Inside the Capitol

Monday, November 13, 2006

11-17 Clap Hands and Switch

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- New Mexico may be about to make some sort of history. As a result of the Democratic take-over of both houses of Congress, the leadership of the House and Senate will change. That includes committee and subcommittee chairmen.
Because energy and natural resources are important to New Mexico, our two senators are both on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and two of our three House members are on the House Resources Committee.
Since our state's congressional delegation is as politically balanced as possible, we have a Republican and a Democrat on each of those committees.
Sen. Pete Domenici currently is chairman of the Senate Energy Committee and Rep. Steve Pearce is chairman of the National Parks Subcommittee of the House Resources Committee.
Since Sen. Jeff Bingaman currently is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Energy Committee, he is in line to take over as chairman of the committee when Democrats take over in January. The last time Senate Democrats were in power, Bingaman and Domenici switched chairs and it appears it will happen again.
Between them, our two senators will have 60 years of Senate service at this time next year. That kind of seniority puts them in the committee chairman category.
Over in the House, Reps. Pearce and Tom Udall have a much shorter tenure, which puts them in the subcommittee chairman category. And it appears that Rep. Udall may be in line for Rep. Pearce's National Parks Subcommittee chairmanship.
Having 80 percent of a state's congressional delegation clap hands and change places must be some sort of record.
Pearce worked his way up to a subcommittee chairmanship very quickly. In only his second two-year term, Pearce received the nod from House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo, of California, to step into that post.
Pombo would have lost his committee chairmanship anyway because he was one of the 30 victims of the Democratic takeover. The environmental community got behind the candidate Pombo had defeated by 22 points two years earlier and beat Pombo by six points.
Pearce also had gained the confidence of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay who had to leave the House earlier this year. That means Pearce will have to find some new stars to hitch his wagon onto.
That's not particularly unusual. Back in the late '80s, then-Rep. Bill Richardson was a disciple of Democrat House Speaker Jim Wright of Texas, who had to step down for breaking House ethics rules.
Instead of the committee route, Richardson had chosen to move up through the assistant whip ranks. He had become chief deputy whip by the time former President Bill Clinton named him U.N. ambassador.
Rep. Heather Wilson doesn't have a New Mexican to whom to give her subcommittee chairmanship. How soon will New Mexico have a fourth seat in the U.S. House?
In 1980, when we gained our third seat, New Mexico was projected to pick up a fourth in 2010 as a result of population increases. But recent calculations put that off until at least 2030. It seems Arizona got its share plus ours. With eight U.S. House members currently, Arizona is expected to pick up two more in 2010.
Recent information indicates a possible reversal in that population trend. Evidently Albuquerque is beginning to attract a number of Phoenix transplants, who want more than two seasons -- hot and hotter. Most of New Mexico offers four moderate seasons.
Rep. Wilson, perhaps very relieved that it appears she still has a government job, has been talking excitedly about getting back to Washington and going to work.
There really won't be much work to do in the upcoming lame duck session. As for next year's session, as a member of the minority, there won't be nearly as much to do.
Sens. Bingaman and Domenici have been through many Washington power shifts. But for all three of our House members, next year will be a new experience.
FRI, 11-17-06

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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