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Lujan still NM Speaker of the House; but a challenge may still lurk in January

By   /   November 20, 2010  /   No Comments

Ben Lujan, NM Speaker of the House

Rep. Ben Lujân (D-Nambé) survived a challenge for his decade-long hold as Speaker of the House on Saturday (Nov. 20) from Rep. Joe Cervantes (D-Las Cruces) but the possibility of a handful of Democrats forming a coalition with Republicans to oust Luján still exists.

New Mexico state House Democrats caucused behind closed doors for about three and a half hours Saturday to select party officers for the upcoming legislative session, which begins Jan. 18.

Reportedly, Saturday’s session included some rollicking debate and eventually Rep. Andy Nuñez (D-Hatch) nominated Cervantes for the speakership. A vote followed but since the media were kept out of the session, it’s not known how close Cervantes came to toppling Luján. However, in the days leading up to Saturday’s caucus, a number of representatives from southern New Mexico including Nuñez and Dona Irwin (D-Luna County) said they wanted a change at the speaker’s level.

After Luján won Saturday’s vote, the caucus reappointed the 75-year-old speaker by acclamation.

Saturday’s victory is a significant one for Luján but he could still be replaced should his opposition on the Democratic side form a coalition with House Republicans. Democrats will hold a 37-33 advantage in the upcoming session so, theoretically, if all 33 Republicans form a unified block and three Democrats join them in support of a challenger to Luján, a change could be made.

Would Cervantes be willing to put his name out there as a challenger in January? After Saturday’s caucus, he was coy while Luján downplayed any hard feelings or threat of political retribution:

Despite Saturday’s result, Nuñez said he wants changes at the top, even if it means risking his chairmanship of the House Agriculture and Water Resources Committee:

In other moves by the caucus, Rep. Patty Lundstrom (D-Gallup) was named caucus chair, defeating challenges from Rep. Moe Maestas (D-Albuquerque) and Rep. Eliso Lee Alcon (D-Milan) and Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton (D-Albuquerque) defended her position as party whip by defeating a challenge from Rep. Thomas Garcia (D-Ocate).

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Rob Nikolewski is an investigative reporter for Watchdog.org based in Santa Fe, N.M. Contact him at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @NMWatchdog.

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