SANTA FE – Fresh off steering House Democrats to big electoral gains, U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján called on state lawmakers Thursday to approve bills dealing with voting, environmental protection and health care access during their current 60-day session.
In a 25-minute speech to members of the House and Senate, Luján specifically praised bills dealing with automatic voter registration and same-day voter registration.
“I encourage you to continue to act to make New Mexico’s democracy as open and transparent as possible,” he said, adding that lawmakers should make it easier, not harder, for New Mexicans to vote.
The son of former New Mexico House Speaker Ben Lujan, who died in 2012 after a battle with lung cancer, the younger Luján easily won re-election in November to a sixth term representing the 3rd Congressional District, based in northern New Mexico.
He also oversaw House Democrats’ election strategy as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Committee.
After Democrats won a net of 41 seats to reclaim control of the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time since 2011, Luján ran for and won the caucus position of assistant speaker – the fourth-highest position among House Democrats.
With his national political stature increasing, Luján on Thursday criticized President Donald Trump for his handling of a 35-day partial federal government shutdown that ended last week.
He called the shutdown “unacceptable” and cited a nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimate that it had created $11 billion worth of economic damage to the nation.
“Unfortunately, lately it seems that what comes out of Washington is a series of false starts and distractions, where we move from one manufactured crisis to the next,” Luján said.
He also said a series of public corruption scandals involving elected officials, a flood of dark money in national elections and efforts to make it more difficult to vote have diminished Americans’ confidence in their government.
A former congressional colleague of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Luján also said the new Democratic governor will pursue federal dollars for drug treatments programs.
But he said there still is work to be done to improve treatment and prevention programs in a state with one of the nation’s highest drug overdose rates.
“Incarceration and shame will not solve this public health crisis,” Luján said.
Both of New Mexico’s two U.S. senators – Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich – have also already delivered speeches to the Legislature.
The two other members of the state’s all-Democrat congressional delegation – U.S. Reps. Xochitl Torres Small and Deb Haaland – are expected to do likewise in the coming days.