SANTA FE – Democratic Sen. Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque will have a new role when the legislative session opens today.
After nearly 24 years in the Legislature, she’s now in a leadership role – having won election Monday as majority whip, a position that will put her at the center of strategy sessions, vote counting and other behind-the-scenes work.
Stewart succeeds Sen. Michael Padilla, who was stripped of his title last month after decade-old allegations of sexual harassment resurfaced. Padilla, who represents part of the South Valley, remains a member of the Senate, and he has repeatedly denied the allegations, which stem from his tenure as a city supervisor.
Stewart, a retired teacher, said she would embrace her role as a “worker bee” who helps run the Senate floor and explains legislation to the public. Her experience as a lawmaker in both the House and the Senate, she said, would be an asset.
“I can do lots of different things at the same time,” Stewart said. “I used to tell my students I’ve got eyes in the back of my head. I’m able to juggle things, and I like the work.”
The leadership shake-up came on the eve of a 30-day session that will be dedicated largely to budget matters, although Republican Gov. Susana Martinez has said she will make anti-crime legislation a priority, too.
Democrats hold a 26-16 majority in the Senate, though senators don’t vote along party lines quite as much as members of the House.
Stewart said she didn’t anticipate doing any “arm-twisting” in her new role.
Stewart’s election came during a private caucus meeting at the Roundhouse late Monday.
She was part of an eight-member group of legislators who helped rewrite the Legislature’s anti-harassment policy this month as a wave of sexual harassment allegations hit capitols across the country. She was also recognized last year as New Mexico’s most effective legislator, according to an analysis by a Washington, D.C., firm that examined the passage of substantive bills.
Stewart has also clashed with Martinez on education policy. The governor called Stewart a “liberal elitist” last year after the senator told a national conference, “We don’t know how to teach kids from poverty.”
Stewart, in turn, accused the governor of her taking her comments out of context, arguing that she never suggested impoverished students can’t learn, only that teachers need more help learning how to reach them.