Garcia steps out of bounds after her bar is cited

Posted 8/14/2007 02:56:00 PM

In a state that doesn’t pay its lawmakers, the vast majority have other professions. That can be beneficial because their expertise is useful. Lawyers are better at crafting laws than the rest of us. Teachers have experience in education. Farmers and ranchers know a lot about agriculture.

But legislators must tread carefully when, because of committee assignments or the simple fact that their votes count, they come anywhere close to an issue in which they have a financial interest.

Apparently, Sen. Mary Jane Garcia, D-Doña Ana, the majority whip and a bar owner, doesn’t understand that.

A year ago, the Richardson Administration enacted tougher penalties for serving minors and intoxicated people that Garcia and others criticized as unfair. Instead of trying to meet the new requirements, three Las Cruces bars closed. A fourth is being targeted for closure after being charged with overserving a college student who died of alcohol poisoning in 2004.

A bar owned by Garcia’s brother-in-law and nephew filed an application in May to sell its liquor license. And at the end of May, Garcia’s own bar, Victoria’s, was cited for serving an intoxicated person.

Several weeks after her bar was cited, Garcia held a meeting in Mesilla, attended by six legislators and at least 50 alcohol-industry representatives. She hauled officials from the departments responsible for administering and enforcing the rules and statutes to the meeting. Some of them had to travel from as far away as Santa Fe at taxpayers’ expense.

Garcia and others then beat them up (in the figurative sense), accusing them of Gestapo tactics. They complained about unfair regulations and accused investigators of unfairly targeting specific bars and areas. They said many regulations are inconsistent and nonsensical.

Those who showed up to complain may have some valid points. A lot of people believe the new rules are unfair and the regulations and statutes aren’t being enforced evenly. Any time six legislators, some from as far away as Roswell, meet in one place to speak so passionately about an issue, you can be certain there is some gray area that needs further debate.

The need for additional deliberation is overshadowed, however, by Garcia’s actions.

The Regulation and Licensing Department is now seeking sanctions against Victoria’s. It’s proposing a standard penalty – a fine of $1,000 and a one-day suspension of the liquor license on a Friday. If Garcia and her sister, co-owner of the bar, don’t agree, the penalty could be as high as a $10,000 fine.

Perhaps that’s why, on the night of May 25 when she was informed her bar was being cited, Garcia’s sister told the officer, according to the police report, that her sister was a state senator and demanded a business card. That creates the appearance that Garcia’s sister was seeking special treatment or making a threat.

The subsequent calling of the contentious meeting in Mesilla creates the appearance that Sen. Garcia could be trying to intimidate the department that cited her bar and the department seeking administrative sanctions. As the majority whip, she certainly has influence over the budgets and salaries of the very departments and employees pursuing action against her bar.

Garcia needs to back off immediately. There are plenty of other legislators who share her concerns and don’t have her conflict of interest. She needs to let the discussion be about the administration and enforcement of regulations and laws, not her inability to grasp the basic concept of avoiding the appearance of impropriety.

Garcia, who is a member of the legislative Ethics Subcommittee, also needs to make sure her sister never again invokes her public position for personal gain.

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At 3:48 PM, August 14, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heath--take it easy,your a young man, who is very talented. Stay with facts and bipartisim words, don't get caught in the personal attacks.

At 3:57 PM, August 14, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Right on as usual, Heath, reporting things the Sun News won't touch and reminding us of politics as usual in Las Cruces.

At 4:23 PM, August 14, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cock fighting doesn't kill people, but driving drunk certainly does. Come on Mary Jane, pay your fine and train your employees.

At 4:40 PM, August 14, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, Dirty dirty dirty. Heath, exposing the disgusting acts of our officials is something we can never repay you for. It's time we, as citizens did our job and kicked this dirty politician out of office.

At 5:39 PM, August 14, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mary Jane Garcia is not "disgusting", but she did step over the line on this. She should have not allowed her ego to get involved and found someone else to be her proxy on this issue, which IS legitimate. I agree with the above commenter: pay your fine and train your employees, MJ.

At 7:02 PM, August 14, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bravo! This is further proof of why this is one of the best outlets, print, television or Internet, for political news and opinion in this state. Thanks, Heath.

At 7:25 AM, August 15, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I certainly agree with the comment that cockfighting doesn't kill people, but drunk driving does. Mary Jane should get out of the way and let the enforcers do their job. Train your employees.

At 7:42 AM, August 15, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While she may feel the need to change her approach to these matters, she'll feel no political pressure to do so.

At 9:16 AM, August 15, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Senator Garcia getting bashed for defending a business that has been in her family over generations seems very unfair. All you people pretend like your straight shooting. You know for a fact put in the same situation you'd protect yourself as well, using any resources available. That's why you're shining the light so bright on her, to deflect it from yourselves. She's been elected how many times into that office? She must be doing something right. Not like us, "anonymously" commenting about her and everyone else. Just like a kid throwing rocks into traffic from behind a bush, causing conflict "anonymously". And why? Because you never know when you might have to call her or whomever with a request for information, help with an issue meaningful to you, or just to cry about how you were treated unfairly and how can she/they help you.

At 9:57 AM, August 15, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

She's been elected how many times into that office? She must be doing something right.

As far as I can tell the only things she's done right is put a "D" behind her name and live in Dona Ana County.

At 10:09 AM, August 15, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In this day and age where things are always interpreted as either black or white, good or bad, up or down we tend to forget that people like MJ Garcia are human beings who have the capacity for doing great things, and also for making mistakes. It doesn't mean she is corrupt or hasn't done anything four our district--quite the contrary, we would not be the city we are today had she not worked tirelessly for issues that effect each of our lives every day, like domestic violence, education, and animal cruelty prevention. She just needs to be more a State Senator and less a citizen on this issue, thats all.

At 11:19 AM, August 15, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I challenge you--do the research on MJG, see what and how many bills she has authored and has had signed. You will be amazed. Dona Ana County should ralley behind her and what she has done for all of us.

At 11:21 AM, August 15, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Look, Sen. Garcia crossed a major ethical line. While may be true that "put in the same situation" many of us would protect ourselves, I have never volunteered to run for office, I am not putting myself in that same situation. I now must question if she has only her own interests in mind when she makes any decision.


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