Inside the Capitol

Monday, December 13, 2004

Trial Lawyers Take Legislature

SANTA FE – Trial lawyers are headed back to the top of the state legislative food chain after recent party caucuses to pick new leaders.
Following the departures of Raymond Sanchez and Manny Aragon from the top leadership posts in the New Mexico Legislature, trial lawyers found themselves out of control going into the recent party caucuses. But suddenly they are back working the levers of power.
Sanchez and Aragon, both trial lawyers, ruled their respective chambers with iron fists for many years. During that period, lobbyists for trial lawyers found it easy to guide desired legislation through the process and to defeat anything they didn’t like.
Then four years ago, Sanchez was defeated in his Albuquerque North Valley legislative district. Two months later, Rep. Ben Lujan, a retired Los Alamos National Laboratory employee, replaced Sanchez as speaker of the House.
On that same day, over in the Senate, Aragon suffered a surprise loss to retired educator, Richard Romero, for president pro tem of the Senate. At that point, trial lawyers were shut out of all 14 leadership positions in the Legislature. But in the late November party caucuses, they returned with a bang.
Trial lawyers now find themselves with colleagues serving as majority floor leaders of both the House and Senate. Both victories were a surprise to many Legislature watchers. Neither Rep. Ken Martinez nor Sen. Michael Sanchez had been in a leadership position before and both had stiff opposition.
Rep. Martinez, a Grants attorney, figured to be in a leadership position sooner or later. His father, Walter Martinez, was speaker of the House back when the Mama Lucy Gang took over in 1970. The elder Martinez groomed young Albuquerque attorney Raymond Sanchez to take his place someday.
And that he did. Sanchez frequently expressed his admiration for Martinez and his gratitude for the help he received while working his way up to leadership positions. Before becoming speaker, Sanchez was House majority floor leader.
When the younger Martinez was elected to his father’s former seat, Sanchez returned the favor by taking the rookie lawmaker under his wing and letting everyone know that Ken Martinez eventually would follow in his Dad’s footsteps to the speakers chair. Martinez took the first step by successfully challenging incumbent Rep. Danice Picraux for the majority leader’s slot.
In the Senate, Belen attorney Michael Sanchez beat out stiff opposition to become that chamber’s majority leader. And, yes, you guessed it. He is Raymond Sanchez’s brother. So even though the former speaker no longer is in the Legislature, there is a fair chance that he will have considerable influence at the Capitol.
Sen. Mary Jane Garcia of Las Cruces retained her majority whip position. She traditionally faces tough opposition, but comes out on top. Sen. Lidio Rainaldi of Gallup was elected Democrat caucus leader.
The Republican side of the Senate stayed steady as you go. Stuart Ingle of Portales retained the floor leader’s spot he’s held onto for several sessions. Sen. Lee Rawson of Las Cruces retained his Republican whip seat, also without opposition. Caucus Chair Dianna Duran of Alamogordo retained her position against a challenge from Sen. Sen. Steve Komadina of Corrales.
House Democrats picked Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton of Albuquerque as their whip and retained Rep. John Heaton of Carlsbad as caucus chair
House Republicans retained Rep. Ted Hobbs of Albuquerque to lead them for another session. For many years, House Republicans used to change leadership every two years in an attempt to find someone whom they felt could stand up to Speaker Raymond Sanchez. They finally found that person in Hobbs. They also picked Reps. Terry Marquardt of Alamogordo as whip and Anna Crook of Clovis as caucus chair.
Sen. Ben Altamirano of Silver city was nominated by Democrats to run for president pro tem on opening day of the session. Republicans nominated Sen. Joe Carraro of Albuquerque. House Democrats nominated Rep. Ben Lujan of Nambe for speaker.


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