Sanchez responds to State of the State

Steve Terrell
The Santa Fe New Mexican
Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, speaks during a press conference in response to the governor's State of the State address at the state Capitol on Tuesday.

State Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, responding to Gov. Susana Martinez's State of the State address Tuesday, not only said the Republican governor has a different point of view on key issues than Senate Democrats. He also speculated she might be living in a different world.

At a news conference shortly after the governor's speech, Sanchez took issue with Martinez's statements about driver's licenses for undocumented residents, crime, education policy and the state of New Mexico's economy. The tone of his comments indicated that partisan tensions already were rising on the first day of the 30-day session.

"I don't know if it's just me, but I think that the governor may be in a parallel universe," the Belen Democrat told reporters. "What she pointed out is not reality in the state of New Mexico. The rosy picture that she painted is absolutely false."

Despite his scathing words for the governor, however, Sanchez said, "I believe that we can accomplish significant legislation to improve the lives of our fellow New Mexicans — if the administration and the House majority are willing to meet us part of the way — and build from a spirit of cooperation."

Sanchez, as he's done in recent months, challenged Martinez's rhetoric about state driver's licenses and the federal Real ID Act.

"Let me make it clear to you once and for all: You don't need a passport to get on an airplane in the state of New Mexico," he said. "That's false, and reporters who report that are wrong. The governor is wrong when she makes the statement that we have to (present passports). She's tried to scare people this year, scare people half to death to out and get passports and spend money."

Martinez, in her speech, said Tuesday, "And now, the federal government has confirmed its plan to stop accepting New Mexico driver's licenses to board airplanes."

Actually, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced this month that it would not require New Mexico passengers to show passports or other identification besides state driver's licenses to board domestic flights for at least two more years.

Sanchez reiterated his support for a Republican-sponsored bill that passed the Senate last year by a huge bipartisan majority. That measure would establish two different driver's licenses in the state, one compliant with the Real ID Act and another with no requirement to prove citizenship. Martinez backs House Bill 99, which would create a new Real ID-compliant driver's license as well as a new "driver's privilege card," which could be used to drive, but not for federal identification.

Sanchez said Martinez and House Republicans are pushing a "pro-incarceration" agenda this year with a slate of crime bills calling for tougher sentencing guidelines. "Other states are moving away from mandatory sentences," he said.

Despite a spate of high-profile killings of police officers and others in the past year, violent crime in New Mexico actually decrease by 2 percent between 2009 and 2014, Sanchez said. Without the city of Albuquerque in the mix, violent crime was down by 13 percent, he added. He also said the number of police in the state has declined significantly.

Martinez called for tougher laws against drunken driving, saying in her speech, "It is cynical and factually wrong to suggest that our drunk-driving laws are tough, or anything like surrounding states'," she said. "They're not."

But Sanchez said the number of drunken-driving arrests in the state has fallen by 40 percent between 2009 and 2014.

He slammed Martinez on the economy. "We are at the bottom on job growth," he said. But he said Martinez's speech sounded as if, "Boy, we're creating jobs left and right, up and down in these programs she's put into place. I'm sorry. That just isn't the case in New Mexico. We have low incomes and wages and high income inequality."

Sometimes Sanchez got personal in his rebuttal. He even brought up Martinez's infamous "pizza party" at the Eldorado Hotel, where she was caught on police tapes demanding to know who had reported a loud party in her room.

"You know I could take her more seriously about taking care of public safety officials and helping them out and giving them an increase in their salaries if she hadn't told (police) not to come to a party she was at to investigate, and disregard them and disrespect them the way she did," Sanchez said.

Martinez, after the police tapes were made public, apologized for her behavior toward the police, dispatchers and hotel staff.

Sanchez also blasted Martinez's political adviser Jay McCleskey, who he pointed out is under FBI investigation.

He said the Martinez administration has tried to divide New Mexicans. "We're not a hating state, no matter what the Fifth Floor thinks," he said, referring to McCleskey. Because of McCleskey's influence in the administration, critics frequently refer to him as the "Fifth Floor" of the state Capitol.