While a contentious national election lead the federal government to Republican control, New Mexico moved in the opposite direction.
In New Mexico, the Republicans lost their brief control of the state House, which they had gained in 2014. And now leading the new House majority will be Democratic State Representative Brian Egolf, who has been nominated for the position of House Speaker
“Providing more economic security to families is top of the ticket,” Egolf said, providing a preview of what he plans to do when the 2017 legislative session starts in January.
This comes after a landslide victory for Egolf in the general election, who, according to the NM Seecretary of State website, won the position with 80 percent of the vote against Rep. Bobby Gonzales. Egolf’s margin of victory was the highest of all of the state legislative races.
Egolf has served in the New Mexico Legislature since he was elected as a representative in 2009. Before entering politics, he got a BS in Foreign Service from Georgetown University, and then a JD from the University of New Mexico School of Law. When not serving as a state legislator he works for his own law firm, according to votesmart.org.
Egolf has new goals now that he is in the most powerful position in the legislature. In a speech after his nomination, he laid out some of his plans for the upcoming legislative sessions.
One of the most pressing issues Egolf will face is the ongoing budget crisis the state is facing, caused by the combination of lowered state revenue and plummeting oil prices. Egolf and other legislative Democrats want to push for a tax increase.
Egolf will have a cooperative state senate inside the capitol in Santa Fe. In the state Senate, the Democrats increased their margin of control, improving from a 24-18 majority to 26-16.
The bigger swing was in the House. The Democrats were able to swing it back from 37-33 Republican majority to a 38-32 Democrat majority.
But the gains in the legislature could be thwarted by the Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who has abided by her no-tax-increase pledge now into her second term.
Egolf says he believes that a rewrite of the tax code would be unlikely, but that a bipartisan solution could be found.
“Our campaign for the House focused on the need to create jobs and to grow our economy — and that remains our focus,” Egolf said during the speech. “We can achieve some great results for our state, even in the first few weeks.”
Egolf also said he would also like to focus on an increase in the minimum wage, which currently stands at $7.50. He said it would be realistic to increase the minimum wage to $10.10. Many cities in New Mexico already have a higher wage. Santa Fe’s living wage being the highest in the state at $10.91.
Another project House democrats want to spearhead is the development of programs to increase funding for early childhood development.
But the biggest stumbling block to Egolf’s goals will be Gov. Martinez. The Republican governor will likely veto many of the proposals forwarded by the Democratic legislator, a fact Egolf is very much aware of.
“People want to see solutions, and we realize that for most of what we want to accomplish, we’re going to have to get her signature,” Egolf said.“But we are not going to back off the reason we were elected.”
Egolf says he does hope to try and work with the governor on some issues, according to santafenewmexican.com, specifically noting a conversation he had with her after the election..
“We had a great conversation. I said, ‘Governor, there have been certain instances in which I’ve been happy and proud to cross the aisle and work with Republicans in the House and I have every intention of continuing to do that,’” Egolf said. “ I said, ‘We’re not going to agree on every idea, but I do believe we agree on a lot of goals. So let’s keep talking and keep in close touch and find ways to work together.’ She and I agreed to communicate frequently and keep the channels of communication open.”
While Gov. Martinez may be the biggest obstacle, Egolf will have to face challenges in the chambers as well. New Republican minority leader Nate Gentry would oppose legislation lead by Democrat that he said was harmful.
“When the Democrats offer policies that are harmful to our great state, we will stand firm in our respectful opposition,” Gentry said.
Others are more supportive.
The Las Cruces Sun-News Editorial board provided an endorsement of the new legislative leadership.
“We’re hopeful that the change in leadership not only brings southern New Mexico back into the loop,” they said. “But also leads to a new spirit of cooperation between the two legislative chambers and with the governor.”
One form of that communication is what Egolf calls a listening tour. A trip where House Democrats will travel to various parts of the state, including areas that are generally Republican friendly.
“We want to listen to everyone,” Egolf said. “A lot of people out there have a lot of good ideas and we want to hear them.”
Egolf isn’t the speaker yet. The House membership most vote on him when the legislative session begins in January. He will be replacing previous House Speaker Don Tripp if elected.
“I think we can really make a difference,” Egolf said.
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