Should partisan political groups use Roundhouse facilties for meetings? UPDATE: Emerge NM says it’s willing to reimburse “as long as it’s not cost prohibitive”
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Should a partisan political group use the State Capitol building — funded by taxpayers — for a training session? And if so, should they pay to use the facilities?
“I don’t have a problem if you have a non-partisan group like Boys State using a room in the Roundhouse,” state Sen. Bill Payne (R-Albuquerque) told Capitol Report New Mexico on Thursday (Aug. 2). “But once you go down that road with partisan organizations … well, I can see every group under the sun can all say that they should get in.”
On its website, Emerge New Mexico describes itself as:
“… committed to changing the headlines by changing who is in office. We need to continue to fill the pipeline with women trained to run and lead on the issues that matter to us as Democrats. With your support, we can train more Democratic women to run and win elections at all levels of government, across the state.”
A voicemail was left at the group’s contact number Friday to get more specifics about the October training session. As soon as we hear back, we’ll post something. See update below
Legislators at Tuesday’s committee hearing (July 31) say Emerge New Mexico will use the Senate and/or House chambers and possibly some of the rooms used for committee meeting hearings at their training session, which the group’s supporters say is educational.
“But who monitors the educational content,” Payne asked, adding, “I think the dam has been broken and will be a partisan deal from now on.”
State Sen. Cisco McSorley (D-Albuquerque) vigorously defended Emerge New Mexico’s use of the Roundhouse and even though he’s a liberal Democrat, said Friday that he would defend the right of a conservative group to use the state capitol for one of their meetings.
“I don’t think the New Mexico legislature ought to be partisanly picking winners and losers when it comes to this,” McSorley said. “These people are taxpayers and it’s their house. If they want to use it, they should use it … I may not like ALEC [American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative organization many liberals loathe] but if their members are New Mexico citizens, this is their capitol too.”
There’s another issue as well — cost.
The Emerge New Mexico training session is scheduled for Oct. 13, which is a Saturday.
Opening the building on a weekend may require using extra state personnel and, therefore, additional cost for taxpayers.
Legislative Council Services, the non-partisan organization that works with legislative members of both major political parties, is trying to determine how much — if any amount — to charge Emerge New Mexico for using the capitol facilities. A representative at LCS told Capitol Report New Mexico that a decision could be made next week.
“I do think there should be consideration if security has to be paid for,” McSorley said.
Update 4:33 p.m.: Emerge New Mexico spokesperson Reena Szczepanski returned our call and pointed out that this is the not the first time the group has used the Roundhouse for training sessions, saying the October session would be the seventh time the organization has hosted potential Democratic office holders “elected or appointed to political office” in the statehouse.
Szczepanski said about 30-40 people will attend the October get-together, which features mock legislative sessions in the House and Senate chambers as well as instructional classes in some of the Roundhouse’s committee meeting rooms.
“Nothing we conduct that day could be considered partisan,” Szczepanski told Capitol Report New Mexico. “The session is a way to explain how the legislative process is done.”
So her group would have no problems if, say, a Republican women’s group held a similar outing at the Roundhouse? “Not at all,” Szczepanski said. “There’s no better venue to see how the process works [than the state capitol building].”
What about the potential costs of having the October session on a Saturday, which might incur extra expense for Roundhouse staffing?
“We’re willing to reimburse, as long as it’s not cost prohibitive for us,” Szczepanski said.
Posted under Capitol Report.
Tags: ALEC, American Legislative Exchange Council, Bill Payne, Boys State, Capitol Report New Mexico, Cisco McSorley, Emerge New Mexico, Legislative Council, Legislative Council Service