Ouster of committee chairwoman reverberates at Capitol - Albuquerque Journal

Ouster of committee chairwoman reverberates at Capitol

Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, at podium, during a news conference in the State Capitol Annex in Santa Fe on Jan. 12, 2023. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE — Bad feelings continued to simmer at the Roundhouse on Thursday over newly elected House Speaker Javier Martínez’s decision to oust a longtime House budget-writing committee’s chairwoman.

Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, said in an interview she was still reeling from the announcement on the opening day of the 60-day legislative session that Rep. Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces, would take over from her as chairman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.

“I’m hurt at a core level — that’s something you don’t just get over in two days,” she told the Journal.

Lundstrom also said she had not spoken with Martínez since being informed Tuesday about the decision just before it was announced.

Martínez, an Albuquerque Democrat who was elected as Speaker of the House on a party-line vote on the session’s opening day, has not spoken directly about his reasoning behind the move.

However, a House Democratic spokeswoman said earlier this week the new speaker has the “responsibility and prerogative” to organize the chamber’s 14 different standing committees in a way he deems necessary.

In a follow-up statement sent late Wednesday, House Democratic caucus spokeswoman Camille Ward said Martínez had appointed a total of eight new House committee chairs — a figure that represents more than half of all panel chairmanships.

Those decisions were made “based on who he thought could best serve the needs of those committees and our state going forward,” Ward said.

However, at least some of those decisions were necessitated by election and leadership shake-ups that left several chairmanships open.

That includes the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee, which is now chaired by Rep. Doreen Gallegos, D-Las Cruces, and the House Judiciary Committee that is now led by Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos.

As for the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, which is charged with crafting the initial version of a state budget bill, Ward said the committee would benefit from Small’s recent experience as the panel’s vice chairman.

“Rep. Small’s depth of knowledge, his skill as a collaborative leader and experience as vice chair of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee will prepare him well for the role of chair,” she said in a statement sent by text message.

She did not provide additional explanation for the decision, saying simply, “The speaker is grateful to Rep. Lundstrom for her steadfast leadership of this important committee for the last several years.”

Lundstrom is the third-longest serving House member and had served as the finance committee’s chairwoman for the last six years.

But she rankled some fellow Democrats last year by giving contributions from her campaign account to several moderate Democrats challenging incumbents in the primary election.

Lundstrom, who described her ouster this week as a “pathetic attempt at political retaliation,” said the move to oust her as chairwoman — and off the budget committee entirely — has freed her up to focus her attention on several bills she plans to file during this year’s session.

Such measures will include hydrogen energy legislation and a measure aimed at benefiting retirees age 65 and older enrolled in a state public retirement system.

“I have a constituency to represent and that’s exactly what I’m going to do,” she said.

However, she also suggested the sting of the decision won’t be quickly forgotten, saying, “My heart is the budget.”

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