Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Didn’t-Do-Much Legislature

The 2011 regular session of the New Mexico Legislature ended Saturday. Over the weekend and before, the assessment was that little was happening. The consensus was that the situation stemmed from the continuing struggle with balancing spending with the amount of income expected. A second critical factor, I suggest, came from the Martinez administration’s decision to do little that was bold, campaign themes aside. Outside the public education changes, some of which passed, some of which got good discussion, there was little boldness. The administration allocating no money for the Commission on the Status of Women was cute, though not exactly bold. I haven’t heard whether the legislature put money for the Commission back into the budget. Session reports from the Legislative Council and the Legislative Finance Committee await.
The good news from the session is that things didn’t happen. The pundit world opined that this was bad. I disagree.
My two legislators, ranking members of the ultra-left, sent anguished letters to their constituents during the last week of the session. Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino and Rep. Gail Chasey thought all sorts of things were awful. Unhappiness on the left is good.
At the same time, a couple of the administration’s Republican red-meat issues also failed to pass, reinstituting the death penalty and pulling driver’s licenses from people in the country illegally. This, too, is good. I never believed the death penalty would come back and argued that pursuing it was a waste of time and political capital. Besides, death penalty cases are very expensive. I remain unconvinced that the driver’s license situation matters much.
Legislative inaction has a long and happy history in our republic.
In The Federalist, No. 73, Alexander Hamilton discussed “those who can properly estimate the mischiefs of that inconstancy and mutability in the laws.”
Hamilton said, “They will consider every institution calculated to restrain the excess of law making, and to keep things in the same state in which they happen to be at any given period, as much more likely to do good than harm; because it is favorable to greater stability in the system of legislation. The injury which may possibly be done by defeating a few good laws, will be amply compensated by the advantage of preventing a number of bad ones.”

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