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New NM representatives make congressional history

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

LAS CRUCES – Two Democratic congresswomen from New Mexico made history as they were sworn into office Thursday.

Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-N.M., right, during a ceremonial swearing-in Thursday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Cliff Owen/Associated Press)

Deb Haaland, representing New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District, is the first Native American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Xochitl Torres Small is the first woman and Latina to represent New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District.

“Amazingly humbled, honored, and energized to represent #NM02,” Rep. Torres Small said in a tweet along with a photo that showed a crowd gathered outside her new office. “We had to take our Open House into the hallway because the line was down the hall and out the door!” she said.

New Mexico’s new congresswomen are among a record 127 women elected to Congress.

Democratic Rep. Xochitl Torres Small tweeted about swearing-in day activities.

Haaland said she was joined by relatives from Laguna Pueblo and across the state – even a brother from California – for her first day in office.

“I just am so proud to have this opportunity to represent New Mexico District 1, this state and the people I love,” Haaland said in a telephone interview Thursday morning.

She was easy to spot on video of Thursday’s congressional proceedings, as she was wearing traditional pueblo clothing, including moccasins and bright turquoise-colored sleeves.

At one point, Haaland shared a long hug with fellow Democrat Sharice Davids of Kansas. The two made history Thursday as the first Native women to serve in Congress.

Addressing the partial government shutdown, she said, would be an immediate priority for the new Democratic majority in the House.

Torres Small shares that goal. “I think we’re the first Congress that has started during a government shutdown, so I feel a little bit like the cavalry. We’re coming in, and our job is to literally get the government working again,” she said in a phone interview Thursday evening .

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, left, talks with Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., during a ceremonial swearing-in on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday during the opening session of the 116th Congress. (Susan Walsh/Associated Press)

The vast majority of the new congresswomen are Democrats who voted in favor of Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for speaker of the House, returning her to the role after an eight-year absence. Pelosi then led a swearing-in ceremony for the most racially and ethnically diverse Congress in U.S. history.

In the weeks before she took office, Torres Small has been busy in her home district, where two migrant children died in December while in Border Patrol custody. She traveled to the remote Antelope Wells border region and Lordsburg on her own, and later with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, to see conditions in Border Patrol holding cells.

“In our most remote areas, we need improved staffing and transportation, as well as a quicker response to changing circumstances along the southern border. I look forward to reviewing the results of a full and transparent investigation to find other ways to work together on this issue,” Torres Small said after her border tour.

Torres Small, a water rights lawyer and first-time candidate from Las Cruces, won a hard-fought race in a reliably Republican district. Her opponent, Yvette Herrell, served four terms as a Republican state representative from Alamogordo before running for Congress.

Herrell filed a lawsuit to impound and inspect the more than 8,000 absentee ballots in Doña Ana County that gave Torres Small the edge she needed to win the election. State statute allows any candidate the right to inspect election materials.

Neither she nor her attorneys have responded to repeated requests for an interview about any findings from the inspection, which was completed Dec. 12.

A losing candidate has 30 days to contest results from the time a winning candidate receives a final certificate of election, and Herrell’s deadline falls on a Sunday so her legal team has until Monday to file a lawsuit contesting the results.

Dan McKay of the Journal Capitol Bureau contributed to this report.