November 20, 2016

Outgoing senate majority leader reflects on career

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Matthew Reichbach

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez speaking to reporters after the legislative session.

If he had to do it all over again, Michael Sanchez says he wouldn’t do anything differently.

The outgoing state Senate Majority Leader will no longer be a member of the New Mexico Legislature for the first time since 1993, after losing in a bruising campaign that saw outside groups spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to defeat him.

Newcomer Greg Baca, a Republican, will take over Sanchez’s seat in January.

In an interview with NM Political Report last week, Sanchez looked back at his successes and other proud moments in the Senate. One of his chief legislative legacies is the lottery scholarship for college students, which he helped shepherd through the Legislature in the mid-1990s.

“When I was growing up and when I was graduating from high school, a lot of my classmates who graduated with me weren’t going on to college because their parents couldn’t afford to send them to school,” the Belen Democrat said. “I was one of those lucky ones whose parents were able to pay their way through college and a lot of people a lot smarter than me with probably a lot more potential than I ever had were stuck doing other things.”

He also mentioned Jonathan’s Bill, named after Jonathan Madrid, which led to a requirement that high school students receive CPR training. That bill came after Madrid fell off his bicycle and struck his head. None of the 18-year-old high school graduate’s friends who were with him when he crashed on his bike knew how to perform CPR and he died.

“Getting that bill through and getting the governor to sign it, it was terrific to know that these young people now are going to have the ability to know CPR and to maybe save someone’s life along the way, whether it’s while they’re in high school or right after,” Sanchez said.

He cited other bills as successes, including one aimed at fathers who didn’t pay child support and one requiring cameras in nursing homes if the family requests it.

Comradery

Another success, Sanchez felt, was instilling a sense of comradery in the Senate for both Democrats and Republicans. He said his early years in the Senate, where he said that wasn’t true, as one reason why.

“I used to sit in the back row, I used to watch and all the acrimony and the hatefulness that was in the Senate between the majority and the minority, and it was not good,” Sanchez said. “It wasn’t doing any good for the people of the state of New Mexico and it didn’t seem to help get any good policies passed. And it made the Senate look pretty awful, to be honest with you.”

He credited Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle and others in the minority for helping bring the two parties together to work to pass legislation, even when there were philosophical differences.

“I chose to say that we can talk about those issues respectfully and be respectful to one another and at the end of the day, however the vote turns out, you’ve got to respect the other side’s opinions and be friends at the end of the day,” he said. “I’m not saying you’re best friends and you’re doing all these things together, but you respect each other, you shake each other’s hands, you understand where the differences are and you agree to disagree respectfully.”

Libel lawsuit

A brutal campaign ousted Sanchez, and was not fully in his rearview mirror. He again brought up a “possible remedy” for what he called “lies” for which a Super PAC, Advance New Mexico Now, was not held accountable.

During the campaign, the PAC sent out mailers accusing Sanchez of spending tax dollars to travel to Hawaii—a state Sanchez said he’s never been to—and treating a widow of a police officer whom Sanchez said he never met rudely.

Sanchez has publicly floated the idea of suing the PAC for libel.

“People can have different opinions of me and what I did and opinions are opinions. But when you purposely, willfully and maliciously lie about something and you’re not held accountable for it, something’s wrong with the system,” he said.

He acknowledged that the courts enforce a particularly high bar for public figures such as himself to win a libel lawsuit.

“Very few people have been successful—but a few have,” he said. “I think the public has a right to know why they lied.”

What’s next

Despite his affection for the Senate, don’t expect to see Sanchez roaming the halls of the Roundhouse next year as a lobbyist as so many of his former colleagues, including his brother Raymond Sanchez, have after leaving (either voluntarily or after losing elections) the Legislature.

“I’ve already told a number of different people, you will not see me back in Santa Fe as a lobbyist,” Sanchez said. “There are no ifs ands or buts about that, I may go back for the basketball game, but that’s about the only time people may see me.”

Instead, he will continue practicing law.

“I’m an attorney,” Sanchez said. “I love practicing law, I’m going to get back to doing that full-time.”

Sanchez, a fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers, said he might go to Spring Training this year to watch the team play, and perhaps even travel to Tokyo in 2018 for the Olympics.

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