Monday, November 08, 2010

Jump Ball For NM Speaker; Lujan Works To Hang On As Movidas Percolate, New R Strength Key Factor; Cervantes Possible Player 

Lujan & Cervantes
New Mexico House Speaker Ben Lujan is working furiously behind the scenes to try to make order out of the chaos that erupted Election Night when eight new Republicans were elected to the 70 member chamber That gave the R's their biggest numbers there in decades--33 of them to 37 D's--and threw open the doors to possible coups and fevered speculation over Lujan's future.

The 74 year old Democratic leader wants to keep the Legislature's most powerful job which determines which bills go before the full House or get swept under the carpet.

The most obvious threat to him, according to Senior Alligators and Roundhouse Wall-Leaners in good standing, is State Rep. Joe Cervantes. The Dona Ana County lawmaker could be positioned to form a coalition with the 33 R's and thereby seizing the speakership from Lujan who has held the gavel since 2001.

All it would take is three votes. Our Senior Alligators say the most likely to join with Cervantes if he chose to launch a Movida would be Deming Rep. Dona Irwin who has had a rocky relationship with Lujan and Dona Ana Rep. Mary Helen Garcia, who is Cervantes' aunt. That would put them at 36--one vote more than needed.

If Cervantes were to become speaker, southern NM would gain even more prominence. Susana Martinez will be the first Governor from the region since the mid-80's.

But it is far from certain that Cervantes, 49, will make the power grab and get in bed with the Republicans. If he did, it's not certain that he would not draw a Dem primary challenge in his own district in 2012. In addition, going for speaker in a coup with the R's would mean his future in state Dem politics likely would have to end there. He would be persona non grata in the future. In 2008, Cervantes announced for the southern congressional seat, but later pulled out.

And then there's the problem of losing the speaker's post in two short years if, in 2012, the Dems take back a couple of those eight seats they picked up this year.

Having said all that, there are not many others the R's might feel comfortable forming a coalition with. Cervantes, first elected in '02, is seen as moderate to conservative. And the attorney is also seen as having the smarts.

Lujan ousted Cervantes from his post as chairman of House Judiciary when he joined with State Rep. Kenny Martinez in 2006 to try to make Martinez speaker at that year's Dem caucus meeting. At the least, he may have to give it back to him if Cervantes shows determination in making a move.


As for Martinez of Grants, who launched the aforementioned and ill-fated rebellion against Lujan in 2006, insiders say he is not willing to take the speaker's job with a coalition of Republicans. He said the same in 2006 when the subject was broached.

By all accounts, this will be Lujan's last run. If he can unite his Dem caucus when they meet in December and get the votes to get re-elected at the Jan. 18 opening day of the Legislature, the plan would be to hand off the speaker's post to Martinez at the 2013 legislative session.

However, Martinez could emerge as Speaker this year if the Democratic caucus gets stuck over Lujan. They could turn to Martinez to break the stalemate and have him assume the speakership this year in order to thwart any possible coalition. That would require the liberal Martinez assuaging conservative D's upset with Lujan in order to keep them from bolting. A Senior Alligator explains:

If at least two Democrats stand firm in caucus and say they will vote with the Republicans if Lujan is the Dem nominee for Speaker, they could conceivably force Lujan to step aside since he doesn't have the votes to hold the Speaker's Chair. Two votes with the R's would give them a 35 to 35 tie and three Dems take them over the top.

There are several others who think they would be good Speakers. We've outlined only two of the avenues the Roundhouse intrigue could take before this power struggle is settled. Stay tuned.


Another Senior Alligator weighs in on the tactics Speaker Lujan will need to employ to stay in his lofty perch:

He will work hard to address the four or five members that could go with the Republicans. That means a few southern blue dogs and two others also from the south that he has made mad. He could offer them committee chairmanships, safer districts when legislative reapportionment is done later this year and more capital outlay for their areas.

But then he will also have to make sure some self-interested NorteƱos don't decide to broker something for themselves...I really don't think there are three members that will break hard to form a coalition or even two to cause a stalemate especially with an R in the governor's office...

Also, it may be best for the R's to not form a coalition because then they would have to lead and take responsibility for getting something done.

But that's only one Gator's opinion. There are plenty of others who feel Lujan has been knocked to the canvas and could stay there. Certainly the tough-as-nails speaker faces the most treacherous political waters he has navigated in his long and storied career.


For Susana Martinez, coalition or no coalition, she is going to have an easier time of it in the Legislature with eight new GOP faces and a public that seems ready--at least for a couple of months--to give her carte blanche in getting the budget in shape. There is already a conservative coalition of R's and D's in the state Senate. Should she have her GOP legislative allies push for one in House as well, or let the Dems keep the post and use them as a foil if things go bad? You can bet she's getting strong advice on both sides.


Readers sensitive to pay-to-play stuff after months of being pounded senseless over it point out that if you go to the transition web site of Governor-elect Martinez there are two prominent links--one to submit your resume and one right below it to donate to her campaign. You can do one without the other, right? (A check at mid-morning Monday showed the "donate" link has now been removed.)


It was the Las Cruces Sun-News, Susana's hometown paper, that came with the first extended post-election interview of the Governor-elect. It went to 20 questions and was conducted Friday by veteran reporter Diana Alba.

While the Sun-News was splashing their scoop on the front pages, the state's largest newspaper, the ABQ Journal, also had a front-pager on Susana Martinez. But it was about a six year old who had the same name as the Governor-to-be.

Is that the new world order in the state press, or a favor to the hometown paper?

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

Email your news and comments. Interested in advertising here? Drop us a line.

Not for reproduction without permission of the author
website design by limwebdesign