I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
Roundhouse resists entering 21st century
ALBUQUERQUE — It’s 2009. Want to see the Obama inauguration live, but don’t have a television in your office? Just look online — a live webcast will be readily available. Want to talk to your folks who live on the other side of the country? Just hook up your personal web cameras and have at it.
Do you live in Las Cruces or Albuquerque and want to watch a key debate on a crucial policy issue during the state legislative session? Well, take the day off of work, hop in your car, and drive — in some cases hundreds of miles — or just forget about it. The only way you’re going to witness what happens inside the state’s Roundhouse is to go there.
State residents anywhere, though, will be able to tune into the debate in two House committees: Taxation and Revenue, and Voters and Election, according to State Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, R-Albuquereque, who has announced that she will arrange for live webcasting of committee proceedings. That is, if she isn’t shut down by the leaders of the House.
On her Web page, Arnold-Jones explains that her intention is to “raise public awareness and help educate citizens on the Legislature’s activity.”
“The legislature should stand up and say that the people deserve access,” Arnold-Jones told the Independent. “My constituents are furious about it — they want to be able to watch so they know what is going on. I can only do my two committees, but I think once I do it, others will do it as well. I’m ready to go and I’m not backing off.”
One of New Mexico’s top political reporters, Heath Haussamen (who lives in Las Cruces and also writes for us here at NMI), pointed out that live broadcasting of government proceedings isn’t a new thing — it happens at both the federal and local level.
“As someone who lives 300 miles from Santa Fe, I can personally speak to how webcasting of legislative proceedings is beneficial to the public,” Haussamen said. “It’s done in Washington. In Las Cruces, the city council’s meetings are broadcast online and on television. The county commission’s are online. Even the public school board’s are on TV. There is no good reason that the Legislature isn’t already doing this.”
The technology is there at the Roundhouse, so anyone can fire up a laptop in the Roundhouse and be on the Internet. So webcasting would be a simple matter of adding cameras and turning them on.
And many legislators have already made it clear they want to do it.
The Senate voted 2-to-1 last year to begin live webcasting of Senate floor sessions, and $30,000 was used during the year to install camera equipment for that purpose. But, according to The Santa Fe New Mexican’s Steve Terrell, Senate leaders decided to wait at least another year — and blamed their decision on the economy.
Paula Tackett, director of the Legislative Council Service, told Terrell that the Senate Committees Committee “… decided it wasn’t appropriate to do it this year,” because “[i]t’s difficult to start a new program during a budget crisis.”
Sen. Mark Boitano, R-Albuquerque, though, told Terrell that while the bids say webcasting would cost about $30,000 to $40,000 annually, the cost would actually be only about $10,000 since they would only need the service for a 60-day session.
Terrell further explained that New Mexico is one of only six states that doesn’t provide live audio or video of the Legislature, and he pointed out that the governor’s State of the State address is webcast usually on the opening day of the Legislature.
Indeed, this year, you could watch hours of the Legislature in action on January 20th — streaming live online.
Haussamen said that the reason live webcasting isn’t happening is simply because legislative leaders don’t want to do it. “The majority of state lawmakers are in favor of webcasting,” he said, “and they’ve appropriated money to set it up. It isn’t already being done simply because legislative leaders of both parties don’t want to do it.”
Terrell found that to be the truth. The Senate vote in 2008 to allow webcasting was most popular with rank-and-file senators, he reported, while those opposed to the idea included leaders such as Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings, D-Roswell, Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, and Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales.
Arnold-Jones said the reasons given against webcasting are largely related to fears that it would “change the body” of the Legislature. For instance, some think legislators might start grandstanding for the cameras or that the cameras might misrepresent the proceedings. For instance, by zooming in on a speaker, the cameras might give the impression that the room is full when hardly anybody is actually there. Or, she said, some fear that the camera will pick up on embarrassing moments.
But, she said, these concerns can be largely allayed by setting rules for how the cameras are operated.
While the idea of live webcasting in the Senate seems to be gaining support at least when it comes to the floor debates if not the committees themselves, in the House, the topic seems dead in the water.
But that might not last long, since at least one representative plans to webcast her committee meetings starting this week.
The burning question: Will leaders in the House, like House Speaker Ben Lujan, try to quash the effort?
If so, Haussamen asked, “Are they really that afraid of people having better access to what’s going on in Santa Fe? If so, why?”