Thursday, February 02, 2006


A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Feb 2, 2006

Is Gov. Bill Richardson playing with political fire by backing the medical-marijuana bill? If SB258 — which passed the Senate by a huge margin this week — makes it through the House, would signing the bill come back to haunt Richardson if he runs for president in 2008?

Richardson told reporters he would sign the bill, which would establish a program for people with certain serious medical conditions to use marijuana to treat their symptoms. “It has very strong safeguards,” he said.

Could that be used against him up the road?

“Not in the Democratic primaries,” Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “It would probably help him with the Democratic base.”

In a general presidential election, Sabato said, the bill probably would be discussed. But signing it, he said, probably wouldn’t be an albatross.

“I’ve seen national surveys where sizable majorities of Americans support real medical-marijuana laws where it’s really used to ease pain,” Sabato said.

Sabato said medical marijuana isn’t one of the “hot button” issues that polarize the electorate. He noted that many conservatives have backed such legislation — as Tuesday’s state Senate vote showed. SB258 was supported by commanding majorities of both parties.

“Even some people who are opposed to abortion and gay rights aren’t opposed to it,” Sabato said.

But if the bill does get to Richardson’s desk and he signs it, he might be the only governor in the Democratic race to have signed a medical-marijuana bill.

A spokeswoman for former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner — frequently mentioned as a probable 2008 contender — said Wednesday that the issue never came up in Virginia during Warner’s four-year term.

A curveball from the speaker: At least in the past couple years, medical marijuana has had a much easier time in the Senate than in the House.

SB258 hit its first bump in the road Wednesday. Advocates of the bill were encouraged when they read in Wednesday’s New Mexican that House Speaker Ben Luján said he’d probably assign the bill to the same two committees that heard a near-identical bill last year. (House Consumer & Public Affairs and House Judiciary.)

However, later in the day, Luján assigned the bill to House Judiciary and House Agriculture — a panel that has never heard it before.

The Grubesic factor: (Note: Most of this section appeared in my Legislature blog Wednesday) Just about everybody at the Roundhouse on Wednesday was talking about Sen. John Grubesic’s candid and not very flattering views of a favorite legislative watering hole, the governor and legislative life in general published as a guest column in Wednesday’s New Mexican.

Setting the scene, the Santa Fe Democrat described the bar of the Rio Chama Steakhouse, next door to the Capitol: “Lobbyists positioned near the entrance poised to pick off the politicians as they walked in, attractive women in the second tier and of course the governor’s minions protecting his corner table until he arrived to hold court and have the fops approach to kiss his ring.”

Referring to the governor’s table, Grubesic wrote, “One by one I see them line up for some face time with Bill. This bootlicking is not partisan; Reds and Blues alternate hoping to protect their pork.”

Grubesic said Wednesday that the reaction so far has tended to fall along party lines. “As far as the Democrats go, it was political suicide,” he said. “But the Republicans loved it.”

Is it political suicide? Maybe so, Grubesic said. “But (Richardson) was going to run someone in the primary against me anyway.” The senator is up for re-election in 2008.

Grubesic made headlines last year when he wrecked his sport-utility vehicle near his home following a visit to the Rio Chama bar after a legislative session. He later admitted that his initial story he gave police wasn’t true. A few months later, he made news again for cussing out a sheriff’s deputy who went to his home after a neighbor complained about his alleged speeding.

Grubesic later apologized for the incident and said he would seek treatment. Following a period of lying low, he came back swinging right before last October’s special session, admitting he has a drinking problem, blasting Richardson for calling the special session and denouncing some of the governor’s bills.

On Wednesday morning, a reporter asked Richardson if he had any comment about Grubesic’s guest column.

“Oh God, no,” Richardson said, laughing.

Later in the day, the governor’s office issued this statement: “Sen. Grubesic’s personal attacks and rants are childish and not befitting a public official, and are not worthy of a response.”

“Maybe I shouldn’t have called him ‘the flabby king,’ ” Grubesic said. “That was poetic license.”

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