January 24, 2018

Martinez says she won’t be part of border wall ‘distraction’ with ‘low-level legislators’

Andy Lyman

Susana Martinez during the 2016 State of the State Address.

Another brick in the wall: Gov. Susana Martinez has clashed with President Donald Trump, but she is not going to stand between her fellow Republican and the “big, beautiful” wall he has promised to build on the border with Mexico.

Several Democrats filed a bill to prohibit selling state land to the federal government for the purpose of constructing a wall along New Mexico’s 180-mile southern border. The state owns property along a 22-mile sliver of that boundary.

But, except for financial matters, it is up to the governor to place bills on the agenda for this year’s 30-day session.

Martinez on Wednesday told El Paso-based KVIA-TV that the Democrats’ bill will not be heard.

“I will not be an impediment, and I will not be part of the distraction with these low-level legislators in this state,” she said.

“The federal government, that is their mission, making sure that America is safe,” Martinez added.

In 2016, The Associated Press reported Martinez raised concerns with fellow Republicans about then-candidate Trump’s calls for building a wall on the border. Martinez said a wall could hurt the U.S. economy and the country’s relationship with its southern neighbor.

But Martinez has struck a more conciliatory tone with Trump over the last year.

How do the bill’s sponsors like being called “low-level?” Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Las Cruces, told KVIA-TV: “I’m sorry the governor feels she has to act like the president in insulting those of us who are trying to do their jobs and represent what the vast majority of New Mexicans believe in.”

Tobacco tax: Democrats on the Senate Education Committee closed ranks Wednesday to advance a bill that would increase New Mexico’s tax on tobacco and electronic cigarettes. The tax revenue would go to public schools.

Senate Bill 25, sponsored by Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, proposes increasing the tax on a pack of cigarettes by $1.50. That would almost double the current tax of $1.66.

Morales told the committee the state would collect an additional $80 million for schools in the next academic year.

Lobbyists for the tobacco industry countered that the bill would cripple cigar stores, create a black market for cigarettes and cause more smokers to shop on tribal lands, where taxes would not be as high.

Republicans on the committee, who voted against the measure, said the bill amounts to a tax that punishes those who choose to smoke.

The bill’s odds are slim. Gov. Martinez has promised to veto tax increases.

Hall of famer: Senators honored one of their own Wednesday, approving a memorial congratulating Sen. Morales for his recent induction into the New Mexico High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame.

Morales was the youngest head coach in New Mexico to win 200 games. He retired from coaching in 2009 with a record of 203-49 at Silver and Cobre high schools.

His 2008 Cobre team won a state championship. Morales also coached state runners-up in 2002, 2007 and 2009.

Only 45 now, Morales received some teasing from Senate colleagues.

“He’s a special guy. But he’s still alive … before we get too carried away,” said Sen. Bill O’Neill, D-Albuquerque, who sponsored the memorial.

Honest trio: Legislators on Wednesday saluted three men from Grant County for discovering and then returning to the University of Arizona an oil painting worth more than $150 million.

The masterpiece was Woman-Ochre by Willem de Kooning. Someone stole the painting in 1985 from the University of Arizona Museum of Art in Tucson.

David Van Auker, Buck Burns and Richard Dean Johnson Jr., owners of Manzanita Ridge Furniture & Antiques in Silver City, acquired the painting last year in an estate sale. They soon recognized that it was a famous artwork and brought it to the university.

“They embody the highest level of integrity,” state senators said in a statement honoring them.

Quote of the day: “I think I’m the only person here who has worked for UNM, NMSU, Public Education [Department], Higher Education [Department] and the Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation and lived to talk about it.” — Legislative analyst Rick Scott, speaking to the Senate Education Committee.