Resigning Best Solution for Lawmakers Married to Lobbyists | Local news

The end of the holiday season is a good time for a house cleaning. My use of the capital H is intentional.

Due to its dedication to lobbyists rather than ordinary people, the New Mexico House of Representatives allows storefront lenders to charge the unreasonable 175% annual interest rate.

Two members of the House are married to lobbyists who have been paid to defend credit companies.

One is Representative Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque. His wife is the powerful lobbyist Vanessa Alarid. She advocated for the lending industry this year when it managed to keep the interest rate at 175%.

The other lawmaker is House Majority Whip Doreen Gallegos, D-Las Cruces. She is married to another well-known lobbyist, Scott Scanland. He did not lobby for loan companies this year, but was previously one of their paid lawyers.

Lawmakers should walk away from any bill that a spouse lobbies. New Mexico is a community property state. Lobbying revenues also go into the pocket of the legislator.

Maestas tried to counter my argument by saying that he can never abstain if he wants to do his job. He said his position was based on advice from a member of the National Conference of State Legislatures. If Maestas recused himself from voting, he said, vested interests could silence his voice again and again by hiring his wife as a lobbyist.

Down is up, and conflicts of interest must be allowed, at least in the world of Maestas.

It is time for the 70 members of the House of Representatives to take a stand. The chamber already looks nasty for its handling of interest rates. The least House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe can do is call on members to abstain from voting on bills their spouse is lobbying.

Eliminating conflicts of interest is especially important on bills in order to reduce the triple-digit interest rates charged to low-income people by loan companies.

Earlier this year, state senators voted 25-14 to lower the rate from 175% to 36%. A mix of Democrats and Republicans in the House choked the bill with a flurry of amendments, pushing the proposed interest rate on many small loans up to 99%.

Maestas and Gallegos voted for a 36% interest rate when the bill was heard by the House Trade and Economic Development Committee.

Gallegos then became part of a small group of House members who devised a mix of 99% and 36% interest rates. Maestas delivered a speech upstairs in favor of the “compromise” which would have included

With the Senate and the House divided, the reform bill is dead. The rate of 175% remains legal. It was a lobbying triumph and an embarrassment for the House.

State credit unions had intensified. Their leader has promised to provide installment loans at rates of 36% or less.

Most members of the House have always chosen storefront lenders. They included Representative Susan Herrera, D-Embudo, who was a sponsor of the bill to cut the interest rate to 36%.

“Almost 600,000 of these small installment loans have been taken out in New Mexico over the past year,” Herrera said. “These numbers tell us that families in our state need the ability to access these emergency resources just to make ends meet. If we set the cap too low, they will be denied all loans and have no options left, so this trade-off strikes that balance. “

Industry lobbyists could not have said it better. Thirty-six percent is sort of tiny.

Paul B. Stull, president and CEO of the Credit Union Association of New Mexico, saw the House fail to strike a deal.

“We help people get out of debt, not debt that can ruin their lives. We charge rates that are only a fraction of 175 percent, ”he said.

Another bill to reduce the interest rate to 36% could be introduced in the 30-day legislative session starting next month. Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham could open a place on the agenda for the bill.

Another option is for a legislator to propose a constitutional amendment lowering the interest rate. This move would bypass the governor by putting the proposal to a statewide popular vote.

A proposed constitutional amendment is expected to allow both houses of the Legislative Assembly to vote. The Senate is strong. Once again, the House could be an obstacle to reform.

Think New Mexico, a public policy organization, is pushing for a rate of no more than 36 percent. Three weeks before the legislative session, Think New Mexico is already counting the votes in the House.

According to his tally, 33 members support an interest rate of 36%. Twenty-nine oppose the rate cut, and eight are undecided or not saying where they stand.

Fred Nathan, who runs Think New Mexico, places Maestas and Gallegos among the eight his organization rates as tossup votes.

My mailbox was overflowing with emails and letters about political inaction on this issue.

“The 175% interest rate is an outrage and it is immoral,” wrote one subscriber.

Another said: “The usury was illegal.

In the New Mexico House, it seems, lobbyists carry more weight than loan sharks.

Ringside Seat is an opinion piece on people, politics and the news. Contact Milan Simonich at

[email protected] or 505-986-3080.

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