January 27, 2015

Previous conservative House leadership changed committee names


The Roundhouse Rotunda. Photo by Matthew Reichbach

There will be more looks back at this tumultuous time in the state legislature from New Mexico Political Report in the days and weeks to come. It was the most recent example of conservatives taking control of the House of Representatives until Don Tripp, R-Socorro, took the Speaker’s gavel just a week ago.

While this is the first time in decades that the House has had a Republican Speaker of the House, the House was run by Gene Samberson from 1979-1982. Samberson was a conservative Democrat from southern New Mexico who was voted into power thanks to a coalition made up of nearly all of the Republican caucus and a small group of conservative Democrats.

A January 22, 1979 Albuquerque Journal editorial said the coup “reflects the state’s growing political conservatism.”

Samberson defeated Walter K. Martinez in the Speaker election. Walter Martinez was the father of W. Ken Martinez, Jr., who served as Speaker of the House from 2013-2014 and continues to serve in the House.

There are other similarities between that 1979 takeover and the change in power this year from the younger Martinez to Tripp.

A January 28, 1979 short Associated Press piece noted that the House changed rules including changing names. “The new names more clearly define the committee’s functions,” the AP explained.

Some of these changes appear to have survived until days ago when the House changed the names of many of the committees.

See that last one? Up until 1979, the House had a Ways and Means Committee. This was in addition to the Appropriations and Finance Committee, which was left intact in the 1979 rule change.

Things were also testy between the coalition and what the Journal and wire services referred to as the “loyalist Democrats” even in the initial days of the session. Even after the change in power from Martinez to Samberson, the “loyalist Democrats” fought even normally routine things, such as the Feed Bill.

From a January 25, 1979 article (the session started on January 16, meaning the Feed Bill took nine days to just pass the House):

Since that image isn’t very clear, here’s what it says:

SANTA FE — In a session that included dramatic debate and accusations of improprieties, the New Mexico House Wednesday passed a $1.3 million feed bill for legislative expenses — minus an appropriation for the Legislative School Study Committee.

The Feed Bill, which pays for the legislative session and interim duties, later passed the Senate unanimously.

And an interesting note on Senate committees, from a UPI story from January 8, 1979:

As now, the Senate had 42 total members in 1979. Unlike now, the Senate Finance Committee had a whopping 20 members in 1979 — just one shy of half of the entire chamber.

One can only imagine that chairman Aubrey Dunn (the father of current State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn) didn’t allow every member of the committee to speak on each bill.