Thursday, March 10, 2005

ROUNDHOUSE ROUND-UP: TO REFERENDUM OR NOT TO REFERENDUM

As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
March 10, 2005


When introducing his bill to legalize medical marijuana last month, Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, noted that if this state had a ballot referendum system -- allowing voters to gather petitions to force issues to be decided by voters -- a law like his would have become a reality years ago.

By complete coincidence, later that very same day, Rep. Greg Payne, R-Albuquerque, announced that he was introducing legislation to amend the state constitution to bring about ballot initiatives.

In announcing what would become known as House Joint Resolution 3, Payne named voter identification and banning cockfights as examples of issues that might warrant referendum votes. Both issues, as usual, have been sandbagged in committee this year.

"Cockfighting demonstrates the need for referendum and initiative," Payne, who wants to ban chicken fights, said in an interview this week. :When an entrenched system can't or won't act, there needs to be some avenue for political redress."

If the HJR 3 passed the Legislature, state voters would have to approve it in the November 2006 election.

Under HJR 3, voters would need 5 percent of the total vote in the last gubernatorial race -- or 8 percent for constitutional amendments to get a question on the ballot in the next general election.

Action on Payne's joint resolution was postponed in the House Voters and Elections Committee to give him time to come up with a couple of amendments to satisfy concerns expressed by other lawmakers.

Payne said he probably would ask the committee to act on the bill later this week.

Despite his remarks about medical marijuana and ballot referendums, McSorley said this week he's undecided about having referendums in New Mexico.

"When I first came to the Legislature I was a big supporter," he said. "But I can see both sides of the issue now."

The way ballot initiatives are handled in California concerns McSorley. "They've turned referendum into a joke," he said. "In California a few wealthy individuals can pay for professional signature gatherers to get enough petitions, then run commercials to sway public policy."

McSorley said he'd like to study the differences between California's referendum laws and those of Arizona, where, he said, abuses don't seem as rampant.

Payne acknowledged that the referendum situation in California bothers some people. "But that's democracy," he said. "Democracy is messy and tough."

Dealing with big money in politics is a national problem, Payne said. "You have to make sure there's transparency in (campaign finance) reporting."

Both Payne and McSorley see referendums as a potential check-and-balance to an unresponsive Legislature.

Payne admits his measure probably has less of a chance of passing this year than a cockfighting bill. But referendums and initiatives, he said, is an idea bound to be discussed in future sessions.

My governor can whip your governor: California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger would be a girlie man against New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson if the two ran against each other for president in 2008.

This is according to a poll conducted late last month of 800 registered voters across the country by pollsters Ed Rollins, a Republican, and Ed Reilly, a Democrat for Westhill Partners and The National Journal's Hotline.

According to the poll, Democrat Richardson would get 36 percent to Republican Schwarzenegger's 27 percent. Twenty-eight percent were undecided. There is a 3.5 percent margin of error.

Of course, such a contest is unlikely because Schwarzenegger, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Austria, is constitutionally barred from becoming president. And even if there was a great outcry to change the constitution, it would be pretty close to impossible to get an amendment ratified in time for the next election. And according to the same poll, Americans oppose such an amendment by a 65-29 percent margin.

Hotline conducts hypothetical 2008 match-ups each month. In January the Rollins/Reilly poll showed Sen. Hillary Clinton beating Florida Gov. Jeb Bush 45 to 37 percent.

Bingaman vulnerable?: New Mexico just made another Top 10 list. According to The National Journal, we're ranked eighth in the publication's "Most Likely to Switch Party Control" list of 2006 Senate races.

But after declaring U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman as "one incumbent who could get pushed into retirement," the publication says,

"it's shocking how uninterested Republicans seem to be in challenging him. One would think after Bush's impressive showing in the state, finding a legitimate candidate would be fairly easy. But apparently, Republicans are keeping their powder dry in the hopes Bingaman's colleague, Republican Pete Domenici, doesn't seek re-election in '08. Still, we think even a B-list recruit can give Bingaman a scare."


(Note: The only Republican who has announced he'll run against Bingaman -- former state Sen. and perennial state candidate Tom Benavides.)

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