Legislators seek public’s input on legislative issues

Kevin Wilson

It’s a long road from eastern New Mexico to Santa Fe, and it’s a tough process once a citizen gets to the New Mexico Legislature.

A quartet of local legislators have tried, to noted success, to make the process a two-way street of communication by simply asking, “Tell us what you think.”

The newspaper advertisement, a tradition of local Republican legislators started by Rep. Anna Crook of Clovis, goes back more than a decade. The ad, paid for by Crook, Rep. Dennis Roch of Texico and Sens. Clint Harden of Clovis and Stuart Ingle of Portales. It asks about various topics and encourages constituents to contact the legislators either by email or mailing back the completed form with comments.

“We have money that is set aside that we can send out a letter, addressing some of the same things,” Crook said. “It’s a few thousand dollars. People get these letters and they go straight to the trash.”

Instead, Crook said, the legislators leave that money aside — $1,000 for House members, $850 for Senate members, according to the New Mexico Legislative Council — and instead pay for their own constituent contact in various media outlets covering their representation areas.

This year’s form asks about:

• A constitutional amendment to reinstate the death penalty.

• Using permanent funds to pay for early childhood education.

• Requiring voters to present a photo identification.

• Require police to check immigration status on people arrested for a crime.

• Issuance or driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.

• Regulations on the dairy industry.

• A bill requiring children to read at a third-grade level before moving to the fourth grade.

Previous versions have had different levels of detail. Roch said last year’s survey was much larger, because it was exploring numerous avenues of budget-cutting.

“A lot of times, the legislative process is not very friendly to the average citizen,” said Roch, who has served since 2009. “Rather than require citizens to learn the ins and outs of the legislative process in Santa Fe, we let them weigh-in on items we’re pretty confident will come in front of us.

“We’re always impressed with the number of people who send in input. It really does help to know what folks think.”

Usually, there aren’t a lot of close opinions on the questions, Crook said. One of the most one-sided opinions she has seen is the issuance of driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. She says about 95 percent want to end the process.

Roch said one issue he’s seeing a close vote on is the aspect of regulations and how they impact businesses.

“I think there’s a sense we want industry to succeed, but we don’t want to do it at the expense of our drinking water or the scenery we can see,” Roch said. “People love renewable energy, but they don’t necessarily want power lines in their backyard from wind farms. They like having the dairy industry helping the economy, but they don’t necessarily want runoff going into their wells.”

Harden, in his 10th year in the Legislature, admitted that it’s tough to weigh how much constituents that do contact him against the constituents that don’t. But he noted the most engaged people are usually more likely to get the government they want.

“I think it’s really representative of the constituents that are engaged in the process, more than just pulling the lever and voting,” Harden said, noting that he gets the most comments about the death penalty and domestic partnerships. “It requires some effort to do. I think the people that are responding … are people that are genuinely involved in their responsibility as electorates.”

But, Roch said, the survey has to be one voice, and not necessarily the final say. Most issues he faces in Santa Fe are usually long preceded by lower-level meetings, constituent phone calls and even people pulling him aside as he’s walking in a parade.

“It’s not the only conversation I’ve had on the topic,” Roch said. “Formal survey responses are part of the input, but the conversation goes on all year long.”