiculed, particularly her own admission that she did so because the senate refused to confirm two recent appointments to the board of regents at UNM.  The veto has been overwhelmingly interpreted as petty, petulant, and vindictive.  Two excellent regents, both appointed by the Governor (Jack Fortner was appointed by Governors Johnson, Richardson, and Martinez; Brad Hosmer, a retired three-star general and Rhodes scholar who served a stint as Commandant of the Air Force Academy was appointed by Martinez in 2011 for a six-year term) are able and willing to continue acting as regents until new regents have been confirmed, so there was little urgency in getting the new regents approved.  The Santa Fe New Mexican called the veto a "hissy-fit," and various media outlets have pointedly run stories that the governor's approval rating is among the lowest of all governors in the U.S. today.  So the higher ed veto has apparently backfired, and has drowned out most everything else she might credibly say about her other vetoes.

In addition to the negative reactions to the higher education and other vetoes, the governor is now in her seventh year as governor and, as such, is relatively powerless to exert much discipline on legislators who refuse to support her.  It is no longer dangerous even for a Republican legislator to vote against the governor and, as her poll numbers slip, it might even be a positive thing to point to votes against her that "stand up" to her demands.  Some legislators, however, will remain tied to her legislative apron strings despite personal misgivings, afraid they will be "primaried" by Jay McClesky, who has shown a talent for raising money to run candidates to oppose her.  On the other hand, Democrats may call out legislators who are too chicken to stand up to an unpopular governor, so there are tangible dangers even in supporting her.  But for all practical purposes, it appears the governorship of Susana Martinez is over as a major factor in determining what happens in New Mexico during the next eighteen months.

The New Mexico Supreme Court, of course, will pay absolutely no attention to the politics of the moment and will rule strictly in adherence to the strictest letters of the laws of this enchanted land, on behalf only of the best interests of the people of the state of New Mexico.  But it will surprise no one if they rule pretty much in favor of ruling against the governor on most issues.

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