Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez recently held forth in what some might consider enemy territory. The Belen Democrat addressed Economic Forum, an Albuquerque organization of CEOs and power brokers.
They had two things on their minds: wages and Right to Work. And, of course, the question that follows Sanchez everywhere he goes: With a new Republican majority in the House, will there be gridlock in Santa Fe?
The discussion was civil, respectful and productive, an example of what happens when people listen to each other.
Sanchez let them know up front that he’s not anti-business. “I come from a family that’s business oriented,” he said. He and brother Raymond, a former House Speaker, grew up in their parents’ bakery and restaurant in Belen, and his law practice is a business.
He’s felt the lingering recession. “In my practice it’s been difficult. It’s hard for people to pay. There just isn’t money going around.”
In a conversational tone of voice, Sanchez touched on the hot-button issues: tax cuts (he’s not convinced they bring new business to the state), drought (we need a comprehensive water plan), and education (we need to listen to teachers about what works and doesn’t work).
On Right to Work, he said, “The issue has been out there many, many years. I am not for Right to Work – never have been, never will be. Unions have a place in our country and have done a lot for us. They also create protections for workers and higher wages.”
A Forum member asked, “Don’t you think employees should have a choice about paying union dues or keeping their money?”
Sanchez responded that because the unions negotiate for everyone, all employees benefit and should pay union dues.
He supports an increase in minimum wage: “Ask yourself if you can live on $7 or $8 an hour. Can you raise a child?”
John Rockwell, CEO of Marpac, employs 100 people at his manufacturing plant. He told Sanchez that one of his customers decided it could buy the product cheaper in Mexico; the loss of that business meant he had to eliminate six jobs. “Those are good, loyal employees,” he said. But the minimum wage went up in Albuquerque, and the health care law will raise costs. “I can’t compete with other suppliers,” he said. “What do I tell my employees?”
Sanchez couldn’t answer that question, but when Rockwell spoke to Sanchez afterward, he invited Sanchez to come visit his operation, and Sanchez accepted. He then invited Rockwell to come to the Legislature.
Each wanted the other to experience his reality. For Sanchez, it’s the reality of stretching a limited budget around many pressing needs, which are on vivid display during the legislative session. For Rockwell, it’s the reality of doing business and meeting payroll in an increasingly demanding climate..
When Sanchez turned to next month’s legislative session, he had everybody’s attention.
“One of the biggest questions is how to get along with the House,” he said. “Some things we just won’t agree on. The Senate talks way too much, but it’s good to vet legislation. Some bills may have unintended consequences. I have a lot of respect for (Rep. Don Tripp, R-Socorro, the new House Speaker). There will be discussions and arguments, but I will promise you we will not end up like Washington where we can’t talk to each other and we disrespect each other. We’re at a critical stage in New Mexico in terms of turning the corner. If we sit and yell at each other, we won’t solve one problem.”
Keep Sanchez and Rockwell in mind. One party will try to look out for workers; the other will try to look out for the Rockwells. Neither side is wrong in that. Balancing the two will be just one of many legislative exercises.