Thursday, November 18, 2004

ROUNDHOUSE ROUND-UP: LEGISLATIVE LEADERSHIP BATTLES

As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Nov. 18, 2004


There's so many legislators running for some leadership position, it's hard to keep track without a printed program.

Case in point: When I dialed a wrong number Wednesday trying to call a senator who had been considering a run for Senate president Pro-tem (Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas) I got hold of another lawmaker who's running for House majority whip (Rep. Joe Campos, Santa Rosa).

Thanks to the departures of former Senate President pro-tem Richard Romero and former Senate Majority Floor Leader Manny Aragon, there will be new leadership in the state Senate.

And over on the House side, Democratic Floor Leader Danice Picraux and her Republican counterpart Ted Hobbs (both of Albuquerque) are still around, but both are being challenged by members of their own caucuses.

Here's a run-down on who's running for what:

Senate President pro-tem: This post, currently held by Romero, who lost his Congressional race against U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson this month, has attracted several candidates.

Some observers think Sen. Ben Altamirano, D-Silver City has the best shot. Altamirano, who has been in the Senate since 1971, has the most seniority of all state senators. For the past few year's he's been chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Some say he's the favorite of Gov. Bill Richardson.

Sen. Tim Jennings, D-Roswell, describes his bid as a longshot. He was majority floor leader for several years until late 2001 when he was overthrown in a coup by Aragon (who earlier that year had been ousted from the pro-tem job by Romero). Jennings is fourth in seniority in the Senate.

Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque has said she is running for the pro-tem position, as is Sen. Dede Feldman, D-Albuquerque.

And though he is a Republican, and would need some Democrats for him to win, Sen. Joe Carraro of Albuquerque is in the running. He said Wednesday he thinks he can pull off as many as seven Democrats.

Because the president pro-tem is elected by the full Senate on the first day of the session - and not the individual party caucuses - the idea of a coalition is a possibility. It happened in 2001 when Romero joined with a handful of renegade Democrats and all 18 Senate Republicans to defeat Aragon.

Some have speculated that Jennings, a conservative Democrat, could pull off a similar trick this time.

Jennings downplayed such a scenario in an interview Wednesday.

"I'm a loyal Democrat," he said. "You look at my history and I never joined with any coalition in the past."

But he didn't completely shut the door. "It's a non-partisan post," he said. "Of course I would welcome any Republican support."

Asked whether he'd support whatever candidate is endorsed by the Senate Democratic caucus, which meets in Albuquerque Saturday, Jennings said, "It depends on who the candidate is."

Senate Majority Floor Leader: Could Phil Griego be the next Manny Aragon? Griego's fellow senators say the Democrat from San Jose is running the most aggressive campaign of any of the contenders.

But there are other contenders. Sen. Michael Sanchez, D-Belen and Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Taos also reportedly are running for the job that opened up when Aragon accepted the job of president of New Mexico Highlands University.

Neither Sanchez nor Cisneros could be reached for comment Wednesday.

Griego recently sent letters to fellow Democratic senators saying that he's the most qualified partly because of a close relationship with House Speaker Ben Lujan and his "access to the Fourth Floor."

"Of the three people running, I have the best working relationship with the governor," Griego said this week.

Lujan on Wednesday confirmed he does have a good relationship with Griego. "But I think I could work well with whoever they elect," he said.

Richardson said recently he won't get involved in the leadership contests. Some have expressed skepticism about that.

House Majority Floor Leader: Rep. Danice Picraux, D-Albuquerque, has held this position since 2001. But now she has at least one and perhaps two challengers.

Rep. John Heaton, D-Carlsbad, confirmed Wednesday that he's running. And Lujan said that Rep. Ken Martinez, D-Grants, also will try to unseat Picraux. (Martinez couldn't be reached for comment.)

Lujan said he's staying neutral in this and other House leadership contests.

"Danice has done a good job," he said. "She's totally dedicated."

But Lujan said he could work with whoever the House Democrats choose when they caucus on Monday.

House Minority Floor Leader: The Republicans also could change leaders. Rep. Ted Hobbs of Albuquerque said he thinks he has enough votes to stay on as leader.

But Rep. Brian Moore, R-Clayton, who has been campaigning for the job since April, also expressed confidence that he has enough support.

Meanwhile, Rep. Larry Larranaga of Albuquerque confirmed on Wednesday that he's considering a stab for Hobbs' post. But he said he hasn't quite decided.

House Republicans meet in caucus on Monday.

Senate GOP: Senate Democrats and both parties in the House also have contested races for their respective whips.

The only caucus that apparently doesn't have any leadership battles ahead is the Senate Republicans. Senate Republican Leader Stuart Ingle of Portales said Wednesday, "I think we're safe. But there might be a few provisional ballots lying around somewhere."

He'll know for sure on Sunday, when the Senate Republicans meet.


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