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Longtime House budget committee chair replaced by more progressive lawmaker

Democratic state Rep. Nathan Small of Las Cruces, right, speaks at a news conference with Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, at center with red scarf, on Jan. 12, 2023 in Santa Fe. Small has been named Chair of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee over longtime chair and more conservative Democrat Lundstrom.
Morgan Lee
Democratic state Rep. Nathan Small, right, speaks at a news conference with Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, at center with red scarf, on Jan. 12, 2023 in Santa Fe. Newly-elected House Speaker Javier Martínez has named Small as chair of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee over longtime chair and more conservative Democrat Lundstrom.

The 60-day state legislative session has just begun and already there are surprises. As the Speaker’s gavel changes hands, the longtime chair of an influential budgeting committee is out in the House of Representatives, replaced by a more progressive Democrat. Dan Boyd, capitol bureau chief for the Albuquerque Journal, reported on the day-one shake-up and spoke with KUNM about what it could mean.

DAN BOYD: At the start of 60-day sessions, there's a new House Speaker elected and a new Senate President Pro Tem. The top-ranking Democrats and Republicans work together to figure out who's going to be on which committees, and then also to assign committee chairs to lead those different committees. Newly-elected House Speaker Javier Martínez decided to replace Patty Lundstrom, who had been the chairwoman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee for the last six years, with Nathan Small. They're both Democrats, but certainly different perspectives. And Rep. Lundstrom had had a really big role in shaping the budget. So, it kind of sent shockwaves through the whole House chamber.

KUNM: And in terms of those shockwaves, like what are the potential repercussions of this change in leadership?

BOYD: Time will tell for sure on that. Rep. Lundstrom is kind of known as a more conservative or moderate Democrat. She supported hydrogen energy legislation last year that some environmental groups had opposed. Rep. Small I think is viewed as a little bit more progressive Democrat. As far as spending, you know, I think we'll kind of see whether he takes a different approach to some of that.

KUNM: And now, you heard from Rep. Lundstrom after it was announced that she'd lost her position as chair — one that she'd held for six years, as you mentioned. How did she react?

BOYD: She told me she was incredibly disappointed, and also really stunned. She said she had just been told of the decision by Speaker Martínez just a few minutes before it was announced. Obviously, I think a speaker usually keeps some of those decisions kind of close to the vest before a session to not want to alienate folks. But yeah, I saw other legislators condoling her on the House floor. Later in the evening, she sent out kind of a release, saying that basically the fight isn't over and kind of criticizing the Speaker for making a political decision. So, I think we'll see what kind of ramifications this might have. But I think clearly there's some bad feelings.

KUNM: And when you say "the fight isn't over," she can't do anything about the assignment, right? This would be more of a political fight?

BOYD: That's right. It's a done deal now. It's not even something that the House has to vote on. But certainly, politically, or as far as opposing some of the leadership team's agenda, things like that, she does have some clout if you were to choose to do some of that.

KUNM: And now how about newly-elected Speaker Martínez? Did he explain his rationale for the shake-up at all?

BOYD: The House Democratic Caucus spokeswoman did send us a statement last night kind of saying that it's the Speaker's prerogative to make these kinds of changes, and that his committee assignments are intended to push the state forward. But didn't specifically address the decision to replace Rep. Lundstrom or, you know, kind of exactly what went into that, and how long he might have been kind of considering it.

KUNM: Okay. What can you tell us about Rep. Small, the new chair of the Appropriations and Finance Committee in the House? I mean, you mentioned that he's maybe part of a more progressive faction of the party. What changes might we expect with him in this role?

BOYD: Recently, he'd been kind of the right-hand man of Rep. Lundstrom, so to speak. You know, he was the vice chair of the committee. He is, you know, a newer legislator. But, you know, certainly he's proved himself as a knowledgeable and pretty capable legislator. He's married to former Congresswoman Xochitl Torres Small. So kind of has a political family there. But certainly, he's going to have to hit the ground running. I mean, already, the House will start meeting this week going over agency budgets and start putting together a budget plan. So, he doesn't have a lot of time to kind of get up to speed in this new role.

KUNM: Though maybe more contentious than the others, this wasn't the only change to committee assignments. Where else did the new speaker make some adjustments?

BOYD: For one, he moved Rep. Christine Chandler, who's a Democrat from Los Alamos. She had been the chair of the House Taxation and Revenue committee. She's now the chair of the House Judiciary Committee. Gail Chasey had held the position, but she was elected to a leadership position and, under House rules, someone in leadership can't also be a committee chair. So, there was some kind of, you know, musical chairs going on, so to speak. The Speaker then appointed Rep. Derrick Lente of Sandia Pueblo to be the new Tax and Rev. chairman. That's also an important position. And I mean, certainly the Appropriations committee was the one that I think has the most potential for kind of blowback, and the one that really had folks talking here at the Roundhouse.

Nash Jones (they/them) is a general assignment reporter in the KUNM newsroom and the local host of NPR's All Things Considered (weekdays on KUNM, 5-7 p.m. MT). You can reach them at nashjones@kunm.org or on Twitter @nashjonesradio.
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