With the upcoming midterm elections, Michelle Lujan Grisham's reelection, and the progressives' interparty battles, the 2022 legislative session was bound to be interesting, but it turned out to be even wilder than anticipated.
Going into January, MLG was trying to strike a balance between her D.C. handlers/left-wing base and the average New Mexican voter. On the one hand, she continued the extended lockdown while on the other she talked tough on crime and attempted to placate the oil counties with a hydrogen energy scheme.
The result was a lose-lose: she felt the scorn of the eco-radicals and failed to secure hydrogen legislation. Although she did manage to squeeze out meager tax cuts for a select few and a crime reduction bill that will do nothing to reduce crime, this session was not a boon for the governor – more like a blown opportunity to better position herself as the election season begins.
House Majority Speaker Brian Egolf began the session wielding the gavel, but as the tensions between the moderate/conservative remnant of the state Democrats and the progressive leader, Egolf’s power tactics alienated freshman and reasonable members. By siding with the environmentalist extremists over the governor and attempts to bully any dissent, Egolf actually losing his leadership title was anticipated by some Roundhouse insiders.
Along with recent ethics concerns over his private practice profiting from his “public service”, it became clear the time was right for him to step down and protect both his financial and political fortunes. The Egolf/Ely/Stapleton era is over, and it remains to be seen if the current political environment will will draw the Democrats back to more traditional governance or if the leftward movement is only temporarily on hold.
The Secretary of State
Maggie Toulouse Oliver tried to have it both ways: publicly endorse an election bill that included some genuine improvements that was supported by the County Clerks and was truly bipartisan (SB6), while maneuvering behind the scenes for her preferred bill (SB8) being pushed by well-financed, progressive dark money groups and the most radical left-wing activists.
In a bizarre display in the house chamber, Maggie raised her hand high for democracy but collaborated with Egolf's bullying tactics to whip votes among the Democrats. In the end she got nothing: no legitimate improvements and no partisan election rigging. She will face reelection with a record of lawsuits and shaken confidence in her ability to be a honest, non-partisan overseer of our voting system.
It was a mild year for the mild-mannered Lt. Gov. Howie Morales, who is neither liked by his own party nor hated by the opposition. With budget-focused 30 day session (minus the election-year posturing), the main action in the chamber was the aforementioned election bills: the bipartisan SB6, the radical SB8, and the superfluous two-page SB144 to address “Election Worker Intimidation” – a solution without a problem.
But it was when House Judiciary revived the dead-on-arrival SB8, by injecting it into SB144 (while stripping the good parts of SB6), that the real drama began. And as the dawn’s early light broke on the last day of the session, Sen. William Sharer’s epic filibuster snuffed out the electoral fantasy of Sen. Carrie Hamblen and the so-called "woke", intersectional Left.
The House Minority
With only 24 Republicans, the "super-minority" party of opposition didn’t have much to work with: Egolf and the hard Left had no incentive to compromise, and the governor’s self-serving agenda left little room for underlings, who were trying to just get bills out of committees run by rule-breaking chairmen. For example, HJR3, a proposal to provide a check and balance on the Governor’s emergency orders was killed by Rep. Gail Chasey before it even got to the judiciary committee.
But, knowing they had nothing to lose, the House Minority led by Jim Townsend and Rod Montoya kept their caucus united and stood strong against Egolf’s rule. The minority dug in, played their only remaining parliamentary cards, and outlasted the arrogant Democrats and their unforced errors. All GOP members fought hard, and by preventing some of the worst bills and keeping many more off the floor, the Republicans should be commended for protecting New Mexicans from what could otherwise have been a disastrous session.