Democrats regained control of New Mexico’s House of Representatives during the election. They met over the weekend, and former minority leader Brian Egolf of Santa Fe was nominated to be the next House Speaker.
KUNM: So because the New Mexico’s House is back under Democratic control, you’ll be the speaker of the House. What does that mean? And what do you hope to do?
EGOLF: We spent the last year all over the state of New Mexico—from Shiprock down to Chaparral, and all the points in between—talking to voters and explaining to them, we want to get New Mexico’s economy turned around.
Under the last two years of Republican leadership, there has not been a focus on jobs or the economy. Our first order of business is to change the focus, to support things like state investment dollars here at home in New Mexico instead of on Wall Street, to making substantial and sustained investments in early childhood education, to have a serious conversation about wages and do other things we can do to support and help grow New Mexico’s businesses, while attracting responsible companies to the state.
KUNM: So, now that Democrats have the majority in both the Senate and House, how will you work with the Republican governor? Do you have concerns about being able to get bills signed?
EGOLF: I had several good conversations with the governor over the last few weeks, including some messages today. I think that she has an open mind, as do I. And as long as we keep talking, then that means were going to be doing the work that needs to be done to solve these problems together. Time will tell, but in the meantime, I am hoping for the best.
KUNM: New Mexico’s budget has been tight. How will legislators cope with the lack of funding without gutting programs around the state?
EGOLF: We can’t afford any further cuts to education, to health care. So we’ve got to find areas outside of education and health care where cuts can be obtained. That is a difficult order, because we have already done a lot of cutting. But I’m sure there are still things we can find, where we could reduce spending without harming our people.
But at the same time, we need to have a balanced approach, look at both sides of the ledger and see where we can eliminate unnecessary tax expenditures to increase and improve the revenue picture.
KUNM: Some Democrats are talking about marijuana legalization or decriminalization. Do you think those efforts have a shot in 2017?
EGOLF: I think there’s a great deal of uncertainty as to what the approach will be out of Washington. And I think it’s just too early to say what’s going happen with regard to legislation and the governor’s view on that—as well as the views of members of the Legislature.
KUNM: Since November’s presidential election, there have been protests in New Mexico by people who are concerned about national policy, especially around immigration. Is that something you think will be addressed by our state lawmakers?
EGOLF: Certainly. There will be ways that we can offer guidance to law enforcement in terms of how they will interact with their federal counterparts. New Mexico very clearly with its vote in November said that ‘We are a state that does not support divisive rhetoric that fueled Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.’
We are not going to join to change our view with regard to diversity. New Mexico is a kind and friendly state where we honor and welcome diversity. That’s not going to change, no matter who the president is.