Unless a New Mexico legislator is charged with a felony or convicted of a crime, there’s always an outpouring of accolades when he or she calls it quits.
Fellow lawmakers write memorials praising the most unremarkable back-benchers. Partisans send handouts to the media extolling allies who showed up, toed the party line and collected their daily expense allowance.
Rep. Alonzo Baldonado, R-Los Lunas, was the latest recipient of compliments galore after he resigned from the Legislature over the weekend. Baldonado quit in the middle of a two-year term, an unpleasant point none of his gushing Republican colleagues dwelled on.
Testimonials from legislators also neglected to mention the time Baldonado made national news, much to his dismay.
It began innocently on a warm October day in 2013. Baldonado arrived at the state Capitol for a meeting of an interim legislative committee focused on education policies.
The agenda seemed tame enough. Teachers and a physician outlined ways public schools were combating childhood obesity.
A physical education teacher from an elementary school in Albuquerque mentioned she used yoga as part of a program to keep kids active and fit.
Baldonado said he didn’t like yoga being part of the curriculum. He was worried it might be a gateway to Eastern religions.
An evangelical Christian, Baldonado said yoga’s roots are in Hinduism and Buddhism. He wanted to know if parents could pull their kids from yoga classes before indoctrination could occur.
The teacher said one child, a Jehovah’s Witness, asked to be excused from the class. That request was granted.
But the teacher also said she avoided the word yoga. She called her program mat work or stretching exercises. Bland language was intended to dispel any notion that an exercise routine was connected to any religion.
Baldonado remained skeptical. His objections about kids sweating through yoga class were overblown but troublesome.
I buttonholed him for an interview after the meeting. Always personable, Baldonado provided a detailed account of his own parenting decisions.
He and his wife were home-schooling their three daughters, so he hadn’t been aware of yoga practitioners infiltrating gym classes in the name of good health. But his girls, members of a swim team, hadn’t escaped what Baldonado saw as a threat.
“When the coach uses yoga, we opt out. I think it tends to open a door to a practice tied to a religious belief,” he said.
I wrote about his stand. Other reporters had skipped the legislative meeting. They soon followed with their own stories about Baldonado. He became the state’s most publicized legislator for a few weeks.
I wasn’t working for The New Mexican at the time, but the newspaper editorialized about Baldonado’s aversion to yoga.
“The story, naturally, has gone far and wide on the internet, with people from all parts of the country laughing at one earnest New Mexico lawmaker. We’re not laughing,” the editorial stated. “This fear of the other, a deliberate disdain for different worldviews and diverse ways of thinking, is one of the chief weaknesses in American public life today.”
Harsh criticisms of Baldonado appeared in other publications. In a letter to the Albuquerque Journal, one man wrote: “The smartest thing Baldonado can do is sign up for a couple of yoga classes. As a member of the House Education Committee, he might learn something.”
Baldonado engendered more criticism on another issue soon after getting in a twist about yoga.
He exited his seat in the House chamber to avoid voting on a proposed constitutional amendment to raise the statewide minimum wage. “Taking a walk” is what legislators call it when they duck an issue.
House members voted 33-29 for the proposal to increase the minimum wage, but that wasn’t enough to advance it to a vote of the people. A constitutional amendment requires at least 36 votes in the House to make the ballot.
Baldonado and five other representatives managed to kill the measure without having to vote on it. None of this hurt Baldonado’s legislative career.
Republicans in the 2014 election took control of the state House of Representatives for the first time in 62 years. Baldonado was elected majority whip by his Republican colleagues.
His stay in the majority ended after the 2016 election. Democrats took back the House. They now dominate the chamber 45-23. There also is one independent and one vacancy because of Baldonado’s resignation after 11 years in the House.
He will be succeeded by a Republican. The Valencia County Board of Commissioners is a GOP panel, and it makes the selection.
Republican lawmakers will continue gushing about what a fine legislator Baldonado was. That’s politics.
Fans of yoga and common sense have a different view: Baldonado’s replacement won’t have a tough act to follow.