SANTA FE — Democrats on Saturday agreed to nominate Javier Martínez — a progressive whose district covers Downtown Albuquerque and Old Town — to serve as the next speaker of the House, widely considered the most powerful legislative post at the Capitol.
Martínez, 41, was picked in a closed-door meeting of the House Democratic caucus, a group that includes incumbents who won reelection Tuesday and winning candidates set to start their first term next year.
The group also chose Rep. Gail Chasey of Albuquerque as majority floor leader, Rep.-elect Reena Szczepanski of Santa Fe as majority whip and Rep. Raymundo Lara of Chamberino as chair of the caucus.
In an interview, Martínez listed public safety, help for working families and education as immediate priorities for the 60-day session that begins Jan. 17.
His leadership, he said, will be informed by his childhood growing up in Albuquerque and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, as the son of immigrants who had jobs in construction and janitorial work.
“My upbringing and my life experience have shaped the vision that I hope to implement as the speaker of the House,” Martínez said. “With that comes really continuing to target the needs of working families, as well as the diversification of our economy.”
The election of Martínez as House speaker will require a full vote of the chamber when the session begins next month. But Democrats are set to hold a 45-25 majority, according to unofficial election results, making their nominee well-positioned to take the top job.
Martínez would succeed Speaker Brian Egolf, a Santa Fe lawyer who didn’t seek reelection to the Legislature. Egolf has led the House since 2017.
Martínez won a three-way race for the speaker’s nomination. Reps. Miguel P. Garcia and Patricia Lundstrom were also candidates.
The caucus chose other leaders, too:
— Chasey, the longest-tenured member of the House, having served since 1996, will become majority leader. The job puts her in position to help determine legislative strategy, manage the flow of bills during floor sessions and communicate with the Republican leader.
Chasey had been chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee.
— Szczepanski, who’s about to start her first term, will become majority whip. It’s a position involved in strategic decisions, counting votes and building support for Democratic bills.
Szczepanski is a familiar face at the Roundhouse as chief of staff to outgoing Speaker Egolf.
Like Martínez, her parents were immigrants, from India.
— Lara will serve as caucus chairman, presiding over the internal meetings of the Democratic caucus.
‘Working New Mexicans’
The next legislative session will come as New Mexico enjoys an enormous revenue boom driven by the oil and gas industry.
Martínez said lawmakers will work to address public safety and direct education funding to help children and students. Economic concerns, he said, will be a priority.
“We have to make sure we protect the pocketbooks of working New Mexicans,” Martínez said. “There’s a lot of widespread support we can give.”
In the last session, Martínez served as majority leader. He is also a former chairman of the House Taxation and Revenue Committee.
He has carried legislation on cannabis legalization, expungement of cannabis-related charges from court records and tax policy. He was a driving force behind the push to tap more heavily into New Mexico’s largest permanent fund to make more money available for early childhood education and public schools.
Outside the Roundhouse, he serves as executive director of the Partnership for Community Action, a nonprofit group that works with immigrant families.
Martínez was born in El Paso but spent much of his childhood in Ciudad Juárez until he was 7. He spoke only Spanish — other than the English he picked up in cartoons — when his family moved to Albuquerque.
He joined the House in 2015.
Even while maintaining 45 seats, the Democratic majority will have some new faces. Seven newly elected Democrats are set to serve in their first legislative session next year, and another, Joseph Sanchez, is returning after having run unsuccessfully for Congress in 2020.
Women make up two-thirds of the Democratic caucus, or 30 of the 45 members.