Legislature not just for lawmakers

Mike Linn: CNJ News Editor

Mike Miller knows how government works. He knows state lawmakers and he’s a “people person.” He likes to talk.

In many ways the Portales resident is a prototype lobbyist, a profession that much like sports runs in seasons — in annual stints of 30 or 60 days.

“Santa Fe is right up his alley,” Roosevelt County Administrator Charlene Hardin said. “He has a very good rapport with all off our legislators.”

This weekend hundreds of lobbyists will point the nose of their vehicles toward Santa Fe, a town they’ll call home for at least 60 days, the time scheduled for this year’s 2005 legislative session.

And while lobbyists make no laws, they often influence the lawmakers who do. They’re invisible on the Senate floor. Their agendas are not.

Miller has contracts this year to lobby on the behalf of Roosevelt County, Portales schools and three area hospitals, including Roosevelt General in Portales.

He’ll meet with senators and representatives, take them to lunch and testify in committee meetings as needed. At times he’ll be scrambling under the clock, he said, and then there will be days when he’ll wait, wait and wait some more. As the session nears an end — much like a looming April 15 for CPAs — lobbyists become even more busy, racing time to get there proposals up for vote or that last bit of funding for a specific project.

“There’s a lot of standing and waiting. A committee meeting may be scheduled for 1:30 p.m., but it may not go until 7 p.m. But you don’t leave, because you don’t want to miss your meeting,” he said. “It’s organized confusion. It’s fun for me. It’s a great process.”

A Portales city councilman and former Roosevelt County administrator, Miller understands the ins and outs of municipal government.

But it was 18 years ago when Miller, then the Portales fire chief, saw the grandeur that is the New Mexico Legislature. Sent to lobby for money for a fire truck with a ladder, Miller saw first-hand how laws were passed and municipal funds allocated in the Roundhouse.

Luckily, he said, Portales Sen. Stuart Ingle and former Rep. Gary Robbins were there to mentor him.

“I was fortunate to have those guys hold my hands,” he said. “I think the legislators do a heck of a job.”

Miller will make $12,500 as a contract lobbyist for Roosevelt County this year, Harden said, and he’ll work to help secure funds for various county capital outlay projects.

His main job, he said, is to help legislators understand the industry he’s lobbying for and why issues are important. But other times his role will change to that of secretary. He’ll arrange meetings, for example, between legislators and the Portales schools superintendent, who may be too busy and too far away to arrange the meetings himself.

For Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, the work of a lobbyist is an important aspect of the legislative session.

A good lobbyist, she said, will tell a legislator both sides of an issue. If they don’t they may lose the legislator’s trust, which can be extremely difficult to regain, she said.

“They play very important roles,” she said.