February 26, 2023

Senate passes green chile aroma bill after debating smells

By Daniel J. Chacón, The Santa Fe New Mexican

A good-natured debate took place Saturday on the Senate floor and on Twitter over a proposal to make the smell of roasting green chile the official aroma of New Mexico.

Senate Bill 188, which is heading to the House after winning approval in the Senate, has captured national attention, including on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, whose host recently joked he thought New Mexico’s official aroma “was an abandoned RV that a bobcat is living in.”

Before the bill passed the Senate 31-4, Sen. Cliff Pirtle, a Roswell Republican, introduced an amendment to replace the smell of roasting green chile with “dairy air.”

Pirtle, a dairy farmer, called it one of his favorite smells.

“Chaves County is the dairy capital of the Southwest, and I would definitely not miss the opportunity to really support my district and push something forward that I think is important to my constituents,” he said.

Sen. Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces, consulted with his “expert witnesses” — three students from Monte Vista Elementary School in Las Cruces — and deemed the amendment unfriendly.

“We question whether derriere is the French version or the cattle version,” said Soules, a former public school teacher and elementary principal who partnered with the Las Cruces school to develop SB 188 as part of a civics lesson.

Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, questioned whether Pirtle’s amendment would require other changes to the list of New Mexico’s official symbols.

“If we do change this to Chaves County’s air, dairy air, do we have to change the state bird from the roadrunner to the fly since those are pretty common in your county also?” he asked.

Sen. Joshua Sanchez, R-Bosque, asked Pirtle whether he “brought any of the aroma” he was proposing for senators to sample.

“I have a pair of rubber boots hanging on the back of my truck if you want to take any samples,” Pirtle responded. “There’s plenty of samples there if you’re unaware of what dairy air smells like. There’s an abundance on those rubber boots and, in fact, on most days … I’m really tempted to wear those rubber boots in this building.”

Sen. Greg Baca, R-Belen, used Pirtle’s amendment to take a dig at New Mexico’s neighbor.

“Could it be that his part of the state is located a little too near Texas and that, in fact, is what he’s smelling?” he asked.

Pirtle acknowledged that Chaves County, a more conservative part of the state, is close to Texas.

“There’s a few counties [in New Mexico] that wouldn’t mind joining Texas,” he said.

Sen. David Gallegos, R-Eunice, offered a compromise — the green chile ice cream at La Lecheria in Santa Fe.

“It takes the best parts of the cow and the best parts of the chile,” he said.

When it came time for a vote on his amendment, Pirtle urged his colleagues to reject it, saying it was obviously a joke but that he wanted to bring attention to the dairy industry.

“We’re seeing a huge decline in dairies, especially in my neck of the woods, and a lot of it is due to things that we put in place here,” he said. “Unfortunately, it might be an aroma that we won’t have the pleasure of smelling anymore in my district.”

Pirtle’s amendment went up in smoke.

Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, who represents Hatch — considered by some the chile capital of the world — thanked Soules for sponsoring the bill.

“It’s already getting us national, international publicity,” he said. “Our chile aroma is magical and mythical and special and spiritual and any other adjective you can possibly think of.”

Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, didn’t propose an amendment but suggested another official aroma for a state that legalized recreational marijuana in 2021.

“Lately, about the only thing I smell is the aroma of pot, so maybe we should have made marijuana the official aroma of the state of New Mexico,” he said.

If the bill becomes law, the iconic smell will join other state symbols such as the native New Mexican cutthroat trout, New Mexico’s official fish, and the biscochito, the official cookie. It wouldn’t be the first chile-related state symbol — the chile itself is already the official state vegetable, and “red or green” is the official state question, with the official state answer being “red and green or Christmas.” Another bill working its way through the Roundhouse this year would make the song “Red or Green?” by Lenny Roybal New Mexico’s “official state chile song.”

The original bill called for making the smell of roasting green chile “in the fall” the official aroma. During Saturday’s floor session, Soules said “in the fall” had been struck from the bill in committee. But when the bill was later read out on the floor, “it was not read out as having an amendment,” Soules said in a telephone interview Saturday night.

“So officially right now, the bill does not have an amendment that takes off ‘in the fall,'” he said, adding he plans to get the amendment added when the bill is considered in the House.

Sen. Crystal Diamond, R-Elephant Butte, commended Soules for giving students an opportunity to participate in the legislative process.

“We’ve had some good fun on Twitter for quite a while and inevitably there are people out there right now making little jabs at us for wasting our time here in the Legislature,” she said. “But I think it’s very important that occasionally we check in with each other, we identify what unites us as New Mexicans and we come together, so I want to thank your expert witnesses today for bridging that political divide.”

The bill received near-unanimous approval. Baca, Brandt, Moores and Pirtle cast the dissenting votes.

“Sens. Baca, Brandt, Moores & Pritle offered the smell of ‘Methane in the Morning’ as an alternative NM state aroma,” @dieken tweeted in response to the vote.

Others offered other ideas to add to the list of the state’s official symbols.

“Next on the agenda: declaring goat heads the official torture device of New Mexico,” tweeted @RightNewsNM.

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.