Roswell State Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell did not w[auth] in election to a House leadership post Saturday, although Ezzell said Monday she’s hopeful of being appointed chair of the House Energy & Natural Resources Committee, on which she has served for 10 years.
Republicans and Republicans-elect of the New Mexico House of Representatives met Saturday in Albuquerque to choose leadership positions for the 2015 legislative session that begins in January in Santa Fe.
State Rep. Don Tripp of Socorro was unanimously nominated Saturday by his fellow Republicans to become House Speaker, the most powerful position in the House.
The speaker is largely responsible for controlling the legislative agenda, appointing chairmen and members of committees, and leading negotiations with Senate leaders.
Democrats will retain a 25-17 majority in the Senate since none of its members were up for election in 2014. All 42 state senators will be up for election in 2016.
State Rep. Nate Gentry of Albuquerque was nominated Saturday to serve as majority floor leader and state Rep. Alonzo Baldonado of Los Lunas was nominated for majority whip.
Gentry, currently the House minority whip, the No. 2 minority leader in the House, won the majority leader’s race Saturday over state Rep. Dennis Roch of Logan.
The majority leader manages House sessions and debates on legislation.
State Rep. Kelly Fajardo will be the chairwoman of the GOP caucus.
The GOP leadership positions will not become official until the Legislature convenes Jan. 20 for its 60-day session and all 70 House members vote on their leaders in typically party-line votes.
Republicans, who won a 37-33 majority in the House in Tuesday’s election, will take control of the House in January for the first time since 1954.
Majority whip race
Baldonado won the No. 3 leadership post nomination Saturday in a three-way contest that included Ezzell.
Whips typically track the likely voting positions of members on bills and advise their leadership, while letting House members know the leadership’s positions on issues.
Ezzell said she was not at liberty to disclose the third person that ran for House majority whip.
“What happens in caucus stays in caucus,” Ezzell said of the private political strategy sessions known as caucus meetings. “We had lots of discussions and got to meet all the newcomers. It’s going to be interesting going into this session.”
The change in party control not only means new House leadership, but new committee chairs as well.
Ezzell said each Republican was asked Saturday to write down the committees on which they would like to serve. House members typically serve on two or three standing committees.
“What we did Saturday, everybody wrote down what committees they wanted to sit on,” she said. “They had to write down four choices. It’s up to leadership to decide.”
Ezzell currently serves on the Energy & Natural Resources Committee and on the Labor & Human Resources Committee. She is now the ranking Republican on the energy committee, given that fellow Republican Don Bratton of Hobbs, the current House minority floor leader, did not seek re-election in 2014.
Bratton’s decision not to run for re-election puts Ezzell in a strong position to become the next chair of the Energy & Natural’s Resources Committee, given the GOP’s tendency to honor seniority.
“I think a lot of senior members, they are expected to be chairs of committees,” Ezzell said.
Ezzell, whose District 58 includes a portion of Roswell and all of Dexter, has been a member of the House since January 2005. She has served on the Energy & Natural Resources Committee for the past 10 years and is also currently a member of the Labor & Human Resources Committee.
“I would love to be the chair of the House energy committee,” she said, touting her knowledge of the extraction industry. “I am very knowledgeable about the oil and gas industry and I understand the rules and regulations that the Oil Conservation Division has.”
The change in party leadership in the House will be clearly visible at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe as new Republican committee chairs will take over committee offices currently occupied by Democrats.
“It’s going to be interesting to see when these people who have been selected chairmen get to move into the offices of their committee rooms,” Ezzell said. “They’ve been occupied so long by Democrats, I’m afraid the Democrats might dig in their heels a little bit.”
Ezzell said she did not know when the new House leadership would announce committee chairs and appointments, but she said she’s hoping for an announcement in the upcoming weeks, certainly by the end of year.
“I hope it’s sooner,” she said. “I want it to be a smooth transition. I hope it’s just a matter of weeks.”
Ezzell said her four committee choices were the Energy & Natural Resources Committee, the Agriculture & Water Resources Committee, the Appropriations & Finance Committee and the Business & Industry Committee.
Ezzell also said she would not mind chairing the Agriculture & Water Resources Committee. She said proposed legislation often goes back and forth between the House’s energy and agriculture committees.
“I think I am a good voice on that (agriculture) committee,” she said. “I’m a farmer. I’m a rancher. I have to deal with water. I know water rights. I am a hunter. We have to deal with wildlife issues throughout the state. I would be a good one.”
Given southeast New Mexico’s heavy representation in the House, with Republicans representing eight House districts stretching from Alamogordo to Clovis, Ezzell said she’s hopeful a representative from the area will be chosen to chair a House committee.
“I know that Rep. (Bob) Wooley has served on the house Ag committee for four years,” she said. “I think he would be a really good chairman for the House Ag committee.”
Wooley, R-Roswell, said on election night that a Republican voting bloc from southeastern New Mexico in the majority party for a change would be good for farmers, ranchers, dairy farmers and the oil and natural gas industries.
Wooley said Republicans should reach across the aisle and select some Democrats to chair committees, such as current agriculture committee chairman George Dodge Jr. of Santa Rosa.
Wooley, Ezzell and state Rep. Nora Espinoza, R-Roswell, who easily defeated her Democrat challenger last week, all said on election night they believed the House should pass voter ID and right-to-work legislation.
Voter ID legislation would require voters to present identification to vote, while right-to-work legislation would remove the requirement for employees to join unions and pay union dues.
State Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Española, is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which considers the lion’s share of legislation introduced in the Senate.
“I know a lot of pressure is going to be on me because probably 80 or 85 percent of bills go through Judiciary,” Martinez said Monday. “Everyone is going to want their bills heard. Sometimes, it’s impossible to hear all these bills.”
Martinez said he did not envision his fellow Senate Democrats supporting voter ID or right-to-work legislation, although he acknowledged the need for Senate Democrats to compromise with House Republicans in order to advance legislation to the governor.
“I’m not real passionate about having voter ID or not having voter ID,” Martinez said. “We’re going to have to compromise on something. I doubt our caucus would compromise with them on (repealing) the driver’s licenses for (illegal) immigrants.”
Martinez, in recent legislative sessions, has championed minimum wage increases, which have been vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez.
Sen. Martinez said Senate Democrats would again introduce legislation to increase the state minimum wage to $8.50 an hour, with automatic increases thereafter based on cost-of-living increases.
Sen. Martinez said he probably would not support right-to-work legislation in the Senate in exchange for House Republicans approving a minimum wage increase.
“I’m not sure. I don’t think I’d go for something like that,” he said. “We’d have to caucus and our caucus is in early December.”
Sen. Martinez also said Democrats do not believe voter ID is a pressing issue. Nonetheless, he said Senate Democrats and House Republicans would need to reach compromises.
“I think we’re going to have to, regardless,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Staff Writer Jeff Tucker may be contacted at 575-622-7710, ext. 303, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.