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New Mexico Senate Judiciary Passes Impeachment Resolution
March 5, 2007
Note: This is the fifth article covering SJR5 in the New Mexico Legislature.
Links to the first four are at the end of this article.
Today, March 5, 2007, by a vote of 5-1, the New Mexico Senate Judiciary Committee passed SJR5 – Resolution to Impeach George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.After a 3:45 PM start, a dozen other bills and over three hours of grueling testimony, SJR5 was finally brought to the attention of the Judiciary Committee by Chairman, Cisco McSorley.Senators Ortiz y Pino and John Grubesic, resolution sponsors, introduced the expert testimony of Elizabeth Holtzman, former U.S. Representative from New York, and a key member of the House Judiciary Committee when it held impeachment hearings on the activities of Richard Nixon. She served in the U.S. House from 1973 to 1981 and later became Brooklyn’s district attorney.In her testimony given on Friday to Senator Ortiz y Pino via video teleconference, Holtzman responded to concerns that Ortiz y Pino and others in the New Mexico Senate have about this resolution.Holtzman fielded the following questions from Ortiz y Pino:Ortiz y Pino: “What business is it of a state legislature to deal with impeachment?”Holtzman: “The business of democracy is the business of every American.” Holtzman went on to say that the framers of the Constitution placed the power to remove a President from office in the hands of the Congress, the legislative branch of our government, and pointed out that this act places the ultimate power to remove an elected official from office in the hands of the people. She also reminded us that the impeachment proceeding against Richard Nixon did not begin by Congress until the people demanded it.Ortiz y Pino: “Are we presuming guilt by calling for this?”
Holtzman: “I don’t believe so.” A resolution is drafted “asking Congress to investigate a grave problem.”
Ortiz y Pino: “Is criminal activity needed to impeach a President?”
Holtzman: “We’re not talking about a criminal offense.” She stated that criminal activity is not required to impeach. However, if an elected official commits a “great and dangerous offense that subverts the Constitution”, then that is considered a high crime and misdemeanor.Holtzman further stated that when George Bush fails to obey the law and to honor his oath of office, this constitutes subversion of the Constitution.Ortiz y Pino: “Many say there is ‘so little time left’ in the Bush administration, let’s not waste our time on impeachment and allow them to finish out their term.”Holtzman: Holztman broke this down into two sections. First she addressed, “Is there enough time?” She said, “There is enough time. Congress is not totally consumed with this.” There is a separate committee created to deal with the process of an investigation while the rest of the House goes on with other business.Her second point here is the question of “Why bother?” To this she replied, "What check will there be on a President who has already lied?” How can we “allow him to leave without accountability?” To do so “leaves a shrunken, shriveled Constitution” which gives future Presidents permission to violate further laws. “If we don’t check it now, where do you check it?”She closed saying that the Constitution and our form of government is not “just for past generations . . . . it is up to us too.”So many of us, myself included, have in the past relied upon someone else to take the responsibility of watching the Flame of Freedom to make sure it does not go out. Too many of us rely solely upon elected officials to be the Keeper Of The Flame when that is our duty. We have abdicated that position to them for such a long time that we have almost forgotten how to protect that precious gift, and many of our officials have forgotten why it exists in the first place — to assure every citizen that they have certain rights under this form of government, rights which have been usurped by the recall of habeas corpus and the illegal wiretapping of thousands of Americans, just to name two.
After Holtzman’s testimony, there was forty minutes of public testimony and then discussion by the committee at which time Senator Rod Adair questioned Senators Ortiz y Pino and Grubesic as to the intent of the resolution. Senator Adair seemed to be having difficulty grasping that even though the resolution is named “Impeachment” and that the allegations of offenses are stated inside the resolution, that this does not imply a done deal.
Senator Adair spoke directly to the more than hundred citizens present for twenty-five minutes, calling to account specific points that citizens had made in their testimony. In essence, he does not believe that any actions of George W. Bush or Dick Cheney constitute an impeachable offense. He methodically went through every point of the resolution and basically said that none of them were true.
Adair said, “These people hate us.” I am not sure of who he was exactly referring to and although I might guess, I will not voice that here as I have not yet spoken to Senator Adair to ask him who he meant by that. He also said to the audience, “You will regret it. Weakness is not what these people respect.” Again who “these people” are, at this point, I can only surmise.
At 8:04 PM, when the committee vote was taken, Senators Grubesic, Lopez, Sanchez, Martinez, and McSorley voted in favor of SJR5. Senator Adair was the lone vote against, with Senators Craven, Paine, and Rainaldi not present for the vote.
Chairman, Senator McSorley commended the citizens present for the grace and dignity with which they/we have handled a difficult process, noting the long hours some have put in waiting for the Senate to schedule and meet.
This win in Judiciary is a stunning end to the three Senate committee hearings. The first two were won by one vote. The four-vote difference in the Judiciary Committee is nothing less than remarkable.
Next it must go to the Senate Floor to be voted upon by the entire Senate of which there are forty-two members. In order to pass the Senate, it needs to have twenty-two votes. There are twenty-four Democrats, but this is not a shoe-in with all the Democrats even though the impeachment of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney was unanimously placed on the New Mexican Democratic Party Platform last summer.
We have heard that some Senators have had a difficult time dealing with citizen activists who tend to speak passionately about this issue. We can only say that it seems that the Senators and other legislators may have gotten too used to the smooth-talk of the paid lobbyists who are crawling all over the Roundhouse.
Citizens do not get paid to stand around and wait to talk with legislators, cannot afford to devote hours away from their jobs, and may not have the patience to withstand the frustration of showing up for a 1:30 PM committee session and be told at 6:00 PM that because the Senate is still in session on the floor, the committee hearing is postponed, and come back another day and maybe it will be heard then.
Lobbyists get paid for all of it. And the longer I am inside the Roundhouse, the clearer it becomes that the rules with which to interact with legislators has been written by the lobbyists. They have it down pat, and they have accustomed legislators to this manner by which they are approached.
When a citizen walks into the Roundhouse we are not handed an explanation of these unwritten rules, and presuming the right to speak our mind, we proceed to bungle through a rough-hewn version of the issue which the legislator takes offense to.
Most of us understand that it is politic to be polite, but when faced with the short amount of time available to talk with a legislator and not being privy to the fact that there are an untold number of ways to attain a legislator’s attention, the ordinary citizen is out of the loop. We just want to speak directly to the issue and do not have the training or salary paid to lobbyists to smooze our way through it.
The staff from Senator Ortiz y Pino’s office has been very helpful to the citizen activists involved in supporting this resolution. They have kindly informed and coached us as to what is acceptable behavior so that we may present a more friendly face to the senators, especially to those who are adamantly opposed to this resolution.
All told, it is amazing that this resolution has attained this point. With both absent mainstream coverage, and unfriendly reporting by local newspapers, this success is truly the result of the support of the hundreds of New Mexicans, some who have traveled great distances to attend the three hearings. The hundreds of citizen phone calls have been responsible for turning a no-vote to yes.
The courage of Senator Ortiz y Pino and Grubesic to sponsor this resolution, and of those Senators who have signed on and voted for it in committee, inspires the true sense of what the democratic process is all about. They have listened and heard the call of the people, and have worked tirelessly and with great expertise to bring this resolution through three committees, a feat which some said could not be accomplished.
With the leadership of these New Mexican Democrats, we can only say that there appears to be a high probability of this resolution becoming a reality-message to the U.S. Congress.
Stay tuned for the full Senate Vote — still to be scheduled.
Links to previous articles covering SJR5:
>#1- NM Lawmakers Launch Impeachment Resolution of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney
>#2- New Mexico Legislature Resolution to Impeach: Update & Reflections
>#3- New Mexico's Legislature & The Use of Asbestos Gloves: Update & Reflections
>#4- NM Legislature Deals Two ‘Green Chiles’ to SJR5!
Labels: Dick Cheney, Elizabeth Holtzman, George Bush, Impeachment Resolution, New Mexico Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Ortiz y Pino, SJR5