March 16, 2017

After Senate override effort, veto unchallenged in House

The seal of the state of New Mexico in the House

The state Senate’s extraordinary effort to override a veto by Gov. Susana Martinez has landed with a thud in the House of Representatives.

Two days after senators voted overwhelmingly to save a bill that would have allowed teachers to use more sick days without being penalized in their performance evaluation, no one has stepped forward in the House to call for a similar override vote.

Note: This piece has been updated throughout.

Majority Democrats are looking to Republicans who co-sponsored the bill to push for the override in the House.

Related: Senate votes to override Martinez veto on teacher absences bill

A two-thirds majority of both the Senate and House is needed to override a veto. Democrats hold a 38-32 majority in the House, but they would need several Republicans to join them. Only three GOP lawmakers voted against the bill, but House Republicans typically are loyal to fellow Republican Martinez and reluctant to challenge her publicly.

House Republicans also are uneasy about fighting the governor head-on as time runs out to negotiate a deal on the state’s budget.

“The main thing right now is to pass a budget,” said Rep. Dennis Roch, a Republican from Logan and a co-sponsor of House Bill 241, the measure that Martinez vetoed last week.

Roch said he still believes in the purpose of the legislation — to protect teachers from being downgraded if they fall ill — but he is concerned that seeking an override could doom the budget.

Many lawmakers viewed the governor’s decision Wednesday to veto six uncontroversial bills, most of them by senators, as a rebuke for the Senate’s 34-7 override vote. At the very least, it was another jab in an ongoing struggle between Martinez and the Senate that has overshadowed even basic governance, such as balancing the state’s books.

In a statement Thursday, a spokesman for Martinez said the governor merely had vetoed bills that weren’t needed.

“That’s disappointing and that failure of the Senate to live up to its constitutional duties including passing a balanced budget has led to many vetoes of unnecessary bills,” said Michael Lonergan in an email.

Sen. Michael Padilla, the Democratic whip from Albuquerque, said Martinez vetoed job-creating bills in a week when New Mexico’s unemployment rate fell to worst in the nation. One was Padilla’s initiative to improve internet service to make the state more attractive to businesses.

Related: A look at Gov. Martinez’s vetoes

Backers of the bill to allow more sick leave for teachers without them incurring a penalty said the governor’s attacks are no reason to shrink from the fight.

“I can’t see what can upset budget negotiations more than the governor expressing her personal anger by vetoing so many bills,” said Charles Goodmacher, a spokesman for the National Education Association New Mexico. “We would like to see the veto override vote called, especially because every Republican but three in the House voted for the bill. If they vote against [an override], they are clearly putting politics first.”

The override demonstrated the differences between the House and a Senate that prides itself on independence.

Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, who led the override vote against the governor, said he exercised his constitutional authority as a lawmaker.

“I’m elected to represent my constituents,” said Brandt, who went ahead with the override even after others in power tried to dissuade him. Brandt has declined to say who asked him not to pursue the override.

Contact Andrew Oxford at 986-3093 or Follow him on Twitter at @andrewboxford.