December 27, 2016

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

The seal of the state of New Mexico in the 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. Nunez held the spot for years as a Democrat and shortly as an independent before switching to the Republican Party. Nunez only held the spot as a Republican for one term.

The shift in the House also signaled a change in legislative priorities as Rep. Paul Pacheco, R-Albuquerque, lost his seat to Democrat Daymon Ely. Pacheco was instrumental in pushing legislation aimed at toughening state criminal penalties in both the 2016 regular and special sessions.

Democrat Liz Thomson won a spot she previously lost in 2014. Thomson won in 2012 against Conrad James, but lost to him in 2014. After James announced he would not run for reelection, Thomson defeated Republican Christina Hall.

The shift in the House also meant a shift in leadership. The Republican Party spend most of the time in control of the House pushing legislation to weaken labor unions and toughen criminal penalties.

With Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, slated as the next Speaker of the House, so-called right-to-work and tough-on-crime legislation is not likely to make it to the floor, let alone clear the House. Aside from Egolf, the remaining majority leadership in the House will be made entirely of women of color.

Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, is set to become the first African-American to serve as House majority leader. Doreen Gallegos of Las Cruces is set to serve as House majority whip and Wonda Johnson of Church Rock will serve as the House majority caucus chair.