Ben Altamirano of Silver City is the Democratic leader of the New Mexico State Senate. As President Pro Tempore he seconded the motion to have our Legislature call upon Congress to begin impeachment proceedings against President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney. The resolution passed its first committee hearing 5-0. It sailed through two more committee hearings and gathered momentum on its way to the Senate floor.
Then Altamirano turned around and prevented the resolution from being debated by the full Senate. The resolution died because Altamirano and eight other Democrats sided with Republicans to protect Bush and Cheney from the wrath of the American people.
Hundreds upon hundreds of New Mexicans filled committee rooms and lined hallways to support impeachment. The New Mexico Democratic Party’s platform seeks impeachment. The party faithful, and probably most New Mexicans, would be quite pleased to see the men who lied us into Iraq removed from office.
The activists storming the Roundhouse represented every walk of life in this state. They were Democrat and Republican, young and old, Hispanic and Anglo. The best example of the breadth of this uprising was demonstrated by a rancher from Carrizzozo. He drove his pickup to Santa Fe at least half a dozen times to demand that his state government do something about a presidency gone mad.
As previously discussed in this column (“Land of Impeachment,” Feb. 1-7), the resolution was introduced by State Sens. Jerry Ortiz y Pino (D, Bernalillo) and John Grubesic (D, Santa Fe). It set forth the high crimes and misdemeanors America knows Bush and Cheney have committed. The resolution sought to prod a skittish Democratic Congressional majority into using the tools at its disposal to protect our constitutional form of government from the criminality of this administration.
The surge of public support for the impeachment resolution caught everyone off guard. When Altamirano assigned the resolution to a difficult track requiring three committee hearings, its obituary was all but written. But the outcry from New Mexicans was so strong that, in packed committee rooms, no one spoke in opposition. Republicans generally ducked the hearings. Not until the final committee hearing was a dissenting voice heard, and then only a single Republican senator from Roswell spoke. He rambled on about Islamo-fascists and forgot to say much in defense of Bush and Cheney.
When the committee report approving the impeachment resolution was read on the floor of the Senate, Bush worshippers counterattacked. On a voice vote, when many Democratic senators were out of the room, they shouted “No!” the loudest. The resolution would have died there, but Ortiz y Pino demanded a roll call. Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez rallied Democrats. That’s when Altamirano and eight other Democrats thumbed their noses at their party’s own activists and helped Republicans keep the bill from being heard.
While Sanchez was working to marshal the needed votes, Altamirano not only failed to use his position to back up his Majority Leader, he undermined Sanchez and the Democratic supporters of the resolution. But Altamirano couldn’t do it alone. Here are the names of the Democrats who helped Altamirano help Republicans help Bush and Cheney escape a call for accountability: James Taylor of Albuquerque’s South Valley, Carlos Cisneros of Questa, Phil Griego of San Jose, John Pinto of Tohatchi, Timothy Jennings of Roswell, John Arthur Smith of Deming, Pete Campos of Las Vegas and David Ulibarri of Grants.
I asked Altamirano’s office why he switched from seconding the motion for the impeachment resolution in committee to killing it on the Senate floor. Altamirano has yet to explain himself. Sen. John Arthur Smith reportedly told one activist he opposed the resolution because “you can’t impeach someone for being stupid.” I haven’t seen any explanation from the others.
Ortiz y Pino told me he’s glad they came this far, even though they did not prevail. “I was so very impressed with the people who turned out to support us. If we hadn’t tried, we would have been tormented that we simply watched our democracy slip away.”
Grubesic responded with fire: “This country was founded by rebels. This country was forged in violence, ferocity, dissent and uproar. This country is vanishing before our eyes, not because we are blind, but because we are willing participants in its destruction. ... There should have been a debate, argument, uproar. Instead, we quietly gutted the sovereign power of the people with polite political procedure.”
New Mexicans who called for impeachment did so out of love and devotion for this nation’s constitution. They know what, in these times, patriotism requires. We can’t say the same for all Democrats in the New Mexico State Senate.