Thursday, December 02, 2004

ROUNDHOUSE ROUND-UP: WITH NEW LEADERSHIP, WHITHER DWI?

As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Dec. 2, 2004


For years many New Mexico anti-DWI activists have called Sen. Michael Sanchez, D-Belen and Rep. Kenny Martinez, D-Grants "obstacles."

Now they're both going to be called "majority leader."

Sanchez and Martinez - both of whom are lawyers - were elected by fellow Democrats in their respective chambers to the leadership posts. Both have been chairman of their judiciary committees for several years.

Those who have fought for tougher laws against drunken driving took notice when Sanchez and Martinez ascended to their new posts, wondering what the effect will be on DWI legislation.

When interviewed, activists tend to be diplomatic about Sanchez and Martinez in their new positions. "It will be interesting," said Terry Huertaz, executive director of the state Mothers Against Drunk Driving chapter. "This is a great opportunity to put our state on the right track. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt."
But privately, some activists aren't as sunny.

"I think they're going to block anything that moves," said one DWI opponent interviewed under the condition of anonymity.

Sen. Kent Cravens, an Albuquerque Republican who has sponsored and backed many DWI bills, said Wednesday, "It's been difficult to talk to Michael and Kenny about increasing penalties and mandatory sentencing. They've resisted both of these ideas during the years.

"We have to work within the framework," Cravens said. "It's going to be all the more difficult to do these things, but they need to be done."

Asked about the perception that he's been an obstacle to tougher DWI laws, Sanchez said Wednesday, "I treat every bill fairly. I can't tell people what to think. I just do what I think is right.

"I can tell you that I've talked to several DAs who say they wish we wouldn't pass any more DWI laws," Sanchez said. "They say nobody truly understands all the laws we've passed in the last few years. Things are falling through the cracks."

Martinez, interviewed Tuesday, said he thinks any perception that he's an opponent of DWI reform is unfair.

"I don't know why (anti-DWI activists) should be worried," he said. "I worked pretty hard on the comprehensive DWI package a couple of years ago. I think we've seen some good DWI legislation in the past five years."

Martinez recently has been on a state task force that is recommending expanding the use of ignition interlocks to fight DWI. Interlocks require drivers to blow into a breath analyzer that won't allow a vehicle to start if his or her alcohol level is too high.

Martinez noted that he took much political heat earlier this year for sponsoring a bill to require ignition interlocks in all vehicles. "I've been cast nationally as being too aggressive on DWI," he said.

2005 DWI package: One thing is for certain. DWI will be an issue in the upcoming legislative session. Gov. Bill Richardson has made the fight against DWI a cornerstone of his administration.

Richardson spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said Wednesday that the governor, who held retreats with lawmakers, has received positive reception of his latest DWI and crime from legislators in both parties.

On Wednesday, Richardson's DWI czar Rachel O'Connor appeared at the Corrections Oversight, Courts and Justice Committee to present four proposed bills from the governor's office. They include requiring ignition interlocks on vehicles belonging to all convicted DWI offenders; lowering the legal blood-alcohol level limit for convicted DWI offenders; allowing local governments to impose tougher restrictions on liquor sales in areas of high alcohol abuse; and establishing a "Drunkbusters Hotline" to report drunk drivers.

O'Connor said more DWI legislation is likely to emerge in the session, which begins Jan. 18.

At least we know he was reading us. A "behind-the-scenes" story about the recent presidential campaign in the Nov. 15 Newsweek indicated that Democratic candidate John Kerry didn't get the rest and relaxation he needed during his mid October visit to Santa Fe.

"Kerry felt anything but relaxed and confident, however on the morning of the third debate on Oct. 13 in Tempe, Ariz. He was irritated by a headline in a Santa Fe, N.M. newspaper, TIME TO BREAK THE TIE. Kerry was tense and whiny: "I don't understand this," he groused to an aide. "I've beaten this guy twice now - and somehow it's a tie. Why is this a must-win for me? When is it going to be a must-win for him?"

"This guy" was President Bush. The newspaper was us.

The headline - which actually didn't include the word "the" - referred to the dead heat in the polls at the time.



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