NM politicians shift focus to legislative leadership, 2018 governor’s race

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A statue outside the Roundhouse in Santa Fe.

Heath Haussamen / NMPolitics.net

A statue outside the Roundhouse in Santa Fe.

Tuesday caused a shift in the balance of power in the N.M. Legislature, and that means new leadership.

Several people are looking ahead to the 2018 governor’s race as well.

The defeat of Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez on Tuesday sets up a possible leadership battle. Democratic Sens. Peter Wirth of Santa Fe and Michael Padilla of Albuquerque both told The Santa Fe New Mexican they’re thinking about running for majority leader.

“I am visiting with colleagues about the leadership void in the Senate,” The New Mexican quoted Wirth as saying. “This is an internal caucus matter and I have no further comment at this time.”

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“I’m calling around the state to [Democratic] caucus members,” Padilla was quoted as saying. “But I haven’t yet made a decision whether I’ll run for majority leader.”

The Senate remains in control of Democrats, but a shift in leadership could mean new committee chairs. A big question is whether John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, will continue to chair the powerful Senate Finance Committee. He’s helped block a proposal from some Democrats to take money from the state’s permanent fund for early childhood education, so some Democrats might like to see him go.

In addition, the House flipped on Tuesday from Republican to Democratic control, which means a new speaker will replace Don Tripp, R-Socorro, as the chamber’s leader.

Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, who has served the past two years as the House minority leader, plans to run for speaker. No one else has yet stepped up to run for the position. It’s likely the Democratic majority will choose the speaker, though a coalition of Republicans and a handful of Democrats isn’t outside the realm of possibility.

The new speaker will assign new committee chairs.

Beyond January, three members of New Mexico’s delegation in Washington — Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Udall and U.S. Reps. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, and Steve Pearce, a Republican, say they’re considering running for governor in 2018. Current Gov. Susana Martinez is term-limited from running again.

“I have not made a decision… but I have an open mind,” the Albuquerque Journal quoted Udall as saying. He added that he would decide whether to run for governor “very soon.”

Lujan Grisham, according to the Journal, talked about a governor having more power than a U.S. representative, and said she might run even if Udall does, which could lead to a significant Democratic primary battle.

“I certainly haven’t been shy about jumping into primaries that are tough,” the Journal quoted Lujan Grisham as saying.

Pearce didn’t sound like he’s eyeing the governor’s office as seriously as Udall and Lujan Grisham but said he’ll take a look at it, according to the Journal.

“We’ll sit down and start looking at that sometime next year,” the Journal quoted him as saying. “Right now, we’re just thinking about serving in this (U.S. House) office right here.”

Meanwhile, state Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, didn’t say he’s thinking about running for governor but made clear he’s considering options.

“I’m actively speaking with people about the future leadership of the governor’s office and the unmet needs of the state,” Cervantes told NMPolitics.net. “I’m looking at the best ways to advance New Mexico, and any consideration of course begins with an effective governor.”