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At the Roundhouse

Daily roundups of the N.M. legislative session by John Robertson

At the Roundhouse: GOP Hope

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Monica Youngblood managed to escape the Capitol last week for a quick lunch with two other new House Republicans.At the Roundhouse

One of the three confided to the fellow freshmen, “I don’t know if I can do this.”

All three, a couple of weeks into New Mexico’s 60-day legislative session, shared the feeling, Youngblood  said, while emphasizing that she is not giving up.

The new member’s remark reflects the mass of information and concerns that confront all of New Mexico’s part-time lawmakers when they arrive in Santa Fe for the state’s annual legislative sessions.

It also conveys the obstacles and frustrations confronting members of the political minority, particularly the newest to the fray.

Youngblood was elected in November from a district on the north end of Albuquerque’s West Side and clearly is one of the Republican Party’s rising young stars. But you can tell from talking to her that being a newcomer in the compression of a 60-day legislative session, in a chamber where Democrats dominate the day-to-day action with a 38-32 majority, is a daunting experience.

Her cellphone buzzes often as she tries to catch up on reading, mail and constituent calls, between a floor session and a committee meeting,  in her small, shared Capitol office. Like other New Mexico “citizen” legislators, she also is trying to keep up with her regular-life occupation — real estate — while serving at the Roundhouse. And, at the moment, she is in the process of ordering her 16-year-old daughter’s high school yearbook.

Her laptop is open and running, staffers wait outside her door with stacks of bills, and thick, bound studies on the solvency problems of the state’s two big public employee pension programs rise among the desk clutter.

Commuting to the Capitol daily from home in Albuquerque, she has just completed a weeklong series of 7 a.m. briefings from Cabinet secretaries on the workings of government.

“It’s like a crash course in New Mexico,” she said.

But she explains it’s not just the number of issues facing the Legislature that loom so large, but also their substance.

“It’s not just that it’s overwhelming,” she said. “We’re in a predicament here.”

She was talking about pension issues, tax decisions and job debates, among other concerns in a struggling state. She said, for instance, she would feel like she had not done her job if, 10 years from now, the worsening pension problems had not been resolved — leaving the state and taxpayers holding the bag.

Youngblood says she remains optimistic despite some of the the rough awakenings for a new, minority member.

“I came up here to represent my constituents,” she said.

And, in what sounded like a vow and response to Democrats, she said, “I’m going to learn the rules.”

Youngblood, a 36-year-old mother, real estate broker and small-business owner, knows challenges.

She says she grew up in a low-income home in Bernalillo County’s South Valley and worked through a long list of not-so-glamorous jobs to succeed in private business after graduating from Rio Grande High School.

“I was raised by a single mom who instilled a hard-work ethic,” she said.

That background helped shape her conservative political views, which seem built largely around self-reliance.

An early inspiration in public life, she said, was Republican Gov. Gary Johnson, (now Libertarian), who built a college-years handyman business into a multimillion-dollar construction enterprise and broke into politics in the mid-1990s.

“I went to hear Gary Johnson speak in the South Valley,” Youngblood said. “He inspired me to be a Republican.”

When she came to the Legislature this year, Youngblood was excited about the prospect of contributing to political change.

“You come here thinking my story is going to make a difference. … You come up here thinking you’re going to make people see your side of things.”

But Democrats are firmly in control of the House and its committees, and some of Youngblood’s efforts have been quickly overrun by majority party rule.

“So far, it’s straight party line,” she said.

She says she will continue to fight for issues her constituents want, like repeal of driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants, and approaches to economic reform that reflect her background and philosophy.

“I think we need to be real careful about what we do to businesses that are trying to provide us jobs,” she said.

She said one battle already has arrived: the Democratic effort to increase the minimum wage statewide.

“I see the minimum wage as an entry-level wage,” said the self-starting, South Valley native. “My counterparts across the aisle see it as a living wage.

“When the minimum wage is (at a level) that we all aspire to earn and live … that’s where we’ve got a problem,” she said.

Read my earlier profile of freshman Democratic Sen. Jacob Candelaria here

You can read more about Monica Youngblood on ABQjournal.com here.  

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