- Associated Press - Friday, February 6, 2015

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - One lawmaker compared the repeal of a New Mexico immigrant driver’s license law to the Holocaust. A state senator said the appointment of a new child welfare leader was “a slap in the face” to abused children.

Despite initial calls for bipartisanship, the opening days of a divided New Mexico Legislature have been heated. Republican lawmakers have said a state law allowing immigrants in the country illegally to obtain driver’s license is likely helping terrorists and Mexican drug cartels. Democrats say any repeal would be a victory for new Jim Crow-style segregation laws.

Meanwhile, both have traded barbs on how much lobbyists are controlling the statehouse.

During a Legislative hearing last week, Democrats grilled Monique Jacobson, the secretary-designate for the Children, Youth and Families Department, over her lack of experience in child welfare and her decision not to ask for more money. She previously led the state’s tourism department.

“It’s a slap in the face to any child who’s ever been abused,” Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, said.

Those comments drew swift rebuke from the Republican Party of New Mexico.

“It’s shameful that Democrat Senator Michael Padilla is more interested in using divisive and insensitive rhetoric than actually addressing and solving the problems that children and families face in New Mexico,” said Chelsea Stallings, a spokeswoman for the Republican Party of New Mexico.

And during a tense committee hearing to repeal the driver’s license law, Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, said any repeal and participation in federal Real ID Act was akin to the deportation of Jews to concentration camps under Nazi Germany.

“It reminds me of stories we heard about the Holocaust,” she said.

Caballero later apologized.

Experts say these rhetorical bombs help lawmakers later raise money and are thrown out to speak to their base in an age of constant campaigning.

Richard Pineda, a communications professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, said while the outlandish language in legislative debates may help fire up loyal followers, those comments don’t help with the business of governing.

“It’s playground politics,” Pineda said. “When you are backed into a corner and you have nothing to lose, you start throwing haymakers.”

Pineda said that is especially true for New Mexico House Democrats who find themselves in the minority for the first time in 60 years. Republicans, however, may feel the need to be more aggressive with their comments now that they control the House and the governor’s office, Pineda said.

Republicans control the House while Democrats control the Senate.

Still, such rhetoric will likely turn off voters and hurt in attracting new leaders. “It will be hard to inspire the next generation,” Pineda said. “And it’s probably going to get worse.”


Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter: https://twitter.com/russcontreras.

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