Gov. Susana Martinez delivering the 2017 State of the State Address.

Pomp, circumstance and State of the State in photos

As is often the case, the first day of the 2017 legislative session began with lawmakers, lobbyists and reporters catching up and getting their bearings straight. The first day began with lawmakers settling into their new seating assignments and making new leadership official. Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, was elected Speaker of the House, while Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, was elected by the Democratic caucus to serve as the Majority Floor Leader.  

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Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, takes the speaker’s chair Tuesday after being elected speaker of the house on the first day of the state legislative session at the Roundhouse.

Egolf, Dems make changes after taking control of House

Brian Egolf, on his first night as speaker of the New Mexico House of Representatives, selected nine committee chairmen and chairwomen who will be in leadership jobs for the first time. Egolf, D-Santa Fe, on Tuesday also expanded the number of committees in the House from 13 to 14. Republicans, back in the minority after two years as the controlling party, objected to adding a committee but lost on a party-line vote of 38-29. Minority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, said the additional committee would create the need for more staff. Egolf said that was not the case because the existing pool of legislative analysts would handle the workload for all committees.

State Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, left, and Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, shown during the last day of the 2016 special legislative session, are about to take on the most powerful positions in the Legislature when lawmakers convene for the 2017 session on Tuesday.

Stark differences separate Santa Fe liberals stepping into leadership roles

Santa Fe is about to become the most powerful city in the Legislature. Presumptive House Speaker Brian Egolf and new Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth both are Santa Fe Democrats, Anglo lawyers from the city’s east side. When Wirth was elected to the Senate in 2008, Egolf was elected to represent Wirth’s old district in the House of Representatives. Both have strong liberal voting records and both have chaired the committees that deal with the environment and energy in their respective chambers. Conservation Voters New Mexico, which for years has maintained scorecards for lawmakers, gives Egolf a 98 percent lifetime rating.

Time is running out for Gov. Susana Martinez, pictured in September during a State Investment Council meeting at the Capitol, to accomplish some positive change. The legislative session that begins Tuesday will be her last 60-day session.

Analysis: Session is last real chance for Martinez to turn things around

As New Mexico lawmakers prepare to convene for the 2017 legislative session — Gov. Susana Martinez’s final 60-day session — probably the most common words spoken at the Roundhouse by legislators, staff, lobbyists, reporters and other Capitol regulars are some version of “Here we go again.” Another session. Another budget crisis. More partisan head-knocking. More harsh rhetoric.

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Gov. Martinez announces budget solvency plan

Gov. Susana Martinez announced Tuesday her proposal to balance the state budget, which involves moving $268.5 million from various state agencies. “This is a responsible budget that reduces the size of government while at the same time protects the progress we’ve made in diversifying our economy, reforming our education system, and keeps our communities safe,” Martinez said in a press release. The proposal includes taking $120 million from public education in funds that Martinez’s press release referred to as “slush funds.”

Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, told NM Political Report that the proposal is a “starting point for negotiation purposes,” but that real discussions will happen in committee meetings once the legislative session begins next week. Smith, a fiscal conservative, also criticized Martinez’s proposed sweep from public schools. “I’m not as harsh on education as she is,” Smith said.

The seal of the state of New Mexico in the House

2016 Top Stories #5: NM Dems buck national trend, retake House

As Democrats around the country were reeling from an unexpected loss in the presidential and many congressional races, New Mexico saw Democrats take back control of the state House of Representatives. Previously: Top ten stories of 2016: 10-6

This came two years after Democrats lost control of the House—where they held a majority for almost half a century. Conservative super PAC Advance Now New Mexico shelled out large amounts of cash towards unseating Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez. But some critics felt that the PAC didn’t spend enough time focused on on maintaining the majority in the House or unseating other Senate Democrats. Hatch Mayor Andy Nunez, a Republican, lost his legislative seat in southern New Mexico to Las Cruces City Councilor Nathan Smalls.

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Beyond the food tax: Legislators aim for an overhaul of the system

Media coverage of planned tax legislation has so far focused on one hot-button topic of the proposal—reinstating a state tax on food. Santa Fe Archbishop John C. Wester and advocacy groups like New Mexico Voices for Children have vocally opposed the idea. But the two state representatives behind the proposal have not actually filed any legislation on the matter for the session that begins in January. Legislators could begin introducing bills on Dec. 15.

Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe

Egolf in line to be next Speaker of the House

With a vote this weekend, Democrats made it likely that Brian Egolf will be the next Speaker of the state House of Representatives this coming January. House Democrats, who retook control of the House during November’s elections, met this weekend to vote on new leadership. Democrats chose Egolf as speaker, Sheryl Williams Stapleton of Albuquerque as House majority leader, Doreen Gallegos of Las Cruces as House majority whip and Wonda Johnson of Church Rock as House majority caucus chair. Williams Stapleton will be the first African-American to serve as House majority leader in the state’s history. The formal vote for Speaker of the House will take place in January when the Legislature meets during the regular legislative session.

Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque, debating her bill to bring back the death penalty.

House sends death penalty reinstatement to the Senate

After a three hour debate before the sun rose on Thursday morning, the House voted to bring the death penalty back to New Mexico on a narrow vote. The 36-30 party-line vote came after emotional testimony and debate, largely from Democrats. The proposal now heads to the Senate, though it appears very unlikely that the chamber will take up the effort before the end of the special session. Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque, introduced her bill by listing the five police officers who were killed while on duty in the last 18 months, then listing some of the children who were murdered in recent months. Her proposal would only apply, Youngblood said, “When a child is murdered, when a law enforcement officer is murdered or a corrections officer is murdered.”

The debate came after two hours of debate on an appeal by Democrats that the public was not given enough time ahead of time to be told the House would consider the bill.

House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, speaking on the floor during the 2016 special session.

House debates on whether to debate death penalty in the early, early morning

The House spent the first hours of Thursday debating on whether or not they should debate a bill to bring back the death penalty in New Mexico. Shortly before 12:45 a.m., Speaker of the House Don Tripp, R-Socorro, sought to introduce a new calendar that had just one item: The death penalty bill. House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, immediately objected and appealed the ruling of the chair. This led to a parade of Democrats criticizing Tripp’s ruling. The House finally voted to uphold Tripp’s ruling, on a party-line vote, at 2:45 a.m. on a party-line 35-32 vote.