SANTA FE — Just hours into his tenure as House speaker, Javier Martínez sent shockwaves through the chamber by removing Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, as chairwoman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, an influential budget-writing panel.
Martínez, an Albuquerque Democrat who also announced several other changes to House committee chairmanships, replaced Lundstrom with Rep. Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces, who had been the panel’s vice chairman.
The move could have both political and policy repercussions, as Lundstrom had led the House Appropriations and Finance Committee for the past six years and led the legislative charge for a hydrogen energy development bill that drew staunch opposition from environmental groups.
“I’m incredibly disappointed, and I’m absolutely shocked,” Lundstrom told the Journal after the new assignments were announced.
Lundstrom, who has served in the House since 2001 and is the chamber’s third-longest serving member, had caused a stir of her own last year by giving contributions from her campaign account to four moderate Democrats challenging incumbents in last June’s primary election.
Three of those incumbents went on to win their races — Reps. Susan Herrera of Embudo, Andrea Romero of Santa Fe and Kristina Ortez of Taos.
Lundstrom acknowledged at the time being disappointed by some fellow Democrats’ opposition to several hydrogen energy bills that stalled during last year’s 30-day legislative session despite support from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
When asked Tuesday what might have prompted the decision to remove her as chairwoman, Lundstrom said reporters should ask Martínez.
“He said I don’t meet his vision,” she said while being consoled by other House members on the chamber floor.
In a later statement sent out by political consultant, Lundstrom expressed anger about the decision, describing it as a “pathetic attempt at political retaliation.”
“I have fought for our state’s most vulnerable and protected our finances in our economically challenged state,” Lundstrom said. “The decision to replace me with a White man with less than a fourth of the experience in budget development is extremely damaging to New Mexico with the ever-increasing one-party system that retaliates against traditional, Hispanic, rural Democrats.”
Martínez did not immediately provide an explanation for his committee decisions, but a House Democratic caucus spokeswoman sent a statement late Tuesday on his behalf.
“The speaker has the responsibility and the prerogative to organize the House committees as he feels best meets the current needs of New Mexico,” House Democratic spokeswoman Camille Ward told the Journal. “With new leadership on both sides of the aisle and on many of our committees in this session, Speaker Martínez is beginning a new chapter to move New Mexico forward.”
For his part, Small said he was “humbled and honored” to accept the responsibility as the budget committee’s new chairman and said he had learned from Lundstrom.
“We know we will have big shoes to fill, and are ready to work together with New Mexicans to develop forward-thinking solutions for our state,” Small told the Journal.
Meanwhile, the newly elected House speaker also made several shake-ups to committee ranks, including shifting Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos, from chairwoman of the House Taxation and Revenue Committee to chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee.
The judiciary panel had been led by Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, but she was unable to remain in the role after being elected by fellow House Democrats in November as their new floor leader.
As for the tax committee, Martinez appointed Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, to lead the panel, which is expected to play a key role in shaping a tax package that could include rebates and rate reductions during this year’s legislative session.