It’s not often there’s a clean sweep in the leadership of the New Mexico House of Representatives — a rare window of opportunity to tone down the rancor, to let go of prior grievances and to move forward for the good of all New Mexicans.
The recent leadership elections of House Democrats and Republicans make that possible, if not plausible.
House Speaker Brian Egolf of Santa Fe is leaving the Legislature at the end of the year. House Democrats have nominated Majority Floor Leader Javier Martínez of Albuquerque as the next speaker, Rep. Gail Chasey of Albuquerque as majority leader, Rep.-elect Reena Szczepanski of Santa Fe as majority whip and Rep. Raymundo Lara of Chamberino as caucus chair.
All but Martínez, who quickly rose up through House ranks in part because of his ability to be congenial while arguing his case, will be in leadership posts for the first time.
“We have to make sure we protect the pocketbooks of working New Mexicans,” says Martínez.
On the other side of the aisle, Minority Floor Leader James Townsend of Artesia and Minority Whip Rod Montoya of Farmington did not seek reelection to their leadership posts. And Republican caucus chair Rebecca Dow of Truth or Consequences ran for governor rather than for reelection to the House.
Republicans, who are on track to have a 45-25 seat disadvantage to Democrats, recently chose Rep. Ryan Lane of Aztec as their new House leader. It was a bold move.
The 40-year-old Lane, first elected in 2020, says he has a good working relationship with Martínez. That’s encouraging. Egolf and House Republicans were never able to get along.
“It’s a completely new slate on both sides,” Lane said. “I think we have a unique opportunity to set a new tone in the House.”
Republicans also chose Rep. Jason Harper of Rio Rancho as minority whip and Rep. Gail Armstrong of Magdalena as caucus chair. Harper has been a leading voice on reforming our antiquated gross receipts tax system, something also supported by Martínez.
The speaker-nominee also supports the concept of rebuttable presumption to keep more violent offenders behind bars pending trial and wants to make extended learning programs mandatory.
There’s a lot of common ground, regardless of political alliances, party allegiances and personal animosities. There’s also a lot of common money. Lawmakers will have a projected $2.5 billion in “new” money during the budget year that starts in July 2023, a projected budget surplus of nearly $3.8 billion for the current fiscal year and about $2.6 billion set to flow into a state early childhood trust fund.
Lane also says he sees opportunities for bipartisan agreement on crime legislation, revised high school graduation requirements and other bills when lawmakers convene Jan. 17 for a 60-day session.
We hope increased transparency is one of those common efforts. We don’t need more late-session omnibus bills that combine several bills into one package and muddy the waters; a so-called “rocket docket” that enables bad legislation to bypass natural legislative roadblocks; or bills brought up for votes without adequate notification. If lawmakers have time for memorials at the start of sessions, they should have time for full debates later.
The House should operate more like a business, and less like a three-ring circus in the closing days of sessions that leave the public unsure of what’s going on.
While we expect passionate and partisan debates, new House leaders on both sides of the aisle have the opportunity to put partisanship aside and put New Mexicans first.
It’s an opportunity we can’t let pass us by.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.