Most committee chairmen stay despite pro-tem fight

By Kate Nash: The New Mexican

It was the Senate committee chairmen shake-up that wasn’t.

After Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings was re-elected Tuesday with the help of 15 Republicans and eight Democrats, including himself, some expected that chairmanships would change hands Wednesday.

That didn’t happen, although some current chairmen sweated whether they’d keep their powerful posts while newcomers hoped they’d land a sweet job.

Committee chairmen play a big role in determining the chances of a bill’s survival by setting the schedule for bills to be heard before they can reach the Senate floor.

Jennings, D-Roswell, made just two changes to chairmanships in the Senate, replacing former Sen. Shannon Robinson with Sen. Phil Griego, D-San Jose, as head of the Corporation and Transportation Committee, and putting Sen. Bernadette Sanchez, D-Albuquerque, in the leadership spot Griego held last year on the Conservation Committee.

Some in the Senate said the move was symbolic of Jennings’ spirit of cooperation.

“It should alleviate any thoughts that Senator Jennings was strong on retribution…several chairmanships could have changed hands, but the bottom line was, talk about somebody extending an olive branch so to speak to try and get along, he did it,” said Sen. John Arthur Smith, a Deming Democrat who voted for Jennings.

Jennings bested Questa Democrat Carlos Cisneros 23-19 for the top Senate post.

Cisneros wasn’t appointed the chairman of any committee, but kept his post as vice chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

Some senators did move about, however, and some newbies to the Senate landed vice chairmanships. Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, is the second in command on the Rules Committee, for example, while Sen. Eric Griego, D-Albuquerque, is the vice chairman of the Indian and Cultural Affairs Committee.

Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, is now a member of the Senate Finance Committee.

Overall, Jennings said he’s setting the leadership contest behind him.

“There is no contention left. We’re going down the road. The needs of the people do not have time to wait for me to have an ego swing, or the governor to have an ego swing or the House to have an ego swing and we’re moving forward right now to solve the needs of the state.”

Contact Kate Nash at 986-3036 or knash@sfnewmexican.com.