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SANTA FE – House Speaker Brian Egolf shocked state lawmakers Thursday by announcing he won’t seek reelection and instead plans to step down from the most powerful post at the Legislature.
Egolf, a Santa Fe Democrat who’s presided over the House since 2017, said he wants to spend more time with his two daughters – 11 and 14 – and his wife, Kelly.
Twice this week the House worked through the night, including 26½ hours straight to finish the 30-day session.
No speaker, Egolf said, has voluntarily left the post since 1965.
But “it has become clear to me that it’s time to put my young family first and devote my full energy to helping Kelly raise our girls,” he said.
His Democratic colleagues said they learned the news Thursday, the last day of the legislative session. Egolf made a public announcement at noon, just before adjournment.
“It’s a shock to any of us, as you can see,” Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos, said in an interview afterward.
Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, thanked Egolf publicly for making her the first woman to lead the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, a powerful budget-writing panel.
“I think what he said is from the heart,” Lundstrom told the Journal. “I’ve been here 21 years, and I’ve watched people agonize, especially if they’ve got young kids, because this is a tough job.”
Egolf’s departure will kick off a scramble among Democrats to settle on a nominee to replace him as speaker.
The Democratic leadership in the House is undergoing a bit of a shake-up. Ex-Majority Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton resigned last year amid a criminal investigation.
Just this week, Rep. Georgene Louis, an Albuquerque Democrat and chairwoman of the House Government, Election and Indian Affairs Committee, was arrested on an aggravated drunken-driving charge and participated in the legislative session remotely.
House Majority Leader Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, succeeded Stapleton and is the second-highest ranking member in the chamber.
Lundstrom and other committee chairs or vice chairs might also decide to enter the race.
Whichever party has the majority, of course, controls the chamber and elects the majority leader. Democrats now hold a 45-24 majority in the House, with one conservative-leaning independent. Republicans had a narrow edge in 2015-16.
House Republican leaders didn’t mention Egolf’s announcement in their end-of-the-session statement to reporters.
Nevertheless, the chamber – Republicans included – applauded Egolf after he announced his plans from the speaker’s chair and spoke about his family.
Egolf, 45, will leave after shepherding a host of progressive priorities through the chamber in recent years, including repeal of an anti-abortion law, enactment of the Energy Transition Act and legalization of cannabis for adults.
He led creation of a state Civil Rights Act last year and has presided over the House since Democrats won back a majority before the 2017 session.
Egolf took office in 2009 and served two years as minority leader when Republicans controlled the House. Democrats have sharply increased their numbers since then.
“He’s built the caucus,” Chandler said.
Egolf, a lawyer, has clashed repeatedly with Republicans in the minority, especially as the GOP caucus has become more heavily concentrated in rural areas and oil- and gas-producing regions.
House Minority Whip Rod Montoya, R-Farmington said Egolf pursued a “Santa Fe-centric” agenda.
“The prospect of a new speaker is an opportunity for all New Mexicans to benefit,” he said.
Internal criticism also surfaced this year. Rep. Miguel P. Garcia, D-Albuquerque, blasted Egolf in a private letter to the caucus last year as “elitist.”
Egolf was also skeptical this session of a push by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s to revise the state’s pretrial detention system to make it easier to hold more criminal defendants in jail before trial, raising legal questions about the proposal.
But the governor thanked Egolf for his service and leadership in a post-session news conference.
“I want everyone to know it’s definitely a loss, and we are so sorry to lose you here in this space,” the governor told Egolf as other legislators looked on.
Egolf, for his part, said he has no plans to run for office in the foreseeable future.
Forgoing reelection was a recent decision, he said, but he’d been considering the possibility more over the last year. He said he made the final decision after a conversation with his family at the dinner table.
He plans to serve the remainder of his term and a successor will be picked in the general election.
“For me it truly has never been about the title,” Egolf said. “It’s been about the work.”
Dan Boyd of the Journal Capitol Bureau contributed to this report.