SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – Was it offensive or is the governor’s staff just trying to stir the pot?
A Democrat representing Albuquerque, Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto is being called out by Republican Governor Susana Martinez’s communications staff over a comment he made about Parkinson’s disease during a committee meeting Monday.
While Senator Ivey-Soto told KRQE News 13 Monday that the comment wasn’t meant to be offensive, the Governor’s spokesperson Michael Lonergan called Ivey-Soto’s words “disappointing and inappropriate.”
The Parkinson’s disease-related comment came during the Senate Rules Committee hearing Monday morning inside the Roundhouse state capitol building. Lawmakers were wrapping up a nearly hour-long discussion about a piece of legislation targeting Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders.
“By some estimates, there are at least 12,000 people in this state who are suffering from Parkinson’s,” said Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, who is sponsoring the memorial.
The discussion centered on the lack of treatment options for people with movement disorders and Parkinson’s in New Mexico. According to testimony in the meeting, there are only three neurologists in New Mexico that can diagnose Parkinson’s and it often takes six to nine months to get an initial or follow up appointment with those specialists.
Several people with Parkinson’s and other movement disorders testified to the committee about having to travel out of state for special treatment for their condition. Advocates are pushing for the University of New Mexico to create its own movement disorders center that would focus on treatment for the local population.
No one opposed the memorial during Tuesday’s Senate Rules Committee meeting. The memorial asks the UNM’s Board of Regents to look into a creating a movement disorder center.
It was Senator Ivey-Soto’s comment however, that got the attention of the Governor Susana Martinez’s staff. As the Senator shared his thoughts and support for the memorial, he said this:
“By the way, I don’t mean to be at all insensitive… I do have to say, I love actually talking about stuff with the Parkinson’s folks, because I get all of this nodding and it feels very affirming as I’m talking,” said Sen. Ivey-Soto.
Meeting video shows some people in the committee room audibly laughed at Sen. Ivey-Soto’s remarks, Governor Martinez’s office didn’t.
A communications staffer for the Governor, Michael Lonergan posted a video clip of Ivey-Soto’s remarks on his Twitter account, writing, “Did (New Mexico Senate Democrats) really just make this joke about Parkinson’s?”
KRQE News 13 asked Senator Ivey-Soto about his comment.
“I did not feel like what I said was offensive and as far as I know, the people in the room did not feel like it was offensive, but if anybody is in any way hurt, then I certainly apologize,” said Ivey-Soto.
Ivey-Soto told KRQE News 13 that the comment was a human moment of levity in regards to a very serious subject.
“It was a recognition of one part of the struggles that they face,” said Sen. Ivey-Soto.
A former member of UNM’s Board of Regents who is now living with Parkinson’s and pushing for more treatment in the state, Jamie Koch was in the room when it happened.
However, Koch says he wasn’t offended.
“What we ought to talk about is the people that came there, the young lady that came there that was very emotional, the young man that could hardly walk, that’s what we ought to talk about,” said Koch.
KRQE News 13 requested an interview with Lonergan Monday. He declined, instead, sending the following statement:
“It’s disappointing and inappropriate that Senator Ivey-Soto and the Senate Rules Committee are making jokes at the expense of those suffering from debilitating diseases like Parkinson’s. New Mexicans deserve better. The Senate Rules Committee should get back to work.” –Michael Lonergan, spokesperson for Governor Susana Martinez.
This isn’t the first time the Senate Rules Committee has faced scrutiny from the Governor. Governor Martinez recently vetoed funding for the committee for the 2018 legislative session. The governor has sparred with the Senate Rules Committee over the last several years, which is in charge of scheduling confirmation hearings for appointed positions.