Dem chair to senator: Shape up or pack up

Fight over funding early childhood education

ALBUQEURQUE (KRQE) – Days before the 2014 legislative session, the New Mexico Democratic Party’s chair and a powerful Democratic senator are in a major war of words.

The fight’s over a proposed constitutional amendment that would distribute more money out of the state’s approximately $12 billion land grant permanent fund to early childhood education.

Thursday New Mexico Democratic Party chair Sam Bregman identified that piece of legislation as one of the party’s two big priorities this year. But Bregman says a fellow Democrat is standing in the way.

Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, refused to bring the bill up for a vote in committee last year.

Bregman said at a press conference that if Smith does that again, it might be time for him to find another party.

“At some point he would have to consider whether he wants to just join the Governor in doing nothing and whether or not he wants to become a Republican,” Bregman said.

A change of heart from Smith on the issue appears unlikely.

“Anytime that you take an endowment and you erode the corpus, that’s not being financially responsible,” Smith said. “[What] I hear from the chairman of the state Democratic party is that he doesn’t believe there’s a place for an individual that’s trying to be financially responsible with the people’s money.”

This isn’t the first time Smith, a state senator since 1988, has run afoul of party leadership. Two years ago, Smith sponsored one of Governor Susana Martinez’s big proposals, holding back third graders who can’t read at grade level.

Bregman says Smith’s walking on thin ice.

“If he doesn’t allow it to a vote and if he decided he just wanted to stay as a Democrat and not act like a Democrat in any way shape or form and not even give Democratic values a chance to be voted on, then I would imagine he’s probably going to be primaried,” Bregman said.

“It’s sort of disappointing to find out now he’s wanting to get rid of any Democrat that might be financially responsible,” Smith said. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Users who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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