Senate Dems: Governor ‘dead wrong’ on education, economy

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By Patrick Malone The New Mexican January 20, 2015 SANTA FE--Democratic leaders of the New Mexico Senate scoffed at Gov. Susana Martinez’s State of the State speech on Tuesday, calling it loaded with “gimmicks” and out of touch with the problems facing the state.

They vowed to block key policy objectives the governor identified in her speech, including right-to-work legislation, a bill that would hold back students in third grade if they’re not reading well and a repeal of the law that allows undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses.

“Those are all gimmicks,” said Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, adding another Martinez proposal to the list: $100 debit cards for teachers to buy classroom supplies. “Come on, that might get you through the first month of school,” he said. “That’s a gimmick.”

Martinez often used the word courage in her address, which focused on abandoning the status quo to improve education and economics in New Mexico. Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, seized the theme of Martinez’s speech and used it to criticize her policies.

“It really takes courage to admit when you’re wrong, and I’ve got to tell you, the governor needs to admit that she’s wrong on education and on right-to-work,” Sanchez said during a news conference. “She’s dead wrong.”

With Republicans in control of the House for the first time in 60 years, the Senate, where Democrats hold a 25-17 advantage, stands as the lone obstacle to many of Martinez’s plans. Sanchez made it clear his caucus intends to block some of the governor’s top priorities and push a few of its own, even if they run counter to the political current at the Roundhouse.

Although some more centrist Democrats in the Senate could make it a close vote on right-to-work legislation, Sanchez said he is confident the proposal — which would prevent unions from requiring workers to pay dues — will be defeated.

Martinez regards right-to-work legislation as a way of making the state more appealing to businesses looking to locate here. Sanchez sees the proposal as something that would suppress wages and employer-sponsored health care in a state that’s already among the poorest in the nation.

Sanchez said Democrats in the Senate also will be unyielding on Martinez’s efforts to repeal the law that allows immigrants in the country without legal status to get driver’s licenses. “It would be my preference that there is no compromise on that issue,” Sanchez said.

Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, said the governor’s speech, which was weighted with references to children, ignored the impacts that a repeal of the immigrant license law would have on some 90,000 children in the state who are lawful U.S. citizens and whose parents are now eligible to drive legally.

“Those are kids that can no longer get driven to school, can’t get driven to the emergency room, can’t get driven to their doctors’ appointments,” Candelaria said. “So I think, as a party, we care about every single New Mexico child, not just the ones that it’s popular to care about.”

Sanchez called out Martinez for bringing to the podium during her speech two students who survived being shot a year ago at BerrendoMiddle School in Roswell. He said it was disingenuous, considering the governor’s stance on gun control, such as her opposition to background checks at gun shows.

Senate Democrats also plan to push legislation that would raise the state’s minimum wage to around $10 an hour from the current rate of $7.50 and tie its future growth to changes in the cost of living. Sanchez said the absence of any reference to her veto last year of legislation that would have raised the minimum wage, or discussion of the controversial behavioral health care shake-up that her administration led, signaled that Martinez was dodging some of her administration’s failures in the address.

While Martinez preached bipartisanship in her speech, Sanchez said, working cooperatively with Democrats has not been her practice. Rather, he said Martinez during her first term clung rigidly to her own plans, leaving little room for negotiation. “If that’s bipartisanship, then let me out the door,” he said, “because I don’t want any part of it.”

Contact Patrick Malone at 986-3017 or pmalone@sfnewmexican.com. Follow him on Twitter