Two NM House Democrats may miss part of session

By Rob Nikolewski | Cross-posted from newmexico.watchdog.org

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SANTA FE  – Normally, when the legislative session is about to kick off in Santa Fe, the talk centers on what legislation will take center stage.

But on the eve of this year’s 30-session, the rumbling around the Roundhouse is focused on who may or may not show up.

Two Democrats in the House of Representatives are said to be ill and could miss sizeable parts of the session.

Rep. Phillip Archuleta, D-Las Cruces, retired Department of Workforce Solutions administrator, is reported to be feeling under the weather and three Roundhouse Democrats told New Mexico Watchdog that they don’t expect him to be present when the session convenes Tuesday. Archuleta is 64 years old.

Also, Rep. Ernest Chavez, D-Albuquerque, who turns 77 next month and has served for 10 years in the House, is also reported to be ill.

Phone messages to both representatives have gone unreturned.

Any absences figure to have big consequences in the House because Democrats hold a slim 37-33 edge on Republicans.

If two Democrats are out, the lead shrinks to 35-33, which would mean it would only take one Democrat to break ranks and vote with the GOP to create a tie in a floor vote. If two Democrats side with the GOP, Republicans — should they vote as a bloc — would have a de facto majority.

Such a scenario could place two Democrats into crucial positions as swing votes. Rep. Sandra Jeff, D-Crownpoint, is a maverick Democrat and Rep. Dona Irwin, D-Deming, is a conservative Democrat. Both have a history of voting with Republicans.

Rep. Nate Gentry, D-Albuquerque and Republican House Whip, wouldn’t speculate on what impact an extended absence by Chavez or Archuleta may have on the upcoming session.

“My biggest concern is their health,” Gentry told New Mexico Watchdog on Monday. “I hope both representatives recover quickly and participate in the session … We’re planning on having them here.”

House Majority Leader Rick Miera, D-Albuquerque, told the Santa Fe New Mexican that he’s waiting to hear back from Archuleta and Chavez about their status.

Update: In a news release sent out Monday afternoon, House leadership revealed that Archuleta is recovering from hip surgery but will be “fully engaged” in the 30-day session.

“Rep. Archuleta says he has already been involved in the introduction of legislation and requests of capital outlay on behalf of his constituents,” the news release said.  “He has a laptop computer and will monitor the session online.  Rep. Archuleta will receive daily reports from the House staff and his legislative secretary.”

There was no mention of the condition of Rep. Chavez.

While Archuleta may be following the session while recovering, Roundhouse rules demand that a member must physically attend the session in order to cast votes, either in committee or on the House (or Senate) floor.

The news release, which came from Speaker of the House W. Ken Martinez, D-Grants, House Majority Leader Miera and Majority Whip Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, did not give a timeline when Archuleta is expected to come to the Roundhouse but said that his family “will be representing him” on the opening day of the session.

Speaker Martinez downplayed what the potential loss of two Democrats in the House could mean throughout the session.

“Ninety percent of what we do is not a political calculus but a policy calculus,” Martinez said.

But Martinez conceded that without Chavez and/or Archuleta sitting in committee hearings, “There will be more even (numbered) committees and some committees with a functional Republican majority.”

That would be something rare in the Roundhouse. Republicans have not had a majority of the House since 1953.

According to the legislature’s official website, Chavez sits on the influential House Taxation and Revenue Committee (which is comprised of seven Democrats and seven Republicans) and House Transportation and Public Works Committee (which has five Democrats and five Republicans). So if Chavez is missing and all the Republicans show up, the GOP will have a majority in those two committees.

Archuleta sits on the House Agriculture and Water Resources Committee (five Democrats, five Republicans), House Labor and Human Resources (five Democrats, four Republicans) and the House Enabling and Engrossing (four Democrats, three Republicans). So if Archuleta is missing and all the Republicans show up, the GOP will have a majority in the agriculture committee and a tie in the influential labor committee.

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