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Legislators react to governor’s special session

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Real issues or political strategy?

Legislators react to governor’s special session

Levi Hill/News-Sun

Will bills that actually improve public safety make the cut or is the governor simply looking to prop up some candidates she hopes to see elected?

That’s the question many Lea County legislators are asking after it was announced Wednesday Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has called for a special session beginning July 18.

Rumblings of a special session began even before this year’s 30-day session was over, and many expected if it would happen — and consensus was it would — it would happen within a few weeks of the end of the 30-day session.

However, Lujan Grisham sat back quietly after her “21-point crime package,” which she called the “largest and most comprehensive in state history,” fizzled in the 30-day session with only a handful of bills making it to her desk.

Chief among those to land on her desk were changes to gun ownership laws, including an extended 7-day waiting period for all firearms purchases in New Mexico. However, not all of her second amendment-targeted laws made it through, and some legislators feel those will be the focus of the upcoming session — a session some consider poorly timed.

“She is waiting until the height of tourist season when hotel rooms in Santa Fe will run $450-$500 a night,” said Rep. Randy Pettigrew, R-Hobbs. “Per diem won’t cover that.”

Pettigrew, like many, is dubious the governor’s special session will do anything more than target law-abiding gun owners.

“If this was truly an issue, why weren’t we back in session in two weeks,” Pettigrew said. “This is an election special session. This isn’t a true crime special session. It is to help some people she wants to get elected.”

The June 4 Primary looms and it is no secret Lujan Grisham has her favorites for several key seats around the state.

As political pundit Joe Monahan recently reported on his state politics blog, Lujan Grisham is seeking to unseat conservative Democrat Rep. Ambrose Castellano in San Miguel County, contributing $8,000 from her own campaign funds to progressive challenger Anita Gonzales — who is making her third attempt to oust Castellano.

In her news release, Lujan Grisham claimed the session will take up “additional public safety protections” to “allow lawmakers to finish what they started during the 30-day session.”

“While we made some progress toward a safer New Mexico during the 30-day day session, we agree that we must do more,” Lujan Grisham said. “The special session in July will enable us to deliver additional statutory changes that reduce the danger and risk New Mexico communities face every day. The best proposals for making our state safer will be under consideration, and I welcome input from my colleagues in the legislature.”

Democrat leaders from the state House, including Speaker Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, welcomed the news of the special session, claiming it will allow for further progress in public safety.

“In the coming weeks and months, it will be critical for us as elected leaders to work together with stakeholders and experts to develop meaningful solutions to these challenges,” the statement read. “In order to be responsible public servants and stewards of taxpayer dollars, we must enter the special session with a set of achievable goals that will genuinely make our communities safer, improve access to healthcare and services, and protect the rights of New Mexicans.”

State Republican Party Chairman and former Congressman Steve Pearce put the state’s crime problem directly on the doorstep of New Mexico Democrat leaders and Lujan Grisham.

“When New Mexicans hear that Gov. Lujan Grisham is calling a special session to address public safety, a chill runs down their spines because her past actions prove that she is not interested in taking measures against criminals, but rather against law-abiding citizens,” Pearce’s statement read. “The Democrats are totally to blame for New Mexico’s out-of-control crime. They need to explain why public safety wasn’t their priority during the previous legislative session despite holding a majority in both chambers of the state legislature.”

The special session will be Lujan Grisham’s fifth since taking office.

“One of my favorite things to say about Michelle and her special sessions is they are not special sessions, they are mulligans,” Pettigrew said. “I call them Michelle’s Mulligans.”

The implication nothing will be accomplished except the spending of taxpayer dollars is a concern shared by many of the area’s legislators.

“If it is more bills to restrict firearms ownership from law-abiding citizens, I am not in favor of it,” said Rep. Larry Scott, R-Hobbs.

Scott said if the session fails to address the border crisis then it is failing in addressing public safety in New Mexico.

“If we are going to seriously address the uncontrolled border crossing issues, I’d love to have a conversation about that,” he said.

Sen. Steve McCutcheon, R-Carlsbad, who is defending his District 42 seat against Scott in the upcoming primary, agreed border issues should be a top issue addressed.

“If we are going to talk public safety, we must include the border,” he said. “It’s sad she fails to recognize the importance the security of the border plays in the security of New Mexico.”

Scott said he’s already talking to lawmakers in other states hoping to piece together a border security bill that could be addressed at the July session.

During the last session, Republicans proposed several bills aimed at border security, but Democrats killed every one, Pearce said in his released statement.

“Recently, the governor expressed her intention not to take additional measures to secure New Mexico’s Southern border,” Pearce’s statement reads. “Even if she were to call a special session, she cannot claim to care about public safety while ignoring the numerous problems stemming from our open border, including the rampant influx of fentanyl, alarming prevalence of human trafficking and criminal cartel activity.”

However, Lujan Grisham will set the tone for the session by determining what bills will most likely be introduced and Pettigrew said he has been hearing rumors the session will focus on panhandling and criminal competency.

“Our work begins right now in setting the narrative for the special session in July,” McCutcheon said. “There is going to be a lot of negotiations happening. I don’t think there is going to be a lot of desire from either side to be there. I’m not expecting anything too controversial.”

Controversial or not, perhaps just as important as what is presented will be who presents it.

Sen. David Gallegos, R-Eunice, said he was approached a month ago to finish preparing a safe haven bill to hold harmless mothers who surrender infant children to safe haven locations in the state.

That bill failed to get through the 30-day session. Gallegos said it is ready now, but if it has any hope of being heard, he can’t be involved.

“I was told last week that the only way it is heard is if my name is not on it,” he said. “I have other senators from both sides of the aisle seeing if they will carry it.”

Lujan Grisham may be using the session to push not only her political agenda, but help her picks in various races around the state, but that doesn’t mean the state’s Republicans can’t also use it to their advantage.

Gallegos said he’s in talks with several junior legislators and candidates, including Republican Greg Cunningham of Albuquerque who is seeking to unseat first-term Democrat Joy Garratt in the District 29 House seat.

“I’ve called them to get them to start having conversations about some public safety bills,” Gallegos said.

In all, it is clear local legislators don’t have high hopes for the upcoming special session and, at a cost of about $51,000 per day, many hope it will indeed be short for the sake of New Mexican taxpayers.

“I am disappointed that we couldn’t get significant crime legislation passed in the 30-day session and I don’t know what has changed between the middle of February and now to have a rethinking on those issues,” said Sen. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell. “I know we need to do something about crime, but I’m not sure her side of the aisle is willing to do what needs to be done. I guess we will find out.”

Attempts to reach Rep. Cathrynn Brown, R-Carlsbad, were unsuccessful as of press time.

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