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Democrats kill democracy and protect a criminal presidency in New Mexico

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The unseen dead hand of national Democratic meddling seems to have killed a promising example of grassroots democratic activism in New Mexico that could have been a model for reviving the Democratic Party nationwide and in that key swing state.

While no one has yet come forward and identified the culprits, it seems evident from the behavior and explanations of some key one-time backers of a proposed legislative joint resolution calling on the US House to impeach President Bush, who at first supported the measure but then joined 17 Republican members of the state senate in killing it, that pressure was brought to bear on them to trade sides.

Only last week, the resolution, submitted by State Senator Gerald Ortiz y Pino, looked like a sure thing. It had breezed through the relevant committees with solid Democratic support and only needed to be accepted for debate by a full vote of the senate, which has 20 Republicans and 23 Democrats.

But then something strange happened.

When accepting the resolution for debate was put to a vote, the Senate’s 17 Republicans were on hand but most Democrats were out of the room. The person chairing the session, Senator Ben Altamirano, a Democrat who had been a supporter of Ortiz’s resolution in committee, allowed the vote to go ahead despite the absence of many Democrats, and moreover, permitted a voice vote. The Republicans yelled their “nays” loudly, and Altamirano ruled that the measure had passed.

Democrats came back the next day and demanded for a voice vote on the measure. It went down to defeat, 26-17, with Altamirano and eight other Democrats voting against it.

Altamirano later insisted that he had not voted against Ortiz’s resolution, which he improbably claimed to still support, arguing that all he had done was vote that the prior day’s controversial ruling declaring the measure dead by voice vote had been proper. He failed to mention that he was referring on his own ruling as president pro-tempore and chair of the session the day before.

Meanwhile, another turncoat on the issue, State Senator Carlos Cizneros, a co-sponsor of Ortiz’s resolution who also surprised Ortiz and other resolution backers by voting to kill the bill, offered another explanation altogether. “I didn’t vote to kill the bill,” he said in an interview days later. “I voted to send it back to committee because the votes weren’t there to pass it. I didn’t want to see it die, so I voted against it.”

“That’s pretty weasily,” commended Desi Brown, an aide to Sen. Ortiz. “The bill was killed and it cannot be brought back to the Senate floor, unless Sen. Cizneros knows something about senate rules that we don’t know.”

A third Democratic turncoat, Sen. David Ulibarri, failed to return calls to explain his reason from voting against the resolution after earlier backing it in committee.

Ortiz aide Brown said only two of the nine Democrats voting against the resolution represent majority Republican districts, a situation which might explain their taking a negative position on the resolution. Others of the nine represent fairly conservative Democratic districts, but of course, the Bush presidency is unpopular among Democratic voters of all political stripes, and among independents too.

Brown says that prior to the vote killing the resolution, five of the nine Democratic senators who voted with Republicans had been seen conversing privately, suggesting a coordinated strategy to kill the measure.

Brown and impeachment movement activists in the state insist that days before the debacle in the Senate, they had clear support for passage among senate Democrats.

Brown says he does not have evidence of any pressure on senate Democrats, but speculation is focused on Gov. Bill Richardson, an announced candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, and on Sen. Jeff Bingaman.

The Democratic National Committee has targeted New Mexico as a key battleground state for 2008, and given the national party leadership’s clear desire to avoid an impeachment battle in the House, it seems increasingly evident from the strange behavior of turncoat senate Democrats in the state, that pressure was brought to prevent the passage of a joint resolution that would have put the issue front and center in the US House of Representatives. This seems particularly likely given the overt pressure that has been brought to bear on state senators in the state of Washington by two members of that state’s congressional delegation. A similar joint resolution is facing a do-or-die vote in the Washington state senate today or tomorrow.

One curious aspect in this story is the behavior of senate Republicans in New Mexico. Last spring, when impeachment talk was first surfacing, national Republican leaders argued in the media that a Democratic-led impeachment campaign would be good for Republicans since it would “rally the base” of the Republican Party. Many Democratic Party leaders have bought into that theory, which is why they are afraid of the growing impeachment movement. But if impeachment is good for Republicans, why would they have acted in concert in New Mexico to kill Sen. Ortiz’s resolution? Democrats should think twice before joining Republicans in such efforts to kill off citizen impeachment campaigns at the state level. Clearly Republicans don’t really want to see an impeachment hearing in Washington, DC, which suggests that Democrats should be pushing ahead for those hearings, not helping Republicans to fend them off.

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Dave Lindorff, winner of a 2019 "Izzy" Award for Outstanding Independent Journalism from the Park Center for Independent Media in Ithaca, is a founding member of the collectively-owned, journalist-run online newspaper (more...)

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