Thursday, January 13, 2005


As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
January 13, 2005

Officially, nobody knows who will be filling important committee posts in the state Senate. And a few committee chairmanships are up for grabs this year due to election upsets, retirements and leadership shifts.

Officially, committee chairmen in the Senate are recommended by the Committee on Committees and approved by the full Senate.

And officially, the Committee on Committees isn’t chosen until the Senate pro-tem is elected at the outset of the session.

But unofficially, if you want to know this week who the new committee chairmen are going to be, all you have to do is know how to read the signs.

I mean that literally. You just have to walk around the third floor of the Roundhouse and read the names on the signs on the doors.

Roman Maes, D-Santa Fe, who had been chairman of the Corporations and Transportation Committee, was defeated in his primary race by John Grubesic. Up at Maes’ old office, Room 300, a new sign says Sen. Shannon Robinson, D-Albuquerque, is the new chairman of that committee.

Sen. Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, who has been chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was elected majority floor leader last year. He’s already moved into former Sen. Manny Aragon’s office down on the first floor. The new sign on the door of Room 319, Sanchez’s old office, says that Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, is the new Judiciary chairman.

And finally there’s Sen. Ben Altamirano, D-Silver City, longtime chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Late last year his fellow Democratic senators nominated Altamirano for Senate president pro-tem, to replace Richard Romero, who ran an unsuccessful race for Congress instead of seeking re-election.

Now officially (I was hoping to use that word again) Altamirano doesn’t have the pro-tem job yet. The full Senate elects that position, normally on the first day. Republican Sen. Joe Carraro of Albuquerque has said he’s running for the post. And at one point last year, Carraro was claiming he might peel off as many as six Democratic votes, more than enough to put him over.

But apparently Altamirano isn’t worried.

His old office, Room 325, has a sign that says Sen. Joe Fidel, D-Grants, is now chairman of the Finance Committee and that Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, is vice chairman. (Fidel has been the committee’s vice chair.)

If you can trust the signs on the door, other current committee heads are safe.

Sen. Cynthia Nava, D-Las Cruces, will keep her position of chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, Sen. Dede Feldman, D-Albuquerque, will remain chairwoman of the Public Affairs Committee, Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, will still be chairwoman of the Senate Rules Committee, Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Taos, will stay chairman of the Conservation Committee, and Sen. John Pinto, D-Tohatchi, will still be chairman of the Indian and Cultural Affairs Committee.

Of course, as the surprise coup against former Senate President pro-tem Manny Aragon in 2001 showed, some things could change once the Legislature actually gets going.

Meanwhile, back at the House of Representatives ... : The House isn’t quite as obvious as the Senate in tipping its hand on committee chairmanships.

However, over at Room 304, office of the chairman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, Santa Fe’s Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela’s name is where retired chairman Max Coll’s used to be. There’s no sign identifying Varela as chairman, but his name is above that of Deputy Chairman Henry “Kiki” Saavedra, D-Albuquerque.

And there’s no name on the door of Room 308, the office of the House Judiciary Chairman. Rep. Kenny Martinez, D-Grants, abandoned that post to become majority floor leader. Rumors persist that Rep, Joe Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, is in line for the Judiciary chairmanship.

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