The New Mexico Legislature convened in Santa Fe at noon today, with a senate that promises a steadiness forged in previous sessions while the House of Representatives experiences momentous change, even down to seating assignments, office space and parking slots. For the first time in six decades, House republicans hold the majority and have taken over house leadership, with a promise to end business as usual in Santa Fe.

In the first of what may be many party-line votes, Rep. Don Tripp (R-Socorro) was elected Speaker of the House over venerable Santa Fe  Democrat Rep. Lucky Varela. Denise Ramonas was elected Chief Clerk and Steve Shaw is the Sgt. at Arms. Rep. Nate Gentry (R-Albuquerque) is the new House Majority Leader while Rep. Brian Egolf (D-Santa Fe) is the House Minority Leader.

Republicans will also take over as chairs of house committees. As expected, Rep. Larry Larranaga (R-Albuquerque) has been named chair of the powerful House Appropriations and Finance Committee. Other chairs will be named in the days to come, with additional restructuring outlined in House Resolution 1 which was introduced just before recess this afternoon. The full house will reconvene Wednesday at 10 a.m.

The Senate will stand in recess until Wednesday at 11 a.m. Senate committees will remain largely intact from the previous session. As you may know, Sen. Mimi Stewart (D-Albuquerque) took over the seat vacated by newly-elected State Auditor Tim Keller. As a retired educator, she served as House Education Committee chair and has been a staple of the Legislative Education Study Committee. However, she has not been appointed to Senate Education.

“I will not mark time”
As Governor Susana Martinez embarks on her second term, she reminded legislators of the successes of her first four years during today’s State of the State: a financial house put back in order, educational reform, more health coverage for New Mexicans and some noteworthy economic successes. The opening session also allows the executive to present her ideas on what should be accomplished during the 60-day session, and she wants even more investment in small business and business recruitment, education reform that chooses courage over comfort, public safety and child welfare initiatives. She did not dwell on the challenges created by uncertain state revenues, which will give lawmakers migraines over the next two months.

Hot button issues
There will be issues guaranteed to create firestorms on the floors of both Houses. The governor brought up right to work, social promotion and repeal of drivers licenses for the undocumented. Democratic lawmakers have already introduced three separate bills calling for an increase in the minimum wage. 

Final first day thoughts
“A new day in Santa Fe” - so many variations of that theme were voiced today, especially by republicans in the House of Representatives. There is still plenty of time before promises made must become promises kept. Notably, Speaker Tripp commits to running the House in a more open and businesslike manner. Declaring that “working together anything is possible,” the speaker even promises that committee hearings will run on time.