NM Sen. Sharer blocked voting rights by talking so much, no one else could

House Speaker Egolf calls the move “shameful” after announcing his retirement

By: - February 18, 2022 6:00 am

NM Sen. William Sharer talks the finer points of baseball rules and hot dogs while filibustering debate on voting rights to end the 30-day Legislative Session.

About 90 minutes into Sen. William Sharer’s filibuster on the New Mexico Senate floor, the snow stopped falling in Albuquerque. It was melting by the time he finished his hot-air diatribe on topics such as logging, baseball, hot dogs — seemingly everything but voting rights — ending the 30-day legislative session before a key piece of legislation to address voting protections could be debated.

It was all part of the game, he alluded several times in his rambling. He used parliamentary rules to control the floor, running out the clock to give his GOP colleagues one victory at the final turn in a legislative session filled with losses and concessions to the Democratic majority.

House Speaker Brian Egolf did not mince words. “Shameful,” he said, “to deny an opportunity for New Mexicans to have easier access to the ballot, making a mockery of the process when you read the rules of baseball. It’s a joke. It’s sad.”

Egolf retired from his powerful position in the Legislature as the session concluded, announcing he would not seek re-election.

Elections and voting rights are not a game to the people fighting to enhance access and protections to New Mexicans.

“Filibuster is a monument to white supremacy. It’s a relic from the Jim Crow era,” Justin Allen said. “Voting rights is the issue of this legislation. Fighting it is the legacy of segregation.”

Allen was a mainstay in Santa Fe lobbying for voting legislation, in particular a section that would smooth the process for people with felony convictions to register to vote as they return home.

The language was included in the original proposal, Senate Bill 8. As other elements of the legislation were stripped away by amendments — including the plan to give 16-year-olds the right to vote in local elections — that bill was eventually folded in with two other elections initiatives to become Senate Bill 144.

“Just blatant disrespect for so-called family,” Allen said of Sharer’s lengthy talking. “He said New Mexico is a family. Well, that’s a disrespectful way to treat family members.”

The move to combine the three proposals came after Senate Republicans stalled SB 8 with another parliamentary rule, the call of the Senate, where suddenly each senator must be present. All of the senators never materialized, so SB 8 was hamstrung.

Filibuster is a monument to white supremacy. It's a relic from the Jim Crow era. Voting rights is the issue of this legislation. Fighting it is the legacy of segregation.

– Justin Allen, voting rights advocate

SB 144 was moved quickly through committee instead, to the chagrin of the opponents who argued they were not given enough time to evaluate the bill. In turn, supporters read the revamped legislation page-by-page during a four-hour committee meeting.

House members stayed up all night to get SB 144 introduced, debated and eventually passed.

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It cleared the House just before 9:40 a.m. on the last day of the session that was slated to end at noon. A few minutes later, Sharer (R-Farmington) took the microphone on the Senate floor to begin his filibuster.

His move killed legislation that, among other things, would’ve established a Native American Voting Rights Act, require counties to offer monitored and secured drop boxes for absentee ballots, codified procedural changes from the 2020 election and made it a crime to threaten or intimidate state and county election officials.

Support for the legislation split mostly along party lines, though it did include sections supported by Republicans. Senate Bill 6 was folded into the proposal and was carried with Republican sponsors.

It’s clear Sharer knew that if the bill came to a vote, it would’ve passed the chamber that is controlled by Democrats.

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During his filibuster, Sharer chuckled several times at the expanse of his imagination, “I’m looking for love now,” he said at 11:07 a.m. He then went into a metaphor comparing government operations to the rules of baseball.

According to the rules of the Senate, he was within his rights to keep the mic for so long, averting the chamber’s two-hour limit on debate, because he started during the period reserved for announcements where there is no time limit.

“We have to play, hot dogs are part of baseball,” he said at 11:17 a.m.

The ramifications for not moving on the legislation will have a direct impact on voters participating in the 2022 election, said Austin Weahkee (Cochiti, Zuni, Diné) with NM Native Vote.

In particular, he said the issue of drop boxes for rural communities will need an extra push to ensure that resource is there — something that was a problem for some county clerks in 2020 and 2021, and would’ve been addressed by the legislation.

He also said the section on consolidating voting locations so people vote in the same place in tribal elections and in federal and state elections could have solved an access issue.

“We had a person call us who went to their chapter house, which was their polling location their whole life. They figured they were going to go vote for both their federal and state, or in tribal elections,” Weahkee said. “They walked a half-hour there.”

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That person was turned away and had to walk back and find a ride to another polling location an hour away, “so it was ultimately like a three-hour trip, and he didn’t have a car.”

Sharer represents a district that’s more than 30% Native American. That fact is not lost on Weahkee, who said the senator is accustomed to ignoring the will of those voters, because he knows they do not have enough votes to get him out of office.

At 11:39 a.m. Sharer got a hug from Sen. Katy Duhigg (D-Albuquerque). She told him with a laugh, “I think you should talk about voting rights.”

By noon, the Senate ended without a discussion of voting rights. Advocates for the legislation are hoping the conversation will not have to wait until 2023 and are asking the governor to call a special session to finish the work they started.

Egolf did not rule out that possibility.

“That is an ongoing conversation, and we will see what happens.”

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Shaun Griswold
Shaun Griswold

Shaun Griswold is a journalist in Albuquerque. He is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, and his ancestry also includes Jemez and Zuni on the maternal side of his family. He grew up in Albuquerque and Gallup. He brings a decade of print and broadcast news experience. Shaun reports on issues important to Native Americans in urban and tribal communities throughout the state, including education and child welfare.