Editorial: New House leaders have a unique opportunity for greater collaboration

It’s not often that there is a clean break in leadership of the New Mexico House of Representatives — a rare opportunity to quell resentments, let go of past grievances, and move forward for the good of all New Mexicans.

The recent leadership elections of Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives make this possible, albeit implausible.

Santa Fe House Speaker Brian Egolf will leave the Legislature at the end of the year. House Democrats have nominated majority-level leader Javier Martínez of Albuquerque as the next speaker, Representative Gail Chasey of Albuquerque as Majority Leader, elected Reena Szczepanski of Santa Fe as Majority Whip, and Representative Raymundo Lara of Chamberino as group leader.

All but Martínez, who rose quickly through the ranks of the House of Representatives partly because of his ability to be sympathetic while arguing his case, will be in senior positions for the first time.

“We have to make sure that we protect the wallets of working New Mexicans,” says Martínez.

Across the aisle, Minority Floor Leader James Townsend of Artesia and Minority Whip Rod Montoya of Farmington were not seeking re-election to their leadership posts. And Republican caucus chair Rebecca Dow of Truth or Consequences ran for governor rather than re-election to the House.

The Republicans, who are on track to be at a 45-25 seat disadvantage to the Democrats, recently elected Aztec Rep. Ryan Lane as their new House Speaker. It was a bold step.

Lane, 40, who was first elected in 2020, says he has a good working relationship with Martínez. That’s encouraging. Egolf and the House Republicans never got along.

“It’s a whole new slate on both sides,” Lane said. “I think we have a unique opportunity to set new accents in the house.”

Republicans also elected Rep. Jason Harper of Rio Rancho as minority whip and Rep. Gail Armstrong of Magdalena as caucus chair. Harper was a leading voice in reforming our antiquated gross receipts tax system, which was also endorsed by Martínez.

The speaker candidate also supports the concept of the rebuttable presumption to keep more violent offenders behind bars pending trial and wants to make enhanced learning programs mandatory.

There are many similarities, regardless of political alliances, party affiliations and personal animosities. There is also a lot of common money. Legislature is expected to have $2.5 billion in “new” money during the fiscal year beginning in July 2023, with a projected budget surplus of nearly $3.8 billion for the current fiscal year and about 2.6 Billions of dollars to go into a state early childhood education trust fund.

Lane also says he sees opportunities for a bipartisan agreement on crime legislation, revised graduation requirements and other bills when lawmakers meet for a 60-day session on Jan. 17.

We hope that increased transparency will be one of those collaborative efforts. We no longer need late-night omnibus bills that bundle multiple bills into one package and muddy the waters; a so-called “missile slip” that allows bad laws to bypass natural legal obstacles; or invoices brought to reconciliation without reasonable notice. If lawmakers have time for memorials at the start of sessions, they should have time later for lengthy debates.

The house should function more like a shop and less like a three-ring circus in the final days of sessions that leave the public uncertain as to what is going on.

While we expect passionate and partisan debates, new house leaders on both sides of the aisle have an opportunity to put partisanship aside and put New Mexicans first.

It’s an opportunity we can’t pass up.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is not signed as it represents the opinion of the newspaper and not that of the authors.

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