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Three years ago, none of the committees in the New Mexico House of Representatives were chaired by a member from Las Cruces. This year, our representatives lead three committees, including the one that writes the budget.
Nathan Small was elevated from vice-chair to chairman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, which is charged with writing the first draft of the state budget each year. Other changes included local Reps. Doreen Gallegos taking over as chair of the Commerce and Economic Development Committee and Joanne Ferrary taking over the Consumer and Public Affairs Committee. Gallegos had earlier been moved out of her position as majority whip.
On the Senate side of the Roundhouse there are two more Las Crucens. Joseph Cervantes returns as chairman of Judiciary, and Bill Soules as chairman of the Education Committee.
The committees are where the work gets done in the New Mexico Legislature. Some bills are weeded out immediately. Others are amended or rolled into companion bills. The vast majority of bills introduced each year never make it out of committee, and almost nothing makes it through without changes.
The two most important committees are Finance and Judiciary. Every bill dealing with money goes through Finance; every bill dealing with law goes through Judiciary. The fact Las Cruces now has chairmen heading those committees in both the House and the Senate is a big deal.
That’s especially true given the lack of representation Las Cruces specifically, and southern New Mexico in general, has had throughout the remainder of state government. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has consistently shown a bias toward her Albuquerque home, and her new home of Santa Fe, when selecting for positions that do not have specific geographic requirements.
Las Crucens Karen Trujillo, as education secretary for six months, and Bill McCamley, as workforce secretary for two years, each had stints in the governor’s cabinet during her first term. Las Crucen Jeff Witte remains on the cabinet as agriculture secretary, but that position is constitutionally mandated to be based at New Mexico State University. Lt. Gov. Howie Morales is from Silver City, but he was elected by the voters, not appointed by the governor.
No judges or attorneys from Las Cruces have been appointed by Lujan Grisham to the Appeals Courts or the Supreme Court.
The new members of the now-appointed Public Regulations Commission include one from Albuquerque, one who was raised in southern New Mexico but has been living in Washington, D.C., and one who came to the Legislature from Clayton but has been working in Santa Fe.
The fact we are four hours from the state capital means we will always be at a geographic disadvantage.
Governors typically only come down here for disasters and photo ops. And so, we need to look to the Legislature to make sure our interests are not being ignored.
Walter Rubel is a freelance journalist based in Las Cruces. His 40-plus-year career includes work in Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas and— since 2002 — in New Mexico, covering Las Cruces and the state Legislature. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Las Cruces Bulletin. Rubel can be reached at email@example.com.