A version of this will be published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Jan. 20, 2011
Social conservatives may find it easier moving bills through the state Senate to bring back the death penalty and restrict gay rights if an anticipated change in the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee comes to pass.
State Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Espanola said Wednesday that Senate President Pro-tem Tim Jennings, D-Roswell, had asked him to take over the top position on Judiciary, which for the past six years has been chaired by Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque — one of the most outspoken liberals in the Legislature.
McSorley, interviewed in his office Wednesday afternoon, said, “Right now I don’t know if I’m going to remain as Judiciary Committee chairman.”
Jennings said Wednesday, “I can’t respond now.” He said the decision on committee chairmanships and committee assignments will be decided today at the scheduled meeting of the Senate Committee on Committees.
Unlike the state House of Representatives, where one person — the speaker — determines who will chair and who will sit on each committee, in the Senate the Committee on Committees decides.
Both McSorley and Martinez, who has been deputy chairman of Senate Judiciary since McSorley became chairman, spoke no ill of one another.
But the two have dramatically different voting records on issues like the death penalty and gay rights. McSorley, a lawyer by profession, has been a champion of domestic partnership legislation and other bills affecting homosexuals. Martinez has been on the opposite side on these issues.
Gov. Susana Martinez, a former Las Cruces prosecutor, has been a vocal advocate of bringing back the death penalty, which in 2009 was repealed by close votes in both chambers of the Legislature. She mentioned the issue as a priority in her State of the State address Tuesday.
While she has not stressed gay-related issues, Martinez has said she opposes a domestic partnership law and that she would sign a bill that would legally define marriage in New Mexico as the union of one man and one woman.
Though there are more Democrats than Republicans in the Senate, Jennings was elected in 2009 by a coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats.
The Roundhouse rumor mill involving possible major committee changes was even busier Wednesday than the Capitol copy machines printing newly introduced bills.
There is much “palace intrigue” in the House, spurred mainly by the aborted challenge of House Speaker Ben Lujan by Rep. Joe Cervantes, D-Las Cruces.
Many expect Rep. Andy Nunez, D-Hatch, to lose his chairmanship of the Water and Natural Resources Committee. Nunez, a conservative Democrat, was a vocal supporter of Cervantes and an outspoken critic of Lujan’s. He voted “present” Tuesday instead of voting for Lujan or Republican Leader Tom Taylor of Farmington for speaker.
Another rumor involves Santa Fe’s Rep. Brian Egolf. According to one scenario, Egolf, a progressive Democrat who is beginning his second term, would become chairman of the House Energy Committee. Asked if it was true, Egolf replied in a text message, “Don’t know.”
Egolf denied another rumor that he was being named chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.
Lujan has yet to announce any committee changes.