SANTA FE – After holding one of the most powerful jobs in the New Mexico Legislature for two years, House Speaker Don Tripp announced Wednesday that he will retire from the Legislature next month as he hands off his leadership post and gavel.
Tripp, a Socorro Republican, was the first GOP lawmaker to serve as House speaker since 1954, but Democrats won back control of the 70-member chamber in last month’s general election and will enter the 60-day legislative session with a 38-32 majority.
In a Wednesday interview, Tripp said he will oversee the transfer of power on Jan. 17 – the opening day of the legislative session – and then formally step down.
“At some point, everybody has an exit strategy, and this just felt like the right time,” Tripp told the
Journal . “When you go from being speaker to a regular member of the House, it’s awkward for everyone.”
House Democrats have nominated Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, as the next House Speaker, although a formal vote won’t happen until the first day of the session. Egolf praised Tripp on Wednesday for assisting in the leadership handoff.
“I really think (he) has been incredibly gracious and helpful in the transition,”Egolf said.
The speaker of the House has broad powers that include deciding the makeup of committees and where bills are routed, as well as presiding over floor sessions. The job is sometimes described as the most powerful position in state government.
Tripp, a jeweler with a measured and low-key approach to politics, implemented scheduling changes as speaker that were intended to make the House run on time and be more efficient.
He did not seek a leadership position in the Republican caucus after the Nov. 8 general election, in which Democrats picked up five House seats and expanded their majority in the Senate.
Egolf said Wednesday that some of the scheduling changes implemented by Tripp will be maintained, including starting House committee hearings on time. But he said majority Democrats will propose changing the names and functions of some of the committees, just as Republicans did in 2015 after seizing control of the House.
Meanwhile, Tripp said Wednesday that he hasn’t decided what he’ll do next after leaving the Legislature, but didn’t rule out a return to politics. His wife, Rosie Tripp, has been a Republican national committeewoman since 1996 and has held local elected offices in Socorro.
“I’m not ready to totally get out of politics,” Tripp said.
Once Tripp formally steps down, Gov. Susana Martinez will be able to appoint a successor from a list of names put forward by county commissioners in House District 49, which includes all or part of Catron, Socorro and Valencia counties. All three county commissions will have Republican majorities, as of next week.
Whoever is chosen will serve out the rest of Tripp’s term, which ends in 2018.