Apt a closed-door caucus meeting in Belen, N.M. on Sunday, state Senate Democrats nominated Sen. Pete Campos of Las Vegas, N.M., for the top position in the body.
Campos, who has been in the Senate for more than 20 years, defeated three others in the contest to replace Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings, who was defeated in his re-election bid last month. Also running for the position were Linda Lopez of Albuquerque, Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces and Howie Morales of Silver City. The entire Senate elects its president pro tem. That will be done when the Legislature convenes in January.
Campos said Sunday he was honored by the nomination. "I plan to be reaching out to every member of the Senate," he said. "I'll be calling every one." An educator, Campos is the president of Luna Community College in Las Vegas. He currently is a member of the Senate Finance Committee.
Also on Sunday, the Senate Democrats re-elected Sen. Michael Sanchez of Belen as Democratic floor leader. Sanchez was unopposed for the position.
Democrats also elected Sen. Tim Keller of Albuquerque as whip and, in an unusual move, freshman Senator-elect Jacob Candelaria as caucus chairman. Normally, freshman lawmakers do not win leadership positions. Longtime Senate Democratic Whip Mary Jane Garcia of Dona Ana was defeated for re-election in the general election, while current Caucus Chairman David Ulibarri lost his primary race.
The president pro tem is considered the top position for a senator. But the job isn't considered to be as powerful as that of the speaker of the House. The president pro tem gets to preside over the Senate when the lieutenant governor -- the official president of the Senate -- is away.
But the main power of the president pro tem is getting to name and preside over the Committees' Committee, which selects committee members and chairpersons.
Sen. Carlos Cisneros of Questa, who last month expressed interest in the pro-tem job, did not run. Instead, he nominated Campos. "I'm very grateful for his kind words when he nominated me, and I'm grateful he was willing to do what he did," Campos said.
Campos and others interviewed Sunday said they didn't know the number of votes each pro-tem candidate received. Under caucus rules, the winner had to get a majority of members plus one. Because there will be 25 Democrats in the Senate, that number is 13. It's not clear yet whether any of the runners-up will attempt to form a coalition with the 17 Republican senators to win the pro-tem position. It will take 22 votes on the Senate floor to win the position.
This is the route Jennings took to win the position four years ago. In late 2008, Jennings lost the Democratic Caucus nomination to Cisneros for the pro-tem job. But because that position is elected by the full Senate, Jennings was able to form an alliance of conservative Democrats and all Republicans to win the post when the Legislature convened in January 2009.
Senate Republicans are expected to vote on their leaders this week. Nobody is expected to challenge Senate GOP leader Stuart Ingle of Portales or Whip Bill Payne of Albuquerque.
Democrats in the House of Representatives are expected to choose their leaders on Friday. House Majority Leader Kenny Martinez of Grants is expected to get the nod for speaker of the House, replacing current Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Nambe.
Two House Democrats, Debbie Rodella of Espanola and Rick Miera of Albuquerque, have said they are running for the majority leader job.
Contact Steve Terrell at email@example.com. Read his political blog at roundhouseroundup.com.
UPDATE 130 AM: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect number of senators who Campos defeated. The mistake has been corrected in the text.
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