The New Mexico Senate is currently embroiled in a struggle over the leadership of that body. Sen. Tim Jennings, from Roswell, is challenged by a faction of Northerners that would elect Carlos Cisneros, from Santa Fe and Taos, as President Pro Tem. Evidently, the election of new liberal senators earlier this month has convinced some that power has shifted from the coalition of moderate Democrats and Republicans that elected Jennings, enough to warrant a challenge. The showdown will probably be over this coming Sunday.
I remember the Northern coalition of legislators that produced House Speaker Walter Martinez, from Grants, back in the 1970s. The coalition was called the "Mama Lucy Gang," a reference to a restaurant frequented by the major players in the faction. Walter lost his Speakership after conservative Democrats from Southern New Mexico, frustrated by the habit of the Northern liberals to ignore them and their bills, formed a coalition of 10 Democrats and 26 Republicans and placed Gene Samberson, from Lea County, in as Speaker. The rebels were known as the "cowboy coalition," and governed the House from 1979-1982 and then again in 1985-1986. At the time of the overthrow there were howls of protest that, horrors, some Democrats would actually vote with Republicans, but I also remember the very real frustration of most Southern Democrats in the House who suffered at the hands of Martinez simply because they were from the South.
The South Valley helped remedy this injustice in the form of Rep. Ralph Hartman, from Anthony. He and Rep. Bud Hettinga and Rep. Russell Autrey (also from Dona Ana County) did a lot of the legwork to put the cowboy coalition together. After the overthrow of Martinez, Southerners could once again, as if by magic, get their bills passed. A similar situation developed in the state senate a few years later.
Then, as now, the South Valley tended to be ignored by the state, or worse, insulted. In Hartman's case, Martinez literally gave him a broom closet for an office, an insult that bothered him, but not as much as Martinez's refusal to help him pass needed legislation for the South Valley. I was county chair of the Democratic Party when that coalition was formed in 1979. In spite of many appeals from people all over the state, I never once criticized Hartman or the others for breaking with the nortenos to control the House
The bottom line for a legislator is getting things done for your constituents, not satisfying some sort of perverted party loyalty by voting for people who may not support your agenda, but offer you perks instead. The late Ralph Hartman did a lot for the South Valley, and it took political courage for him to stand up to the nortenos who thought they could bully him.
Today, after more years of neglect, the South Valley needs all the help it can get from Santa Fe. The challenge to Sen. Jennings will have local repercussions whether it succeeds nor not. Let us hope our legislators will think about the good of the county, rather than their own marginal and possibly short-term advantages.