Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

12-1 Could State House Speaker Change?

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- A few weeks ago I reported that the big news in state legislative leadership changes was among House Republicans.
GOP leader Rep. Ted Hobbs, of Albuquerque, retired and Rep. Terry Marquardt, of Alamogordo, the Republican whip, lost his bid for reelection.
They were replaced by Rep. Tom Taylor, of Farmington, and Rep. Dan Foley, of Roswell, a frequent critic of Gov. Bill Richardson and someone who will likely make life more difficult for the governor.
No senators had to stand for reelection this year so I speculated that those leadership positions would remain stable, which they normally do unless Manny Aragon is involved.
I also predicted that Rep. Ben Lujan, a Democrat from northern Santa Fe County, appeared set to maintain firm control as speaker of the House. But I may have missed on that one.
Blogger Joe Monahan reports that House majority leader, Rep. Ken Martinez, of Grants, has been making phone calls to House Democrats trying to line up the votes to challenge Lujan.
The Martinez factor in the House's leadership has long been an interesting one. Ken Martinez's father, Walter, was speaker of the House back in the heyday of the Mama Lucy Gang, a group of mostly northern New Mexico liberals who ran the House from 1971 to 1978.
The Mama Lucys included a number of young firebrands excited about pushing reform measures that were becoming hot items nationally. But their control of the House was razor-thin.
Back in those days, Democrats outnumbered Republicans in the House by more than 3-1. But the Mama Lucys' problem was that approximately half the Democrats were conservatives from eastern and southern New Mexico.
Staying in power was always tenuous for the Mama Lucys because the conservative Democrats, usually referred to as Cowboys, thought much more like Republicans and had run the House for years.
It was Walter Martinez who provided the stabilizing influence to keep the group from over-reaching and endangering their positions. Some of them compared him to "Mama" Lucy Lopez, a Las Vegas restaurant owner beloved for mothering many young men through college.
The name stuck with Martinez as he provided the calm and caring leadership to keep the faction in power for eight years. Eventually the Cowboys and Republicans coalesced and assumed the speaker's post.
When the Martinez faction reemerged, it didn't bear the Mama Lucy name and the speaker became Martinez's chief prot�g� Raymond Sanchez. During Sanchez's 16 years as speaker, he made constant reference to the wise counsel he received when Martinez served as speaker.
Ken Martinez was elected to the House in 1999. Raymond Sanchez was still speaker at the time. Almost immediately, comments were heard that Martinez would succeed his father as soon as he was ready.
Sanchez may have envisioned that he would eventually turn his speaker's post over to Martinez. But Sanchez was defeated in the 2000 general election and Lujan took over as speaker.
Four years later Martinez challenged House majority leader, Rep. Danice Picraux and prevailed. Picraux took the beating in stride, observing that it was well known that Martinez would begin his move up the ladder to become speaker at some point.
Current Speaker Lujan never has indicated how he stands on Martinez eventually becoming speaker or whether that should be on Martinez's timetable or Lujan's.
Lujan is now 70, but does not show it. He appears ready to go full speed for many more years. Should the 49-year-old Martinez be patient and bide his time or should he make a challenge before someone else beats him to it?
And what happens to Martinez and his supporters if he doesn't succeed? There will be consequences. For now, it is all very much under the radar.
If Martinez sees that he doesn't have the votes, he will quietly back off and nothing more will be heard. For now.
FRI, 12-01-06

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



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