With the demise of “moderate” Senate Democrats in the 2020 election, New Mexico’s Legislature again shifts leftward. As New Mexicans turn their attention toward 2021 the state remains in the throes of COVID 19 and the virus shows no signs of letting up. Paul Gessing, President, Rio Grande Foundation
What does all of this mean for the 2021 Session? For starters there are real questions about the logistics of a 60-day session under COVID. A “Zoom” special session like we had in June is one thing, but a 60-day session is much different.
The New Mexico Legislature has made great strides in the last few years toward opening up our state elections to more voters. Same-day voter registration was passed in 2019, automatic voter registration was codified and they made it easier to vote absentee. Historic turnout in 2020, especially among first time and younger voters is evidence these democracy reforms worked.
Eric Griego, Executive Director of Working Families Party New Mexico
The 2021 session has several proposals that build on past success, including increasing access to polling sites especially in tribal communities, opening primaries to independent and minor party voters, and using ranked choice voting for certain elections.
You may also hear about an important “new” proposal called “fusion voting.” While new to many, fusion voting has been used successfully in several states for centuries, before it was targeted by major parties for elimination. In the simplest terms, fusion voting is a system that allows multiple political parties to support the same candidate. Under fusion voting, a Democratic candidate nominated by the Working Families Party would appear on the WFP ballot line in the election, or similarly a Republican candidate endorsed by the Conservative Party would appear on their line. Fusion voting was a common practice in New Mexico in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1896 the Populist Party in New Mexico endorsed Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate Harvey Butler Ferguson and the platform of the state Democratic party as well. There were fusion candidates in Rio Arriba, Socorro, Sierra, Lincoln and Otero counties in the 1910 election. In the 1916 elections, “Independents fused with Democrats in the counties of the Hispano north; the Progressive Party handed its delegates over to the Democratic nominating convention; and county Democrats effectively invited unhappy Republicans into their camp,” wrote Dr. Phillip Gonzales in the New Mexico Historical Review in 2015.
But like in many other states, progress made under fusion was targeted for elimination as major parties made a play to consolidate power.
With news that the 2021 legislative session would be held virtually – with the public and lobbyists prohibited from being in the capitol building – it’s likely that legislative agendas are being adjusted. For interested citizens, lobbyists and state agencies charged with reporting to or suggesting reforms to the Legislature, the most important question may be how to participate in the upcoming session – in floor sessions, committee meetings, and with all important personal visits with individual legislators – in order to protect the public interest. Kathleen Sabo, Executive Director, New Mexico Ethics Watch
Because we have a citizen legislature, with short sessions and limited full-time and seasonal staff available to legislators, lawmakers often rely upon lobbyists to educate them about legislation, particularly complex legislation. That element will also be missing. So, what do we wish for in the upcoming session and how do we accomplish it? The newly formed State Ethics Commission filled a void in state government. Within the legislation enabling the commission (2019’s SB 668), not only is the commission required to submit an annual report to the Legislature and governor that includes recommendations regarding state ethics laws, the Legislature was specifically charged with making recommendations during this upcoming session on any changes to the Campaign Reporting Act, the Voter Action Act and the Lobbyist Regulation Act, “necessary for the efficient administration and enforcement of the provisions” of these acts.