After last year's election, Democrats have even more of an edge in the New Mexico House of Representatives. With greater numbers, an incoming speaker, and new committee assignments, Democrats in the House could pass more bills during this year's session.
During the 2011 and 2012 sessions, Democrats outnumbered Republicans in the House by only two members. Five committees, including Education and Business & Industry, contained equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans, which meant some committee votes ended in ties.
State Rep. Brian F Egolf, Jr., D-Santa Fe, told the Santa Fe Reporter what happened with six Democrats and six Republicans on the Energy & Natural Resources Committee: “nothing was going to pass without at least one vote from the other party.”
This year the House has six more Democrats than Republicans. “I presume, with 38-32, there's enough of a majority to have a Democratic majority on all the committees,” Egolf told SFR last week.
The legislature's website lists 16 standing committees in the House for 2013. House rules limit members to service on just two of the 13 substantive committees. Members can also serve on the three procedural committees, which meet infrequently.
By all accounts, W Ken Martinez, D-Cibola, will serve as the new speaker of the House. His caucus elected him to this position last month. The title becomes official tomorrow. The speaker will select committee chairs, vice-chairs, and members.
The Democratic caucus of the House also elected Rick Miera, Education chairman for several terms, as their new floor majority leader. Al Park, formerly chairman of the Judiciary Committee, left the legislature in 2012. Both committees will need new chairs.
Egolf starts his third term this week as the youngest House member. He does not know if he will remain chairman of Energy & Natural Resources. It was “pretty unusual for a second-term member to chair a committee,” Egolf said.
Speaker-elect Martinez told SFR last week that he was still deciding committee and chair assignments. “Nobody knows what committees they'll be on,” Egolf told SFR. Egolf expects an announcement of committee assignments on Wednesday, the second day of the session.
According to Egolf, “the Republicans have always wanted the authority to appoint their side of each committee.” SFR reported last week that Martinez is not “interested in changing the rules to give the minority a say on those assignments.”
In 2011 and 2012, House Republican leaders served on both the Rules & Order of Business and Taxation & Revenue committees, but not on Appropriations & Finance. Republican members significantly outnumbered Democrats on the low profile Enrolling & Engrossing committees.
Egolf does not expect Democrats will use their advantage in the House to “jam things through” committee. At the same time, Egolf said, Democrats are not planning to “have a bipartisan vote on every bill” that comes up in committee.
In 2011 Egolf became a committee chairman. He made some mistakes the first day and Republicans walked out. He subsequently tried “to be extremely fair” in running the committee. Since then the committee has passed several bills 11-1 or unanimously.
“We don’t need to play games to get stuff passed,” Egolf said.
The late Speaker Ben Lujan, Sr., according to Egolf, did “a pretty good job” of “finding members on the committees who could talk to each other.” Egolf thinks Martinez will do the same.