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Committee Shakeup In The House

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New Mexico Roundhouse

New Mexico’s 60-day legislative session kicked off this week. KUNM’s Gwyneth Doland checked in with New Mexico In Depth’s Sandra Fish on what she’s seen so far.

Doland for KUNM: So Fish, what did you think of your first week at the capitol?

Fish: Well, Gwyneth, I was focused on the House where Republicans took over for the first time in 60 years. And to my knowledge no one around the Roundhouse had anything to compare that to.

But opening days are great fun. There’s pomp and circumstance, flowers on the desks, friends and families on the floor and all sorts of political celebs showing up. It was interesting to see Democrats put up Luciano "Lucky" Varela against Republican Don Tripp for Speaker, kind of a nod to the Santa Fe Democrat who is in his final term of what will be a 30-year career in the House.

And for all the hubbub of Republicans taking over the House, Tripp’s first speech as Speaker was pretty low-key, with an emphasis on bipartisanship.

Doland for KUNM: Gov. Martinez called for a bipartisan effort on education and the economy in her State of the State speech. What’s your take on her pitch?

Fish: As the resident newbie, I watched this speech as maybe a New Mexican at home might - or maybe as a national Republican operative might. I thought her delivery was effective - empathetic at times, pointed at times. She really threaded the theme of progress over politics throughout the 50-minute talk. And then there was the emotional ending, when she stood with the two Roswell middle-schoolers shot by a fellow student last year. That was pretty moving.

Doland for KUNM: Martinez has been the subject of much speculation for the 2016 elections. People are saying she would be a great vice presidential candidate.

Fish: And this speech likely helped that effort, Gywneth.

Doland for KUNM: The first week of the 60-day session is usually pretty slow, but the big accomplishment of the week, for the House, was a major restructuring of their committees. Why did the new Republican House leaders say they made these changes?

Fish: Floor leader Nate Gentry explained that some committees were overworked, like Judiciary, with way more bills assigned than other, committees, like Voters and Elections. So by changing things up, they hope to spread out the workload.

Doland for KUNM: But some Democratic reps and advocacy groups don’t like the changes either?

Fish:  Democrats were pretty passionate in Thursday’s two-hour floor debate over the elimination of the labor and elections committees. Some environmental groups are concerned about changes to what is now the Energy, Environment and Natural Resources committee. These committee changes passed on a party-line vote. That’s probably a sign of things to come.

Gwyneth: Sandra Fish, thanks so much for those thoughts on the first week of the legislative session.

This story is part of a reporting partnership between New Mexico In Depth, KUNM and NMPBS, People, Power and Democracy, that attempts to pull back the curtain on how the New Mexico Legislature works and, in some cases, doesn’t. It's funded by the Thornburg Foundation and the Loeks Family Fund.

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