January 27, 2017

NM Dems file legislation to blunt Trump’s impact

New York, NY USA - July 16, 2016: Donald Trump speaks during introduction Governor Mike Pence as running for vice president at Hilton hotel Midtown Manhattan

A local legislator’s bill to bar New Mexico law enforcement from imposing federal immigration laws is getting attention as a measure to challenge President Trump’s expected crackdown on illegal immigration.

“Given the repressive potential coming from the Trump administration, I wanted to make sure our immigrant community felt safe and protected,” the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, said in a recent interview.

Hers is just one of several proposals sitting before the New Mexico Legislature directly reflect what’s happening as a result of 2016’s contentious campaign and the election of Donald Trump as president.

State Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, for example, is carrying a bill that would require New Mexico’s electors to cast their votes to reflect the national popular vote. State Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, has a measure to eliminate “faithless” electors, or state electors who cast votes without abiding by their state’s vote totals.

State Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, wants all presidential candidates to submit their tax returns in order to appear on New Mexico’s ballot. And state Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, filed healthcare legislation she described as a response to a potential repeal of the federal Affordable Care Act.

While Stewart’s and McQueen’s bills on electoral reforms contradict each other, both described their measures as responses in part to the 2016 election.

McQueen, for example, noted more electors didn’t abide by their state’s vote totals attempted to defeat Hillary Clinton than Trump. Eight electors defied the Democratic party and refused to vote for Clinton, while two electors in states Trump won wouldn’t cast votes for the Republican.

None of these “faithless electors” in 2016 came from New Mexico, but McQueen called the practice “crazy.”

“If you’re going to have an electoral college, you should at least reflect the popular vote in your state,” McQueen said, noting that Colorado enforces guidelines similar to his bill.

His bill doesn’t address what he called the “dichotomy” between the nationwide popular vote and the electoral college vote.

Trump lost the nationwide popular vote to Clinton by nearly three million people but defeated her in the electoral college by 77 electoral votes. Trump is one of just four presidents in U.S. history to win the electoral college vote while losing the popular vote, and his margin of loss is the largest in history for a president who won the election.

Stewart wants to change this practice.

“Name another country where the person who comes in second wins,” she said. “I can’t think of one.”

Although Stewart referred to Trump’s win as a “catastrophe,” she said the idea for her bill dates back nearly a decade to when she attended a conference for the National Conference of State Legislatures. She originally introduced the same version of her bill in 2009, when it passed the state House of Representatives with some Republican support but died in the state Senate.

Under the plan, New Mexico would join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, which  requires electoral college voters to abide by the national popular vote instead of their state vote total.

Currently, 10 other states and Washington D.C. are a part of this compact, which includes 165 electoral votes.

No state member of the interstate compact can legally enforce the national popular vote until the compact reaches 270 total electoral votes—the threshold required for a presidential candidate to win the electoral college.

All current members are so-called “blue states.” In modern elections, only two presidents—Trump and George W. Bush—lost the popular vote but won the electoral college vote. Both are Republicans.

Stewart argued that joining the compact is the best way to reform the nation’s electoral college system. She added that the electoral college has gone through many reforms before, noting that presidential candidates who came in second place in general elections used to be chosen as vice presidents.

“Rather than a constitutional amendment, I think this is a brilliant way to think about how to use the electors that you have in each state,” she said.

Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration, which would have the final say on approving or rejecting such a measure, has opposed the national popular vote idea in the past.

The U.S. Constitution allows states to regulate elections—a point that Candelaria made repeatedly in an interview about his bill to require presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns to appear on New Mexico’s ballot.

Similar bills have popped up in California, New York, Massachusetts and on the national level.

“It is not setting a new qualification for president,” Candelaria said. “It is simply requiring that a candidate comply with state transparency laws the way that we require every other candidate, for example, to file financial disclosures annually or to file their campaign finance reports.”

As for more policy-oriented legislative responses to Trump like Roybal Caballero’s immigration bill, some lawmakers are preparing for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress have made a priority this year.

Armstrong is proposing a “Health Security Act” to create a comprehensive state health care plan. She described her measure as an attempt to redirect state dollars currently spent on health care into one streamlined system that would cover “as many New Mexicans as possible.”

Her bill calls for an appointed task force to first study all of the state’s current health care costs to see “what we can put together and if we can afford it.”

“To me, this is the response,” Armstrong said of any potential Affordable Care Act repeal. “We don’t know what’s going to happen. That’s why I think the timing of this is so good. By the time we are studying this, we’ll have a better idea of whether they’re going to block-grant Medicaid [or] whether they’re going to repeal everything under there.”

By block grants, Armstrong is referring to an idea touted by U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, to set a limited amount of money for each state to receive from the federal government to use on Medicaid, the federal healthcare program for the poor. Currently, anyone who qualifies for Medicaid in any state is supposed to receive coverage, despite the cost to the federal government.

In New Mexico, Medicaid covers more than 700,000 people, many of whom gained coverage during the program’s expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

A repeal of the Affordable Care Act could mean a repeal of the Medicaid expansion, which Candelaria said “could leave hundreds of thousands of New Mexicans uncovered.” If such an action happens, Candelaria predicted that legislators would have to react much more swiftly than now “because that is hundreds of millions of dollars that will evaporate overnight in this state.”