SANTA FE — Democratic Sen. Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces claimed Wednesday that she has enough votes from Republicans and Democrats to be elected Senate president pro tem when the Legislature convenes next week.
But her Democratic rival for the position, Sen. Pete Campos of Las Vegas, said he remains in the race and is still trying to woo votes.
The pro tem is elected by the full 42-member Senate. While Democrats will have a 25-17 majority, their caucus is divided, and Papen says she has the support of at least six Democrats and all 17 Republicans.
“I have the votes, and they’re firm,” Papen said.
Campos was nominated for the pro tem position by Senate Democrats in a closed-door meeting in Belen last month.
He said Wednesday that he is still talking to senators “and I will continue to work with them and address their needs and concerns, and hopefully gain their confidence between now and Tuesday.”
Whoever is elected when the Legislature meets for its 60-day session on Tuesday would succeed President Pro Tem Tim Jennings, who lost his Senate seat in the November general election.
Jennings, a 34-year Senate veteran, was unanimously chosen pro tem in January 2008 to replace President Pro Tem Ben Altamirano, who had died suddenly. A year later, Jennings was elected again by a coalition of all 15 Republicans and eight Democrats, including Papen.
Senate Minority Whip Bill Payne, R-Albuquerque, said there’s no official GOP caucus position, but “I’m confident the Republicans see Mary Kay as a great candidate who has been willing to work collaboratively with us in the past.
“I have no reason to believe we would not unanimously support her,” Payne said.
Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said he likes the fact that Papen has been a businesswoman and is from southern New Mexico.
“I like to have leadership geographically spread around the state,” Ingle said.
Papen, a retired car dealer, has been in the Senate since 2001 and — like Campos — is on the Senate Finance Committee. Campos, who has been in the Senate since 1991, is president of Luna Community College in Las Vegas, N.M.
Democrats supporting Papen include Finance Chairman John Arthur Smith of Deming, who nominated her for pro tem during last month’s Democratic caucus.
“She has the ability to communicate with the executive branch and the minority party, and she gets along pretty darn well with Senate members,” said Smith, whose district includes part of Doña Ana County.
Papen, who describes herself as a moderate, has known Republican Gov. Susana Martinez — former district attorney in Doña Ana County — for years. Papen has said that although they have their differences, the relationship has not been adversarial.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal