Copyright © 2023 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Javier Martínez’s rapid rise culminated Tuesday with him winning election as the 28th House speaker in New Mexico history – and the first from Albuquerque since 2000.
The five-term Democratic lawmaker, the son of Mexican immigrants, won election as House speaker on a party-line 45-25 vote. House Republicans nominated Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, R-Roswell, for the powerful post.
Martínez takes over for Brian Egolf of Santa Fe, who did not seek reelection last year and handed Martínez a handmade gavel adorned with a silver Zia symbol after the House election results were announced.
The new speaker vowed to work with Republicans in the 70-member chamber, which has seen frequent partisan strife in recent years, while also pursuing sweeping changes to the Legislature itself.
“As speaker, I vow to keep the doors open for everyone,” Martínez said during a press conference shortly before the 60-day legislative session began at noon. “Democrats don’t have all the answers – those on the other side of the aisle have ideas, too.”
He quickly proved willing to shake up the status quo in the House, removing Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, from her influential post as House Appropriations and Finance Committee chairwoman and making several other committee leadership changes.
Martínez was born in El Paso but was raised in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, until age 8, when his family moved to Albuquerque.
He won election as House Democrats’ floor leader in 2021, taking over for Sheryl Williams Stapleton, who resigned amid a public corruption scandal.
In recent years, Martínez has played a leading role in several high-profile bills at the Roundhouse – including a 2021 measure legalizing recreational cannabis use and a proposal approved by statewide voters last year to divert more money from New Mexico’s largest permanent fund for early childhood programs.
During his acceptance speech after being elected House speaker, Martínez thanked his family, specifically recognizing his parents in Spanish for their sacrifices. He also lauded the House’s newly elected or appointed members – there are 17 first-term lawmakers – for stepping forward.
Martínez said Democrats and Republicans would not always agree on issues during the 60-day session, but vowed to work with the minority party and consider their ideas.
“We can disagree without being disagreeable,” he said.
Martínez also threw his support behind proposals to modernize the Legislature by paying lawmakers a salary, providing them with more staffers and extending the length of legislative sessions.
Some of those proposals have stalled in recent years, but Martínez and other top-ranking Democrats have said they could find better traction this year.
“We can no longer govern for the 21st Century with a 19th Century system of governance,” Martínez said during his remarks on the House floor.
A bill paying for the costs of the legislative session that’s expected to be approved Wednesday by a House committee will include funding to study the idea of additional staffing for lawmakers, Martínez previously told the Journal.
That legislation, House Bill 1, is the so-called “feed bill” that’s typically filed on the session’s opening day.
Martínez was nominated by House Democrats in November to serve as House speaker, but could not officially take over the position until the full chamber voted on the session’s opening day.
He will serve as House speaker at least through next year, barring any unexpected developments.
And his tenure could last even longer, as New Mexico has had just five House speakers before him since 1987 – Democrats Raymond Sanchez, Ben Lujan, Ken Martinez and Egolf, with Republican Don Tripp serving for two years between the tenures of Martínez and Egolf.