State leaders to decide on new Senate president

Posted at: 11/13/2012 5:59 PM
Updated at: 11/13/2012 6:18 PM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News

State lawmakers are starting to maneuver to see who will replace one of the most powerful leaders in the legislature.

The post-election buzz is all about filling the shoes of Senate President Tim Jennings, and we're talking about some size 14 EEEE penny loafers here. The Chavez County Democrat led a coalition of Republicans and moderate Democrats for four years. It looks like those lawmakers still have the votes to keep a coalition, if they can agree on a leader.

The name you hear most frequently is John Arthur Smith, an old school conservative Democrat who heads the tight-fisted Senate Finance Committee. He's a friend and longtime ally of Jennings, who lost to 27-year-old Republican rookie Cliff Pirtle in last week's election. Smith sounds a lot like Jennings when he talks about the job of President Pro Tempore.

"We want to be able to speak with one voice as the New Mexico Senate when we're in discussions with the House or discussions with the executive branch," Smith said. "So the challenge in the new leadership of the New Mexico State Senate is to make certain we sustain that broad approach, reaching across the aisle."

Senate Republicans sound like they're singing from the same hymn book.

"Our whole goal, being the minority party, is fairness," said Sen. Steven Neville of Farmington, chairman of the Republican caucus in the Senate. "That was our key thing when we worked with Sen. Jennings. He always treated us fairly. We were able to advance our agenda right alongside everybody else. If we could pass a bill, fine. If we couldn't pass a bill, that's just the way things work in a democracy."

At least three veterans in the Democratic majority are said to be interested in the job, if there's no coalition. There's Pete Campos, who represents a far-flung northeastern district, Carlos Cisneros of Questa in Taos County, and Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, who is said to be considering switching jobs, if the votes are there.

The leadership issue will be decided by a vote of the whole Senate when the legislature convenes in January for a 60 day session.