Webcasts ‘thorny issue’

By Kate Nash: The Santa Fe New Mexican

It’s the issue that won’t go away: to webcast or not from the state Capitol.

As a House subcommittee considers whether and how to allow webcasting, the topic came up during Senate floor debate on a budget proposal when Sen. Mark Boitano, R-Albuquerque, attempted an amendment to spend $7,000 on webcasting this session.

And it came up when the state’s Republican Party political director dropped off coffee Thursday morning for Democrats who might be against the measure as a spoof after one Democrat said earlier this week he feared a webcast might catch him asleep.

“(The issue is) not going to go away, it’s going to come back as another amendment and another bill. … If we’re going to do it, let’s just do, find a way to do it,” Senate Minority Whip Bill Payne, an Albuquerque Republican, said during the Senate floor debate.

The issue started Monday when Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, an Albuquerque Republican, webcast a committee hearing without permission. She since has continued doing it, as a subcommittee of the House Rules and Order of Business Committee grapples with how to address the issue.

During the Senate debate, Boitano attempted to add money to a solvency package to pay for webcasting, but after about 45 minutes of debate, he withdrew the amendment saying he’ll introduce the measure by itself.

Boitano said the debate is getting old already and he hopes the Senate can start webcasting in the next few weeks. “This is really a thorn in our side that’s not going to go away. … I had a whole head of hair when we began to debate webcasting years ago,” he said.

The Senate had purchased and installed cameras, but the committee on committees late last month voted not to webcast, and the cameras were taken down shortly before the session.

Sen. Phil Griego, D-San Jose, said he fears webcasting could mean even longer debates on the Senate floor, which has a penchant for all-night gatherings at the end of each session.

“You think the debates are long now, wait till you televise the Senate. We will never get out of here. People will pontificate until they see that camera and especially if that camera is aiming straight at them,” he said. “Now they will grandstand and want to become their district’s movie star.”

Griego also said he doesn’t think many New Mexicans want to see the debates.

“Most of the people in the state of New Mexico don’t want to see someone like me standing up and pontificating. They just want to know how are you going to vote, and the vote is always made public, it is not a secret thing.”

Sen. Kent Cravens, an Albuquerque Republican, spoke in favor of webcasting.

“If we’re not willing to spend $7,000 on transparent government, folks, then I don’t want to see a capital outlay bill on this floor for (2009) or (2010).

“If we’re going to be brazen enough to slap New Mexicans in the face and say `no you can’t see what’s going on on the Senate floor’ … we better not be talking about capital outlay because I don’t think we have the money for capital outlay.”

While Boitano is working to appropriate money, there is some already available for webcasting.

The Legislature in 2006 appropriated $75,000 in capital outlay for webcasting. About $22,000 of that is left after more than $36,000 was spent on cameras. Another $17,000 was spent on related equipment.

Earlier in the day, Diego Espinoza, political director for the state Republican Party, dropped off baskets of ground coffee and creamer for Democrats on the House Rules Committee.

The idea was a jab at Rep. Ray Begaye, D-Shiprock, who earlier in the week said about webcasting: “They could use it if I’m sleeping, and I’m being recorded,” he said. “It could be used as a political gain (by) my opponent.”

Begaye, however, indicated Wednesday he favors webcasting, as did all the other members of the subcommittee of the House Rules Committee.

The subcommittee was expected to meet Thursday but didn’t. It could meet this morning.

The subcommittee is researching the matter and will report back to the Rules Committee. That committee is considering a measure (House Resolution 2) that would leave it up to each committee chairman to decide whether they will allow a hearing to be broadcast on the Web.

Contact Kate Nash at 986-3036 or knash@sfnewmexican.com.