Sunday, November 21, 2004


As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Nov. 21, 2004

State Senate Democrats on Saturday chose Sen. Michael Sanchez of Belen to be their majority floor leader.

Also during a party caucus in Albuquerque, the Democrat lawmakers endorsed Sen. Ben Altamirano of Silver City to be the new president pro tem of the Senate. While this gives Altamirano‘s chances a good boost, the president pro-tem is voted on by the full Senate -- not just Democrats -- in January.

The two top positions in the Senate opened up following the resignation of prior Majority Leader Manny Aragon and the decision of current president pro tem Richard Romero to not seek re-election.

Sanchez, a lawyer by profession, has been the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee for several years.

He is the brother of Raymond Sanchez, who was speaker of the House for 16 years until he was defeated for re-election in 2000.

In a secret ballot Michael Sanchez defeated several candidates vying for the job, which had belonged to Sen. Manny Aragon. Aragon resigned from the Senate this year after being named president of New Mexico Highlands University.

Sanchez said he's "excited that the caucus is together." He said he spoke with the two senators who ran for the majority leader post -- Phil Griego of San Jose and Carlos Cisneros of Taos -- and all agreed to work together.

"I'll be working with the governor and every legislator," Sanchez said. "I believe this is a new beginning in the Senate."

Contracted after the vote, Griego said he wasn’t upset.

“I’m still a senator,” he said. “I still have a voice and a responsibility to my constituents.”

Griego had campaigned aggressively for the position for several months. One of his selling points was what he called his “access to the Fourth floor” -- in other words his good working relationship with Gov. Bill Richardson.

Richardson has stayed officially neutral in the leadership contests. But some senators believe that Altamirano and Griego were Richardson’s preferred candidates for the posts.

Altamirano, who has been in the Senate since 1971, is the senator with the most seniority. He has served as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee for several years.

Republican Joe Carraro of Albuquerque also is running for the pro tem job. Democrats outnumber Republicans 24-18 in the Senate, though Carraro claims he can convince enough Democrats to vote for him to win.

Sanchez, however, said he believes Democrats will unite behind Altamirano. "I believe our caucus will name the next president pro tem, he said.

Two other Democrats were seeking the pro tem post, including Senators Tim Jennings of Roswell and Dede Feldman of Albuquerque.

The Democratic senators agreed not to disclose the vote count in any of the races a senator, who asked not to be identified said.

In another leadership race, two Democrats tied for the position of majority whip. These were Senators Linda Lopez of Albuquerque and Mary Jane Garcia of Dona Ana, who currently holds that position.

Senate Democrats will hold another caucus meeting Monday to vote again for whip. Sanchez said one possibility would be to have "co-whips."

Sen. Lidio Rainaldi of Gallup was elected caucus leader.

Senate Republicans are scheduled to meet today though neither Minority Floor Leader Stuart Ingle of Portales or Minority Whip Leonard Lee Rawson of Las Cruces are expected to have any challengers.

House Democrats and Republicans will both caucus on Monday, Both Majority Leader Danice Picraux, D-Albuquerque and Minority Floor Leader Ted Hobbs, R-Albuquerque, have challengers.

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