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House member named to vacant Senate seat

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Rep. Roberto “Bobby” Gonzales, D-Ranchos de Taos, talks about late Rep. Henry “Kiki” Saavedra on the House floor in this January file photo. Gonzales was appointed to the state Senate on Friday by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

SANTA FE – With just over one month before a 30-day legislative session begins, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Friday picked longtime state Rep. Roberto “Bobby” Gonzales to fill a vacant seat in the state Senate.

Gonzales, a Democrat from Ranchos de Taos, was one of two people nominated by county commissioners for the Senate District 6 seat formerly held by Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa, who died of a heart attack in September.

After interviewing both candidates last month, the governor selected Gonzales over the other nominee, political newcomer Kristina Ortez of Taos.

“For more than 20 years, Bobby Gonzales has served many of the same constituents he will now represent as senator with intelligence and integrity,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “He had a close working relationship with Sen. Cisneros, which is an important factor for the community in ensuring consistency and stability.”

The first-term Democratic governor also said she has worked effectively with Gonzales in the past, including on a landmark public education overhaul bill that passed during this year’s 60-day session.

Gonzales, a former superintendent of Taos Municipal Schools, is regarded as a moderate Democrat. He voted this year in favor of a bill expanding background check requirements for gun sales but was one of two House Democrats who voted against a proposal to earmark money from New Mexico’s largest permanent fund for home visiting and other early childhood programs.

In a Friday interview, Gonzales said he has working relationships with many senators and was supported by many of them for the vacant seat. He also said that although he agreed with Cisneros on most issues, he will not necessarily try to follow in his footsteps.

“I definitely will have my own path,” he told the Journal.

Senate District 6 encompasses all or part of four northern New Mexico counties – Taos, Rio Arriba, Santa Fe and Los Alamos. It’s a historically Democratic seat; Cisneros had held it since 1985 and had not faced a general election opponent since 1996.

County commissioners in two of the district’s counties – Taos and Rio Arriba – recommended Gonzales for the Senate seat, and commissioners in the other two counties voted to recommend Ortez.

For her part, Ortez, executive director of the Taos Land Trust, said that she was disappointed by Lujan Grisham’s decision but that she respects the governor and her vision for New Mexico.

But Ortez expressed concern that women make up only about 20% of the Senate – there are 9 female senators in the 42-member chamber – and said that needs to change.

She also said she would make an announcement soon about her political plans. Ortez could run for the Senate seat next year, when all 112 legislative seats will be up for election, or seek appointment to Gonzales’ House District 42 seat.

It will be up to Taos County Commissioners to decide who should serve out the remainder of Gonzales’ two-year term.

“I’ve spent the last several weeks talking with my neighbors and community, and it’s clear that our district is craving new and strong leadership to move northern New Mexico forward,” Ortez said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Gonzales’ appointment to the Senate does not change the body’s political makeup – Democrats will keep their 26-16 majority – for the coming legislative session, which starts Jan. 21.

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