New Mexico Senate leader is last firewall for Democrats

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SANTA FE — Longtime New Mexico Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez is sure to face more pressure than ever before when the legislative session begins Tuesday.

Sanchez is the last line of defense for Democrats with the Republican-dominated House likely to pass any bills favored by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez. As majority leader, Sanchez is allowed to pick which bills get heard on the Senate floor. He has also been singled out more than once by Martinez for preventing movement of some of her pet legislative items.

The 64-year-old lawmaker will also have to unite moderate and conservative Democrats in the Senate chamber. There are 25 Democrats and 17 Republicans in the Senate, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported (http://bit.ly/1ywQ3uP ). Sanchez’s role also encompasses keeping senators from straying too far to keep the GOP from progressing.

But Sanchez said earlier this month that he didn’t expect any difficulties during the legislative session because of the altered political landscape. Fellow Democrats and some Republican lawmakers agreed with him.

“I think the Senate will be fine,” said Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque. “We’ll be going about our business as we usually do.”

Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle of Portales, who describes Sanchez as a good friend, said Sanchez is an able leader.

“He’s been majority leader for a while now. I believe he’s capable of handling it,” Ingle said.

Sanchez was first elected into the Senate in 1993 and then majority leader in 2004. He has political heritage on both sides of his family. His brother is former House Speaker Raymond Sanchez. His maternal grandfather, Abelicio Blas Sanchez, was a state representative in the 1920s and a former Valencia County sheriff.

An attorney from Belen, he has gained a reputation as a political scrapper who knows how to argue. In 2013, he considered running for governor. Also that year, he was hospitalized twice during the legislative session. Sanchez had to undergo angioplasty stent procedure. Since then, he has said his health is fine.

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Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican, http://www.sfnewmexican.com