A senator for 33 years, he gets tearful goodbye from colleaguesIt's not everyday that senators accustomed to bare-knuckles politics cry in public.
Monday was exception at the State Capitol as about two dozen legislators said goodbye to outgoing senator Tim Jennings, who was defeated in the November election.
Jennings, D-Roswell, chaired his last meeting of the Legislative Council. His successor, Republican Cliff Pirtle, will be formally sworn into office Tuesday.
The meeting itself was unremarkable, but the testimonials to Jennings were extraordinary.
Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, wept before he composed himself long enough to thank Jennings for being fair and honest. Ingle said minority Republicans always had someone willing to listen to them when Jennings was president pro tem of the Senate.
Tears also flowed from Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas, who said Jennings was a good and compassionate friend in shared times of family sicknesses and heartache.
Others said Jennings, a bear of a man, was guided by fundamental decency in his approach to legislation.
"You will never find a stronger advocate of the developmentally disabled than Tim Jennings," said Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming.
Sen. William Payne, R-Albuquerque, said those who leave the Senate with enemies had approached the job all wrong. Payne said Jennings was always a gentleman and always had friendships intact at day’s end.
Jennings, appearing uncomfortable at all the praise, eventually cried too. But he used the sendoff as a forum to call for cleaner elections.
Jennings, 62, a senator since 1979, saw his career end unceremoniously when Pirtle upset him in the November election.
Gov. Susana Martinez's political organizations targeted Jennings for defeat, and he said the ads they used were half-truths and distortions.
"Democracy can't be about hate," Jennings said.
He also complained that tens of thousands of dollars from outside New Mexico was used by Martinez's camp to attack him.
"New Mexico elections should be determined by New Mexicans," Jennings said.
But he was mostly upbeat as he prepared to walk away.
"It's been a great ride. The friendships are unbelievable," Jennings said.
Sen. Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, the majority leader, said Jennings was a resource to the Legislature itself.
"I don't know that anyone has as much institutional knowledge as he does," Sanchez said.
He praised Jennings for his skills in engineering legislation.
"Senator Jennings understood the art of politics was the art of compromise," Sanchez said.
Pirtle sat in the audience as the compliments for Jennings went on for an hour. During the campaign, Pirtle complained that Jennings' tactics were not pure, notably when a campaign crew working for Jennings filmed Pirtle's family from its property line.
Pirtle, 27, is a year younger than Jennings was when he became a senator.
PRAISE FOR MARY JANE
The Legislative Council also honored Sen. Mary Jane Garcia, who was defeated in the fall election after 25 years in office.
"She represented her constituents with much heart and much soul," Sanchez said.
He recalled how a mugger outside an Albuquerque hotel attacked Garcia, grievously injuring her but not taking her drive.
Garcia, D-Dona Ana, missed the accolades but was due at the Capitol later Monday, Sanchez said.