March 16, 2019

After difficult session, House GOP promises a comeback

With only minutes left on the clock on the last day of the legislative session, Republicans in the state House of Representatives didn’t even get one last chance to raise a ruckus.

All they could do was raise a collective “Nay!” when asked if they approved a House-Senate compromise on a $7 billion state budget for fiscal year 2020.

Outnumbered 46-24 by Democrats, the House Republicans were essentially muted as the session neared its close Saturday. And that’s how it had played out for most of the 60-day session.

House Republicans failed to stop legislation to legalize recreational marijuana and remove a provision in state law that criminalizes abortion, although the bills later died in the Senate. They also failed to block a massive tax package, although it was later trimmed by the Senate. And House Republicans could not stop the passage of two gun control bills that they argued would weaken Second Amendment rights and do little to stop gun violence.

Nevertheless, on the last day of the session, Republicans said they were the ones protecting New Mexico values.

“This session will go down in history as the one in which the Legislature failed to listen to the populace,” said House Minority Leader Jim Townsend, R-Artesia. “This session misses the mark. It does not represent New Mexico … and what it holds dear.”

Less than an hour after the session ended at noon, Democrats joined Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and a horde of supporters on the fourth floor of the Capitol to praise the work of the Democrat-controlled Legislature this year.

Democratic leaders rattled off a string of success stories: more money for public education, tighter gun control laws, a new early childhood education department and a “hooray for Hollywood” deal to strengthen the film industry.

The room was packed and the mood was jubilant.

Meanwhile, Townsend was joined by some 16 or 17 House Republicans for a more subdued gathering in a dimly lit third-floor meeting room.

The Republicans blasted the Democratic leadership in the Legislature for not supporting bills to get tough on crime, for increasing funding for the rebate paid to production companies that film in the state and for working to repeal the law criminalizing abortion.

Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences, did offer measured praise for the additional money — $450 million — that lawmakers approved for public education. Still, she said it may be an “overreach,” particularly if the state’s booming oil business goes bust again.

Townsend and House Minority Whip Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, said they were not defeated. They said they will return to their communities and rally the troops.

And when the state holds its next general election, in November 2020, they think the “progressive” measures taken by the governor and Democratic legislators will work to the advantage of Republicans.

“I am convinced you will see the people rise up like never before,” Townsend said.

According to the Secretary of State’s Office, New Mexico has about 581,000 registered Democrats and 386,000 registered Republicans.

But Townsend and Montoya said they are convinced this is not a matter of Republican versus Democrat, red versus blue. Though Republicans often couched the conflict as urban versus rural during the session, Townsend changed that tune Saturday.

“This was Santa Fe versus the rest of New Mexico,” he said.

And the rest of New Mexico is going to help Republicans retake a lot of seats in the House, he said.

“In two years … we plan to change the numbers,” Townsend said.