SANTA FE – Majority Democrats on Sunday nominated Santa Fe lawyer Brian Egolf to be the next speaker of the state House of Representatives.
Egolf has been the Democratic minority leader in the House for the past couple of years – while Republicans held the majority – and he helped engineer the recent election wins that put the Democrats in control again.
House Democrats meeting in a closed-door caucus at the Capitol also elected Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, as majority leader; Rep. Doreen Gallegos, D-Las Cruces, as majority whip; and Rep. D. Wonda Johnson, D-Church Rock, as caucus chair.
Egolf, who has been in the House since 2009, defeated 22-year House veteran Rep. Roberto “Bobby” Gonzales, D-Taos, for the nomination for speaker.
Stapleton defeated three other lawmakers – Albuquerque Reps. Javier Martinez and Patricia Roybal Caballero, and Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-Española – to win the majority leader post.
Egolf said in an interview the House would move quickly on measures to bolster the state’s economy.
That would include an increase in the minimum wage, “substantial and sustained investment in early childhood education,” and helping universities with workforce development job training, he said.
“Creating jobs and growing the economy will be the absolute focus of the Democratic caucus in the House,” he said.
The House speaker – generally considered the most powerful position in the Legislature – is elected by the entire House when the Legislature meets in January.
The Republican minority held its caucus a day earlier, choosing Rep. Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, as the new minority leader. He had been majority leader the past two years.
With the Democrats running both the House and Senate next year, Republicans appeared braced for battle.
The next two years – the final two years of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s term in office – will be “critically important” for New Mexico, Gentry said in a statement issued Saturday night.
“When the Democrats offer policies that are harmful to our great state, we will stand firm in our respectful opposition,” Gentry said.
Senate Democrats also caucused on Saturday, choosing Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, their new majority leader. He succeeds Sen. Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, who was targeted for defeat by the governor and ousted in the election by a Republican opponent. Democrats also nominated President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, to continue in that job.
The Senate Republican minority meets in December to choose its leaders.
The results of the Nov. 8 election aren’t final yet because there are recounts in three close legislative races. If the current results are confirmed by the recounts, Democrats will outnumber Republicans 38-32 in the House and 26-16 in the Senate.