NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – He is New Mexico’s second longest-serving U.S. Senator and now retired, Jeff Bingaman is talking about his 30 years in Congress. He’s been retired for nearly ten years now and has written about it in his new book ‘Breakdown’ which has lessons for a congress in crisis. “It’s on the institution of Congress and the practices or tactics adopted beginning in the mid 90’s I think have undermined the ability of congress to function as it should,” said Bingaman.

Bingaman speaks on government shutdowns which started under Newt Gingrich, reemerged during President Obama’s time, and then again under President Trump who used it to try to build the border wall. “The whole process of shutting down the government smacks of a banana republic,” said Bingaman.

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Senator Bingaman also says the breakdown comes when members of Congress use threats of defaulting on the debt as leverage, take part in a filibuster to delay or prevent a vote, or just outright refuse to hold a vote like they did with Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. “The partisan nature of what goes on in Congress is certainly destructive,” Bingaman said.

The Congress of today is certainly not the congress Bingaman was elected to back in 1982 but neither is the United States as was witnessed on January 6, 2021. “It’s a very unfortunate episode in our nation’s history. We need to get back to a circumstance where everyone feels like the system sort of works. If they want to influence it they can, there are legitimate ways to influence what the government does without attacking congress,” said Bingaman.

He doesn’t blame one person or one thing but says there is a shift that needs to be corrected. “I think we’ve become a more polarized society. I think people running for office who are very committed to not compromising, not working with the other party, demonizing the other party and I think that unfortunately feeds on itself.”

Senator Bingaman also spoke on new pressures on Congress including inter-party politics and special interests. “Special interests are a lot more powerful today now then when I was elected back in 83.”

In his book, Senator Bingaman wrote about some successes during his time including preserving the Valles Caldera which is part of the National Park system and nurturing the science and technology that is so strong in New Mexico with the state’s national labs. He also says he would like to see a stronger educational system, less expensive health care, and reducing the United States dependence on oil and gas production.

Senator Bingaman says the one thing he wished he had been able to pass in Congress was a national monument to protect and highlight the Mimbres culture and historic sites near Silver City where he grew up. The bill passed the Senate unanimously but failed in the House of Representatives over concerns of the effects on private landowners.