There is a deep divide between rural and urban New Mexico, and changing the rules of debate will only make it worse.
Anyone who watched the last legislative session would be forgiven for believing there were two different New Mexico's. Laws were passed, money was spent and taxes were raised – all approved by those in the majority party and supported by the special interests, often benefiting those who live in the urban areas of the state.
Meanwhile, many New Mexicans who live outside of Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces watched and wondered how their voices could matter so little. The people in my rural southwest district continue to ask me how Santa Fe could be so tone deaf to their needs.
No doubt, part of this divide is natural. It only makes sense that someone living in Downtown Albuquerque might have a different point of view than someone in Winston, population 61.
Our republic form of government affords us the opportunity for different perspectives to come together and debate what is best for our way of life. That’s why the very suggestion that the majority would consider changing the rules around committee and floor debates, effectively limiting the voice of the minority, would further minimize the voice of rural New Mexico. This would only deepen the divide between those who live in urban and rural communities.
The idea of limiting debate was presented last session. And, recent press reports suggest the majority party is once again hinting that debate on the ideas moving through the Roundhouse should be even more restrictive than it already is.
That means when there is a proposed tax increase, current committee chairs and leadership would hear fewer questions.
A bill to weaken your Second Amendment rights? Fewer questions.
A law to fundamentally change the way every New Mexican gets electricity? Again, fewer questions.
I have served long enough in Santa Fe to know that when proposals are opposed by the public but supported by Santa Fe special interests, or those in the majority, those in charge will work to pass it with as little fuss and public engagement as possible. When the agenda isn’t fair to all concerned, they always want fewer questions.
For the last 45 years, the rule on debate has been the same; each proposed law is allowed three hour’s worth of questions. The majority of the proposals do not reach that time limit because, generally most of the legislative members are in agreement. However, when there are serious concerns and honest questions, legislators should be able to debate the entire three hours and nothing less.
Isn’t it ironic that the majority party wants to pass controversial bills in less time than it takes many rural representatives to drive from their district to Santa Fe?
To be clear, the party in the majority can continue to ignore rural New Mexico if it wishes because it has the votes. I hope members will reconsider. Ruling is easy. Governing is hard.
There is enough divisiveness coming out of Santa Fe without the majority using heavy-handed tactics to silence the voice of rural New Mexicans. Our state is crying out for leadership that values differences. Debate is not about disagreeing; it is about enriching the legislative process through the expression of diverse perspectives. Debate should and does result in better laws that value the liberty, equality, economy and diversity of the New Mexico.
If the majority truly believes in the diversity of our state, then it should embrace diversity of thought as well.