Thursday, March 15, 2007

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: UNUSUAL ALLIANCES

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
March 15, 2007


The battle over regional housing authorities is a classic example of how unusual alliances can form in the Legislature around various issues.

Sometime after 11 p.m. Tuesday, the House Business & Industry Committee effectively killed Senate Bill 519, sponsored by Sen. Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, which would put the state’s scandal-plagued housing authorities under state Mortgage Finance Authority supervision.

It was the second time in recent days that the committee, chaired by Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-Española, had tabled such a bill.

Last week, the panel tabled a similar measure proposed by Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, R-Albuquerque.

The committee did, however, pass a bill (House Bill 1321, sponsored by Rep. Dan Foley, R-Roswell) calling for an investigation of housing authorities by the state auditor and the Legislative Finance Committee. The attorney general already is investigating.

Papen’s bill was prompted by the Albuquerque-based Region III Housing Authority’s defaulting last year on $5 million in bonds it had sold to the State Investment Council. The council later determined the authority had misused housing funds to pay salaries and benefits, make loans and buy vehicles.

At the center of the controversy is former Region III Director Vincent “Smiley” Gallegos, a lobbyist and former legislator who stepped down after the default. Gallegos has been spotted around the Roundhouse, some lawmakers say, making a case against the housing authority bills.

The oversight bills are strongly backed by Gov. Bill Richardson and Lt. Gov. Diane Denish.

Denish especially has been vocal about the issue. In the past week, she spoke to several fellow Democrats on the committee who had voted against Arnold-Jones’ bill, trying to get them to support Papen’s bill.

But none of those Democrats — Reps. Rodella, Jim Trujillo of Santa Fe, Joe Campos of Santa Rosa, Thomas Garcia of Ocate, Richard Vigil of Las Vegas and Andrew Barreras of Tomé — changed their votes.

Denish issued a statement Wednesday that committee members, by tabling Papen’s bill, “have essentially refused to protect taxpayers’ money in the future.” The regional housing authorities, she said, have “outlived their usefulness.” None of the agencies have built a single house in the past five years, the lieutenant governor said. Denish called upon the committee and House Speaker Ben Luján, D-Nambé, to allow the bill to get heard on the House floor.

In fact, except for Democrat Dona Irwin of Deming, the only members supporting the governor-supported oversight bills were the Republicans.

So where does Luján — who normally is Richardson’s biggest helper in the Legislature — stand? Luján said last week that he supported Arnold-Jones’ bill and, in fact, was a co-sponsor. However, Luján also counts Smiley Gallegos as a friend, so many of the bills’ supporters are suspicious.

Media sweetheart: Sometimes it seems that Sen. Rod Adair, R-Roswell, thinks the press hates him. He has claimed nobody has been attacked more in the news media than he has been.

I seriously doubt if that’s true. In fact, during this session the tow-headed conservative has won a lot of hearts among the ink-stained.

During Senate floor debates on whether to open conference committees to the public, when the discussion was allowed to devolve into a bilious barrage of press-bashing, Adair stood up for the press. No, he didn’t lay on the sugar. Adair said the press makes mistakes, usually isn’t thorough and isn’t always fair. But he said reporters are human, just like senators.

Adair got some cheers from the press room the day he called on the state to spend whatever money was necessary to make the Capitol more computer friendly. Those of us who have dealt with the spotty wireless service in the Roundhouse definitely support that idea.

On Wednesday, the Senate unanimously passed Adair’s Senate Resolution 1, which will require the Legislative Council Service to post roll-call votes on the Legislature’s Web site within a day of the vote.

During floor discussion of the resolution, Adair joked that he was pushing the issue so he can find out how he voted on various bills the day before.

It’s a move toward openness and transparency in a body that doesn’t always seem to embrace openness and transparency. I only hope the House follows suit. After all, they have a computerized scoreboard and the ability to print out roll-calls within minutes of the vote.

No longer perennials: For this newspaper’s special section called The Session, published in January right before the Legislature convened, I wrote an irreverent little article titled, “The Top 10 Bills that Refuse to Die.” I looked at a number of bills that have popped up in nearly every 60-day session since I’ve been covering state government, bills for which “virtually everything that can be said — on either side — has been said.”

It looks as if I’d have to do some major revisions for such a story in the future.

I correctly anticipated this would be the last time cockfighting would be on the list. The governor signed the cockfighting ban this week.

But we’re also not going to have medical marijuana and the smoking ban to kick around anymore. And though a bill that would impose limits on payday loans hasn’t passed the Senate at this writing, a compromise bill, which the House passed unanimously, is on the Senate calendar.

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