Dem blasts Egolf's record, leadership - Albuquerque Journal

Dem blasts Egolf’s record, leadership

Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque, at a 2016 news conference after a hearing on a lawsuit against the state for withholding state tax refunds for immigrant workers. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – After resigning his committee chairmanship last fall, New Mexico’s second-longest serving House Democrat wrote a letter to his caucus blasting House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, as “distasteful” and “elitist” and raising various ethical issues.

In a letter obtained by the Journal, Rep. Miguel P. Garcia, D-Albuquerque, also urged House Democrats to vote to censure Egolf, saying he had sabotaged a bill dealing with water leases that was important to Hispanic land grant groups.

“His leadership has been most distasteful, elitist, chauvinistic, cowardly and detached from the needs, issues, values and beliefs of our traditional Hispano communities and from our Latino immigrant brothers and sisters,” Garcia wrote in his Dec. 30 letter.

The strongly worded allegations were hotly disputed by Egolf, who said in a response letter that Garcia’s claims were untrue and deeply hurtful.

“I am proud to have always engaged in a leadership model that seeks out new diverse leaders and empowers them,” said Egolf, who was first elected as New Mexico House speaker in 2017.

In addition, House Majority Leader Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, said Tuesday that House Democrats remain unified in addressing issues that impact New Mexico families.

He also defended Egolf’s record in the Legislature, citing his past support for a law allowing foreign nationals to obtain New Mexico driver’s licenses regardless of their immigration status and a 2021 law that allows civil rights lawsuits to be filed in state courts.

“Rep. Miguel Garcia’s perspectives are his own and don’t reflect the sentiments of our caucus in any way,” Martinez said in a statement. “In the midst of the legislative session, our caucus remains focused on the important work ahead.”

The caucus dispute flared up after a special session on redistricting that took place in December and before the start of the 30-day legislative session that started last month and hits its halfway point today.

New Mexico legislative caucus meetings occur behind closed doors so that members can discuss strategy and other issues, and it’s rare for personality disagreements and feuds to spill into public view.

In response to questions about his letter, Garcia acknowledged he shared the reasons for his resignation as House Local Government, Land Grants and Cultural Affairs Committee chairman with the House Democratic caucus.

However, he said he viewed the issue as internal business and wouldn’t discuss it publicly.

“I have not wavered from that position,” Garcia told the Journal in an email.

Garcia, who has represented the South Valley-based House District 14 seat since 1997, was the lone House Democrat to vote against a plan to redraw the boundary lines for the chamber’s 70 districts during the special session on redistricting.

He has been the sponsor of some high-profile bills in past legislative sessions, including a 2019 minimum wage bill and the 2003 driver’s license law.

But Garcia has also faced criticism at times, such as when he described two Democratic legislative candidates in cont

House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, presides over the House in January 2020. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

ested 2014 primary races as “Anglo Democrats” in an email backing their opponents. He later apologized to the candidates in question.

In his recent letter to fellow House Democrats, Garcia claimed Egolf has used his position of House speaker to advance the business interests of his private law firm.

In his response letter, Egolf said his firm has not represented a company that provides water rights for oil and natural gas companies since 2018. And he said his firm is not representing a medical cannabis producer that has filed several lawsuits against the state.

“I have taken great pains over the years to follow the laws and rules of professional ethics that apply to my roles as both a lawyer and a legislator,” said Egolf in his letter, which House Democrats provided to the Journal.

Egolf has in the past faced accusations that he failed to disclose a conflict of interest concerning marijuana legislation and that he stood to benefit from passage of last year’s Civil Rights Act.

He has denied any conflicts and a hearing officer for the State Ethics Commission last year dismissed a complaint alleging Egolf failed to disclose a conflict of interest when he pushed for the civil rights legislation. Part of the complaint was referred to an internal legislative ethics panel for possible investigation.

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