Political theater is how John Fleck termed Gov. Bill Richardson’s recent machinations regarding whether or not he’ll sign a bill to open legislative conference committees.
I’d describe it more specifically as a Shakespearean game of cat and mouse.
The opening of conference committees to the public has been near and dear to the hearts of good government advocates and the press for many years. And the governor has repeatedly said in the past that he’d sign such a bill, confirming it again at the news conference he held on the last day of the session.
But then, in a March 23 reply to an e-mail sent by NMI’s Heath Haussamen, he indicated he wasn’t sure after all about what he’ll do, because of a “loophole” in the bill that he finds problematic. That provision would allow conference committees to be closed again by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.
That commentary by the guv was followed in short order by three classic responses.
First: Earnest exhortation by advocates for him to sign the bill, presented in a piece by the Santa Fe New Mexican’s Kate Nash.
Then: Brave dismissal by Steve Terrell, also with the New Mexican, who in his Roundhouse Round-up blog said he didn’t care to speculate about why the governor would threaten to not sign the bill. Terrell just simply doesn’t believe it, he said.
And finally: The double-dog dare by Haussamen. In a hold-on-to-your-britches bromide, Haussamen speculated that the governor is now weighing what political deals he can strike behind the scenes, using the conference committee bill as a bargaining chip. It’s “sinister,” Haussamen said.
“This is New Mexico politics at its most slimy, folks,” he opined.
The governor’s next move was to let loose with the meme that the media cares, but the public doesn’t, this time in an e-mail to Haussamen in reaction to that bromide. The evidence that the public doesn’t care, supposedly, is shown by the fact that his office hasn’t received many e-mails or snail mail on the topic.
“I’m just saying,” the governor continued with the theme to Trip Jennings at a bill signing at Winrock Mall in Albuquerque.
And then, at yesterday’s ethics bill signing, he bemoaned for the news cameras the lack of public input before expansively inviting the advocates at the table to express their opinions on the conference committee bill. He then received an outpouring of “spontaneous lobbying.”
My perpetual desire to want to like the guv has me looking a little sideways at the whole thing.
Could all of this be a simple case of a little payback to a press corps that has roundly excoriated him this year? Or, are we indeed witnessing grand political theater designed to position Richardson in the spot in which he’s most comfortably situated to sign the bill?
It’s an amusing game, for sure. And one that the press thrives on. But it causes a lot of heartburn for the public, which may not be swamping his office with tons of mail on this issue because he’s promised plenty of times in the past to sign it. Supposedly because he, himself, thinks it’s important.
As someone who’s got just one foot in the press corps, I hope the guv doesn’t see this as a triple-dog dare. More like a “time out.” In this case, I’m closer to that earnest lot of folks out there, who just hope the game doesn’t get away from the big guy in Santa Fe before he signs the bill.
Cross-posted on NMI
Friday, April 03, 2009