From the Roundhouse: “Big Tent” BattleJanuary 23rd, 2014 at 7:17 pm by Alex Goldsmith under N.M. Politics
The ongoing intra-party squabble that flared up for Democrats days before the session took another twist on Thursday.
Towards the tail end of the floor session, Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, gave a fiery speech attacking Democratic Party chair Sam Bregman (although not by name) and backing fellow Senator John Arthur Smith, D-Deming (although also not by name).
The fight all started exactly a week ago. Bregman fired off at Smith on a constitutional amendment many Democrats have backed that would spend some of the state’s long-term savings on early childhood education. Last year, Smith, head of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, didn’t allow the proposal to come up for a vote in his committee.
At a press conference Bregman said that if Smith didn’t allow the bill up for a vote this time around, Smith should strongly consider switching parties and becoming a Republican.
So a week later, Sanchez joined the fight. Although many observers would say Sanchez is more closely aligned on the political spectrum with Bregman than he is Smith, Sanchez firmly sided with his Senate colleague.
“[Bregman] insinuated that Senator wasn’t a true Democrat, insinuated that maybe he ought to switch parties, insinuated or maybe even threatened that they were going to have a primary challenge,” Sanchez said at the start of his speech. “The Democratic Party has always been a big tent. We accept everyone in the Democratic Party.”
Sanchez effectively said Bregman’s criticism was aimed at shrinking that “big tent”, not growing it.
“For some member of our party to try to embarrass a member of the New Mexico Senate is just not right, it’s just not good,” Sanchez continued. “No one in our party, either that side or this side of the aisle should tell us what we have to do.”
“I’m embarrassed that it happened and on behalf of most of the Democrats if not all of the Democrats I want to apologize for those remarks to the Senator they were made to. It was wrong and it should never have happened.”
Sanchez then acknowledged he frequently disagreed with Smith but endorsed him as “one of the strongest Democrats I know”.
Sanchez didn’t just call out Bregman. He then appeared to call out blogger Joe Monahan for his criticism, telling him if he didn’t like things he should run for office and join them.
As New Mexico Telegram blogger Matthew Reichbach reported, Sanchez backing Smith was not surprising in context.
Last year, when Sanchez felt Senate bills were being snubbed by the House he went off on House Majority Whip Moe Maestas, D-Albuquerque, in a committee room.
Bregman isn’t backing down, telling me over the phone that he respects Sen. Sanchez but stands by what he said about Sen. Smith when it comes to holding a vote on the early childhood amendment.
It’s unclear what twist the battle will take next. I have a feeling the next blowup on this issue could come when/if the early childhood amendment, somewhat ironically sponsored by Sen. Sanchez, makes it to Smith’s Senate Finance Committee. We’ll be watching.
INTERESTING BILL OF THE DAY
Constitutional amendments are drawing a lot of attention this session. Although most of them have been introduced in the House or by Democrats, a big favorite of socially conservative Republicans is SJR 6.
That constitutional amendment, introduced by Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, and co-sponsored by Rep. Nora Espinoza, R-Roswell, is a direct response to the New Mexico Supreme Court’s decision last month to declare same sex marriage legal in the state. SJR 6 would add just one line to the New Mexico Constitution: “Marriage, which is a right, in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman.”
Although a proposal aimed at legalizing same sex marriage last session died in committee with the support of two more socially conservative Democrats, that’s definitely not a sure-fire sign SJR 6 has a clear path through the legislature. That’s because some Republicans, most publicly Rep. James Smith, R-Sandia Park, have come out saying they’re satisfied with the Supreme Court decision.
Still, SJR 6 should be an interesting watch the rest of this short session.