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The Shining

When lawmakers tackle Web cams, it’s time to watch out!

February 11, 2009, 12:00 am

I honestly believe, without hyperbole, that puppy cam is the greatest thing in the history of all things in time.
—comment on

In November 2008, six newborn Shiba Inu puppies in a box in California became the stars of the most popular Web stream in the history of the Internet—the pups had more than 4 million viewers and all they had to do was sleep, whimper and scratch.

All legislators have to do is run the state and grapple with issues such as domestic partnerships, the death penalty and whether or not citizens should be allowed to purchase alcoholic energy drinks.

While they debate, state police watch every inch of the Capitol, from the Senate floor to the hidden chiropractic practice on the second floor. They use surveillance technology that would make even the most sophisticated casino eye-in-the-sky blink with jealousy. The joystick-controlled cameras can zoom in as close as the bristles of Rep. Paul Bandy’s, R-San Juan, mustache on the House floor to as far away as teenagers idling by the Cross of the Martyrs.

So why can’t there be the same system for the public?

“Good question. We all know that this could’ve been done, should’ve been done a long time ago,” Minority Whip Rep. Keith Gardner, R-Chaves, says during the first of a weekly Monday Morning Coffee with reporters he’s holding throughout the session. “This technology has existed for a long time. There’s no excuse for us to be one of the last states to do this. I mean, c’mon, we’ve wasted more money in the past two to four years for stuff that we shouldn’t have done.”

This session, responding to demands from her constituents, Arnold-Jones suited herself up with a new laptop, a consumer-grade Web camera, a Verizon wireless card and an account with the streaming site Mobulus. Then, during her first committee hearing—Taxation & Revenue—she began streaming ( and didn’t stop—even when Chairman Rep. Edward Sandoval, D-Bernalillo, requested she do so. By the end of the meeting, she had logged nearly 100 viewers.

“I understand that it takes getting your legs sliced off to make any progress and that has happened,” Arnold-Jones says. “I’m not whining. You may not recognize this, but I’m really a rules person. I actually try to obey the rules until I can’t anymore.”

Arnold-Jones has a reputation for never backing down: In 2008, she publicly accused the New Mexico Republican Party of threatening her if she didn’t bow out of the District 1 congressional race. Not only had the House never had to deal with streaming Web video of its proceedings, it had no rules to address the issue. So, by the end of the day, House Speaker Ben Luján, D-Santa Fe—who also sits on Taxation & Revenue—had summoned the party leaders of both House caucuses, Rep. Thomas Taylor, R-San Juan, and Rep. W Ken Martinez, D-Cibola, to his office.

The House needed a rule to allow Arnold-Jones to stream the proceedings without breaking decorum; Martinez and Taylor would need to come up with one for the Rules & Order of Business Committee the next day.
In the meantime, the press—especially Las Cruces blogger Heath Haussamen—had already begun publishing histories of the Web cam battle, painting Luján as one of the villains—a characterization with which Luján later took issue during the rules committee.

“Actually, I didn’t say he personally opposed it,” Haussamen tells SFR. “I just said he had been involved with other leaders in killing it.”

It wasn’t the first time the Legislature had considered installing Web cameras. A few sessions earlier, it had appropriated $70,000 to install Web cameras to cover the floors. The Senate bought the cameras, installed them and then took them down again, blaming the budget crunch. The House, however, left its portion unspent until it finally expired last year.

Martinez, who ran against Luján for the speaker position in 2006 and lost, defends his former opponent. It wasn’t a matter of opposing Web cams, he tells SFR, but defending a strict political process—“introduce a resolution, take it to the rules committee, discuss it, come up with a solution”—that Arnold-Jones had transgressed.

“Referencing back to the process made it seem like hesitancy,” Martinez says. “I don’t think it was put in the process to kill it. I think it was put in the process because that’s what we do.”

And so, Martinez introduced a resolution allowing for live streaming with the permission of the speaker for streams of the floor and the permission of the committee chairman for streams during committees. The resolution also stated that chairmen have the responsibility to preserve order in committees “while maximizing the public’s ability to observe, report on and participate.”

The debate over the resolution in the rules committee zipped from epistemology, the study of knowledge, to computer science. Some asked why a rule was even necessary. After all, how is a member of the Legislature broadcasting video any different than a member of the press recording audio? Others argued it was time to pony up the cash and install Web cams once and for all.

Before long, the committee realized the issue was too large for a single meeting and Luján agreed to appoint a subcommittee on legislative web casting to study it further and report back. With Republicans hollering that the committee should be appointed immediately, the meeting adjourned. The story was on the Internet before legislators had even left the room.

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