January 19, 2015

House Dems brace for changes to committees

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Democrats' pre-session press conference at the South Valley Economic Development Center.

Democrats’ pre-session press conference at the South Valley Economic Development Center.

House Democrats are preparing themselves for the first time in the minority in decades. Among the big changes they expect are changes to committees.

At a press conference in Albuquerque’s South Valley on Monday, Democrats spoke about their agenda in the sixty-day session that begins Tuesday at noon. However, they couldn’t avoid talking about big changes to the committee process.

Incoming Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, confirmed that incoming Speaker of the House Don Tripp, R-Socorro, is looking at creating new committees, but this will have to go through to committee process before it becomes final.

“Representative Tripp, who is the Republican’s nominee to be Speaker has committed to me and to the entire caucus in our caucus meeting that any efforts to undertake change in committees will go through the regular committee process and will be subject to thorough debate and examination,” Egolf said during the press conference.

The Albuquerque Journal previously noted some changes are coming to House committees.

From the Albuquerque Journal story:

The jurisdictions of the committees will be shuffled, and at least one – Voters and Elections – would probably be abolished, while a new committee, Public Safety and Civil Affairs, would be created, he said.

Tripp also said there may be cases in which Democrats who formerly chaired committees would no longer be on those committees. His explanation: longtime committee staffers must work with the new GOP chairs and should not be distracted by their loyalties to their former bosses.

Egolf mentioned the Albuquerque Journal report in discussing the changes.

“It was reported in the Journal and Representative Tripp has told me directly that he does not intend to follow a hard-and-fast rule but apparently some members of the Republican Party who may end up being chairs have told Representative Tripp that they don’t want some members on their committee,” Egolf said. “I think that would be a mistake to take years of experience and understanding of issues and not have those members serve on committees.”

Outgoing Speaker of the House Ken Martinez, D-Grants, says that this would be a big change from how things have worked in the past.

Martinez told New Mexico Political Report that in the past, House members have filled out sheets outlining their preferences then the Majority and Minority Leaders would get together with the Speaker and “spend a day trying to make the committees work.”

When asked if he can recall a chair of a committee ever not allowing a member to sit on a committee at the request of a committee chair, he replied with one word.

“Never.”

Egolf told New Mexico Political Report after the press conference that it seems there may be a departure from the past on committee assignments.

He does say, however, it is an “ongoing discussion” so far and that he has yet to sit down with Tripp and Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, to discuss committee assignments.

Egolf said that Republicans have been treated fairly in the past.

“I believe in the most recent legislature, all Republicans were given all of their choices except for one,” Egolf said. “I understand from [former Minority Leader] Tom Taylor in the legislature prior to that, Republicans received all of their requests save one.”

The full extent of the changes to the committee will not be known until after the legislative session begins.

Egolf expects committee assignments to take place Wednesday or Thursday.

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