Conservation scores wins in New Mexico

August 24, 2018 | accountability, legislature

The administration of outgoing Gov. Susana Martinez — elected in 2010 and re-elected in 2014 with the aid of significant financial contributions from the oil and gas industry — has been intensely criticized by environmentalists, practically since Day One. But while the last eight years have not been a picnic for New Mexico environmentalists, one prominent organization says there is reason for optimism.

Conservation Voters New Mexico last week released its annual legislative scorecard in which all state lawmakers are graded on their votes on certain legislation the group selects.

“Both the House and Senate improved in their overall performance on conservation issues in the 53rd Legislature,” the Conservation Voters website says. According to its numbers, the average Senate score over the past two sessions is 71 percent — 20 percentage points better than the 2013-14 scores. The average House score for the past two sessions was 67 percent, 22 percentage points higher than 2013-14.

“There are a few reasons for this improvement,” the website says. “New, younger New Mexicans have joined the Legislature in recent years and earn high scores in the scorecard, improving the overall conservation performance of the Legislature. We’re seeing faster development of more champions than we are seeing improvement in lower performing legislators.”

The higher scores, Conservation Voters says, also can be credited to “… the stalwart championship of our air, land and water by Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth and House Speaker Brian Egolf. When members of leadership hold strong values for conservation, these critical issues get the thorough debate they deserve.” Both Wirth and Egolf scored 100 percent this year.

The general rule of thumb for the Conservation Voters scorecard is that Democrats tend to score much higher than Republican lawmakers on these issues. Nationwide, some factions of the GOP openly mock environmentalists.
So it’s not surprising that Conservation Voters’ PAC, the Verde Voters Fund, traditionally spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to help Democratic candidates and little — if any — on Republicans. In our Legislature, the average House Democrat score for the past two legislative session on the Conservation Voters scorecard was 93 percent, compared to 37 percent for House Republicans. In the Senate, Dems score an average of 86 percent compared to 44 percent for GOP senators.

But there has been one big exception to this rule over the past two years: Sen. Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque. He scored 94 percent this year, up slightly from his 2017 score of 92 percent. He received the 12th-best score of all senators, meaning he did better than a majority of the Democrats this year. Rue is the highest scoring Republican since Conservation Voters started the scorecard 13 years ago.

But Rue’s lifetime score is closer to the average GOP scorecard from this group: 47 percent. In his first year in office, Rue scored 17 percent with Conservation Voters.

It’s possible that Rue’s improvement in these ratings might have to do with the fact that some of the issues he was scored on have more to do with “good government” than environmental regulations. For instance, this year, two of the four votes on which Rue was rated were the Local Election Act and a bill that would have required the state to publish all approved capital outlay projects on the legislative website, “in a user-friendly format” with specific details for each project. In 2017, Rue’s score was boosted by his support of a constitutional amendment that would establish a state ethics commission.

But Rue also voted for the Solar Market Development tax credit, which Conservation Voters backed (and which Martinez, a Republican, pocket-vetoed). And he voted for Senate Bill 189, which significantly raised the cap of the amount of the surety bond a company must post for the plugging of an inactive oil or gas well. This bill, which passed the Legislature and was signed into law by Martinez, was a priority bill for Conservation Voters.

The second-best Republican score from Conservation Voters went to Sen. Candace Gould, R-Albuquerque, who received a score of 75 percent. In the House, the top-scoring Republican, Rep. Jim Smith, R-Sandia Park, got 67 percent.

Not all Democrats in the Legislature received great scores. The lowest-ranked Democratic senator was Richard Martinez, D-Española, who scored 59 percent. Another Española Democrat, Rep. Debbie Rodella, was the worst-ranked Democrat in the House, with a score of 65 percent from Conservation Voters. Rodella was defeated in her primary last month.