SANTA FE--One week ago my grandson had a day off from school so I took him up to our state capital to watch government in action. If this story seems less than timely (being one week old) don't worry, nothing has happened up there since. You haven't missed a thing.

Do you have trouble getting your kids in gear? Well, I don't know whether he was tired, hungry, or just plain unenthusiastic when he thought about our government, but somehow he didn't seem too interested in a trip to see the capitol...that is until I mentioned that it took place in the roundhouse.

"The roundhouse?" he asked.
"Why yes," I answered. "The Senate, the House of Representatives, and even the Governor are located in a circular building known as the..."
"Exactly." This piqued his interest. And thank goodness for that or we never would have made it off the couch and down to the bus stop. It is a 5 minute walk to the Nob Hill Rapid-Ride stop from my house. It is a 10 minute ride downtown. We took the 10:30 train to Santa Fe.

Cheap Thrills
It is so easy. Just get off at the last stop, the Santa Fe Depot. Turn left as you step down from the train. Less than 100 feet away are three shuttle buses.

"The roundhouse, please," I said.
"Second bus," said the driver.

What a cheap thrill this trip is. My senior bus fare was 35 cents. The senior all-day pass on the train for a weekday is $6.00. By the way, the receipt is good for all buses in Santa Fe and Albuquerque in addition to the train. Oh, and Robby rode FREE! Total transportation cost for two people from my home in Nob Hill to the Legislature and back (about 130 miles): $6.35.

The shuttle dropped us off right across from the capitol building.

A Necktie Party
We wandered around for a while. We walked through the rotunda, looked at the big state seal on the floor, and noticed all the people in coats and ties. Did you know that men can not appear on the floor of either chamber without wearing a coat and necktie? Yeah. They have their standards.

We ended up in the Senate Gallery, watching Senator Boitano give something of a speech. It really wasn't a speech so much as he wondered aloud whether a certain piece of legislation was really about Gallup or not...and where does it say so. It was explained to him more than once. This was less than 48 hours before the legislative session was to expire and there was not a hint of a budget being sent to the Governor.

Killing Time
Robby was bored after 2 minutes. I was fascinated. Senator Boitano knew what everybody else in the chamber seemed to know: they were just killing time until the clock ran out!

The State Senate has drawn a lot of attention to itself this session. Most of the time the mainstream media points to this body as leaning toward spending cuts rather than increasing taxes. It all sounds so legit. But wait a minute! This same Senate proposed the most controversial of all tax increases, The Tortilla Tax. Although somewhat mislabeled by its critics, this tax on many basic food items is just so weird given the circumstances. If the Senate were going to propose only one new tax, why this one? Of all the things to tax, of all the people to tax, why choose to tax food items. It really doesn't make much sense. And whatever possessed Democratic Senator Bernadette Sanchez to promote this idea?

Now I understand she was using WIC standards, and probably doing so because most grocery stores already had this category of food programed into their computers and cash registers. But Crime-In-Italy! How can a legislator support tax-free tofu at the expense of paying more for regular tortillas?

The Days of Yore
I decided to show Robby the press room. The press sits in a windowed balcony overlooking the action. The two editors of the New Mexico Independent were there: Trip Jennings and Gwyneth Doland. The NMI has had at least four other reporters covering the sessions and committee meetings from Santa Fe every single day. Their coverage is absolutely the best in the state. In fact Matt Reichbach, Marjorie Childress, Larry Behrens, and Patricia Sauthoff are covering the action like old school reporters used to do. They are hungry, innovative, independent, and underpaid...just as in the days of yore.

The only problem is that much of the time the proceedings feel like a sham. It felt like so many legislators knew that they weren't going to do anything...anything good that is. They did manage to send a concealed weapons bill to the Governor. They did get that done. And I thought that all this stuff about carrying guns everywhere was settled in the west about 1880. I guess I forgot about the gun-toting tofu-muncher lobby!

Time to Eat
Well, Robby was also hungry by this time. We headed for the cafeteria. He had a hot dog. I had a cup of coffee. And that just about sated our curiosity about state government for the day. We walked down to the Santa Fe plaza, stopping in the Plaza Diner for an order of taquitos.

We then wandered over to La Fonda, where we sat down in the lobby in a couple of extremely comfortable stuffed chairs. If there is anywhere in New Mexico that compares to people-watching in the lobby of La Fonda I don't know where it is. Well, maybe the plaza itself in warmer weather.

"How about a chocolate shake?" I asked Robby.

The 4:10 to Albuquerque
We walked down to the rail yard, past the depot to the new Flying Star. We were tired. And the State Senate still had my head reeling. But that chocolate shake soon had us feeling better. We were sitting by the front window and could see the RailRunner coming north as it pulled into the station for the 4:10 trip back to Albuquerque. I knew that we had at least 15 minutes before it would leave. We took our time finishing those shakes and left for the station.

We were back in Nob Hill by 6:00...just in time for his mother to pick him up.

Views: 49

Comment by cc on February 23, 2010 at 8:36am
This post is entertaining and enlightening, Johnny M. Thanks!!
Comment by Tracy Dingmann on February 23, 2010 at 8:48am
Thank you for this, Johnny! Your grandson looks lovely...and also so like a typical boy. Sorry I missed you guys in the pressroom that day!
Comment by Stephanie James on February 23, 2010 at 9:23am
Grandparents like you are rare. Thanks for sharing.
Comment by cathyray on February 23, 2010 at 9:51am
yeah! I always enjoy your trips with Robbie. He's a lucky kid. You're a lucky Grandpa. I wonder what he will think when he reads back on this in 20 years??? Wonder what he'll read it on?
Comment by RiRiSynCyr on February 23, 2010 at 10:27am
random question....could be a dumb one (and I'll take a hit if it is)....but, is it true that the legislators get paid MORE when they go into "overtime"?

My man was talking about this the other day, and it kind of shocked and angered me. So, does anyone know the validity of this?
Comment by Suzanne on February 23, 2010 at 10:46am
I also took my Little Sister who is 12 up to Santa Fe last Monday. She actually found the Roundhouse fascinating and wanted to stay and watch the House debate an ethics bill. We discussed the pros and cons of such a bill. Later we also went to the Plaza Diner for lunch and walked around the square since this was her first time in Santa Fe. It was fun to tour Santa Fe through the eyes of a "tween".
Comment by Juan on February 23, 2010 at 11:19am
I think they still get paid their regular per diem that they get paid during the regular session, so I don't think they get paid more during the session. Yet one thing to note, is that everyday they spend in Special Session will cost us NM taxpayers $50k a day, so I hope they get their *@# together and pass a good budget quick. I personally would love to see Wal-Mart finally have to pay taxes in-state instead of once again cutting education.
Comment by cc on February 23, 2010 at 12:25pm
"But Crime-In-Italy! " -- you have just used my mother-in-law's fave exclamation - spelled a little diff, tho.
Comment by Barelas Babe on February 23, 2010 at 3:30pm
Great post, Johnny M! About those neckties - must they be made from cloth, or will a bolo tie suffice?
Comment by Michelle Meaders on February 23, 2010 at 8:31pm
"is it true that the legislators get paid MORE when they go into "overtime"?"

Don't we have the only legislature in the country that doesn't get a salary? They get per diem to offset the expense of living in Santa Fe during ski season. (And while attending interim committee meetings away from home.) They get staff and an office during the session. And they get to keep their leftover campaign contributions for office expenses the rest of the year. And a lot of abuse, more than there used to be. I'm afraid there will be no one running in some districts this time. I know that would please some people, but who will make our budgets and laws?


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