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…
Sleepy lawmakers can rest easy for now
A legislative committee delayed a decision Tuesday on whether to give House committee chairmen the discretion to permit webcasting in their respective committees, by using a well-established stall tactic: Let’s study it.
Rep. Nick Salazar, D-Ohkay Owingeh, chairman of the House Rules Committee, created a subcommittee to study webcasting, despite widespread support for the practice among lawmakers on the panel.
Among the critics of the proposal was Rep. Ray Begaye, D-Shiprock, who said during the committee meeting that he worried about lawmakers’ privacy and of potentially embarrassing moments being captured on camera.
“If I am sleeping and I am being recorded, that can be used as political gain,” Begaye said.
A last-ditch attempt by Republican lawmakers to get the committee to adopt the proposal failed as the 50-minute debate drew to a close.
“Right now it is not terribly clear what goes on with this,” House Minority Leader Tom Taylor, R-Farmington, said to Salazar during the meeting. He was referring to the intention of Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, R-Albuquerque, to webcast committees she sits on.
“It seems to me appropriate to go ahead adopt the rule at least interim until this committee has a chance [to study the issue],” Taylor said.
Salazar waved him off. “That is out of order,” Salazar said.
The New Mexico House of Representatives was forced to consider webcasting after Arnold-Jones video-streamed the House Taxation and Revenue Committee meeting live on Monday.
The debate surrounding her decision shows New Mexico to be at the tail end of another national trend that has rolled out over the past few years. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that as of January 2009, live proceedings were available on the Internet from 45 states plus Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
But fears of being caught napping aside, Arnold-Jones’ decision to broadcast the meeting over the web wasn’t universally popular. Tax and revenue committee chairman, Rep. Edward Sandoval, D-Albuquerque, twice asked Arnold-Jones to shut down her webcast Monday. She refused. House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Nambe, meanwhile, criticized her for not telling him of her intentions, even though several media outlets, including the Independent, had written of her plans in the days leading up to her webcast.
From appearances Tuesday, Salazar’s hesitations about webcasting didn’t reflect the mood of the majority of members on the House Rules committee. Half a dozen legislators, Democratic and Republican, expressed enthusiastic support for webcasting committee meetings and even expanding the practice to House floor sessions.
“For us not to do it really gives the impression that we are trying to hide something, and in this climate I think this is the worst possible thing we can do right now,” said Rep. Kathy McCoy, R-Cedar Crest.
The debate over transparency in the Legislature is occurring as three separate investigations are occurring simultaneously, including a federal inquiry into the business practices of Richardson’s administration. Two state probes, meanwhile, are looking into the operations of a defunct housing authority run by a friend of Speaker Lujan and trying to find federal election money that went missing during the tenure of former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron.
Thickening the plot is the guilty plea to federal corruption charges in October of former Senate President Pro Tem Manny Aragon.
“To me, we should have cameras in every committee room, on the floor, and people have full access to it,” McCoy said.
Added Rep. John Heaton, D-Carlsbad: “I think this idea that the public doesn’t need to know, doesn’t deserve to know, is absolutely wrong. The public needs to know anything and everything that we are doing that is in the public arena.”
While Heaton and McCoy appeared to sum up the sentiments of the majority of lawmakers on the committee, not everyone was happy with the possibility of seeing themselves on the web.
In addition to Begaye, Sandoval and Lujan also worried Monday during the Taxation and Revenue committee meeting that webcasting could become the equivalent of a Trojan Horse of partisanship, with political challengers drawing upon archived video of incumbents to find embarrassing footage.
Begaye said later Tuesday that his concerns could be allayed if language were added to the bill prohibiting the use of the video for political purposes.
“This shouldn’t be used for political gain or to influence winning a seat or to go after certain legislators,” Begaye said.
But that argument against allowing webcasting didn’t fly with Rep. Elias Barela, D-Belen.
“Every politician now has to understand we live in a YouTube generation, if you will. And this is a formal proceeding so we are very much presenting ourselves to the public,” Barela said in Tuesday morning’s meeting.
Many of the lawmakers who spoke during Tuesday’s committee meeting urged the Legislature itself to pay for webcasting of committee meetings and floor sessions.
Taylor and House Majority Leader W. Ken Martinez, who co-sponsored the proposal to give committee chairmen discretion over webcasting, agreed that having an independent government body perform the service might be best.
“The best scenario if you are going to have webcasting as a governmental service … the government should do it,” Martinez said.
Lujan, who will name lawmakers to a subcommittee to study the issue of webcasting, said the subcommittee won’t take long to return with information.
He promised it would be done within two weeks.