January 18, 2023

Lundstrom moved from influential appropriations committee post

By Robert Nott, The Santa Fe New Mexican

Just as the last day of the 2022 legislative session ended with a bombshell of surprise when then-House Speaker Brian Egolf announced he was not running for reelection, the first day of this year’s session ended with a shock.

Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup, was removed from her post as chairwoman of the powerful House Appropriations and Finance Committee by new House Speaker Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, during an evening floor session on committee assignments.

Lundstrom will be succeeded by Rep. Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces.

The action took place shortly before the House of Representatives adjourned for the day. 

Lundstrom said in an interview Martínez had told her of his plans about 20 minutes before he announced the move.

Seeming to fight back tears, Lundstrom told lawmakers who approached her after the floor session, “This is unbelievable.”

“What does that say about respect for female leaders?” Lundstrom asked. She noted she had headed the committee since 2017 and was among the longest-serving members of the House.

Later that evening, she issued a statement saying, “As a minority woman and rural New New Mexico Democrat, I am saddened and concerned that the new progressive regime has inappropriately replaced my steadfast and prudent leadership of the HAFC and LFC in a pathetic attempt at political retaliation.

“I have fought for our state’s most vulnerable and protected our finances in our economically challenged state. The decision to replace me with a white man with less than a fourth of the experience in budget development is extremely damaging to New Mexico with the ever-increasing one-party system that retaliates against traditional, Hispanic, rural, Democrats,” she continued. “My fight is long from over, because I can’t believe the message that this sends to our young women of color.”

In a subsequent interview following the release of the statement, she said she was “saddened” by the move. She had fought to represent Native Americans and Hispanics in the state, she added, calling her removal “a slap in the face” to those populations. 

While a switch-up in committee assignments is not unusual at the start of any legislative session, Lundstrom, who has served in the Legislature for more than 20 years, had become one of the go-to experts on the state budget, often taking part in news conferences announcing budget proposals and priorities.

On Monday, she received a round of applause for her budget work after discussing spending priorities at a Legislative Finance Committee hearing.

One of the more conservative Democrats in the House, Lundstrom sometimes battled with progressive Democrats. She raised eyebrows in 2022 when she donated campaign funds to several conservative Democratic House candidates trying to oust more progressive incumbents.

She twice voted to support a decades-old bill outlawing abortion in the state. 

Although there was some talk Lundstrom had considered vying for the role of House speaker this year, it’s unclear if she ever made such a move. Some lawmakers interviewed by The New Mexican late last year said they did not know if she ever formally announced her intent to run for the leadership role. 

Her name was not among those nominated for speaker Tuesday afternoon, when the House voted along party lines, 45-25, to elect Martínez for the position.

Asked if she thought her removal from the committee was politically motivated, Lundstrom said, “You’ll have to ask him [Martínez] that.”

Martínez did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday evening. 

Camille Ward, a spokeswoman for the House Democratic caucus, wrote in an email, “The Speaker has the responsibility and prerogative to organize the House committees as he feels best meets the current needs of New Mexico. With new leadership on both sides of the aisle and on many of our committees in this session, Speaker Martínez is beginning a new chapter to move New Mexico forward.”

Small wrote in a text message he was honored to take on the new responsibility and was thankful to Martínez for appointing him.

He said he and Rep. Meredith Dixon, D-Albuquerque, who was named vice chairwoman of the appropriations committee, “have learned so much from Chair Lundstrom during her tenure. … We know we will have big shoes to fill and are ready to work together with New Mexicans to develop forward-thinking solutions for our state.”

After graduating from Grants High School in 1977, Lundstrom attended New Mexico State University, first at the branch in Grants and then at the main campus in Las Cruces a year later.

In 1985, she started working for the Northwest New Mexico Council of Governments as a planner with a focus on transportation.

She ran unsuccessfully for New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District in 1998. Two years later, she won her seat in the House. 

In a 2022 interview with The New Mexican, she said she would not rule out a run for higher office in the future. 

“I haven’t put a heck of a lot of thought into that, but I’m not going to deny the fact I’ve been asked to look at other positions, higher positions,” she said.

She added, “I feel like I’m not finished with the job I’m doing now as appropriations chairman. I feel like I’m still contributing and still helping to build a strong foundation, a strong financial foundation, so I’m not ready to move up yet.”