I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
Tim Jennings says he’ll seek GOP support to keep Senate post
The Democrats scored an impressive victory in last month’s general election. They won all four congressional seats and padded their already healthy majorities in both chambers of the state Legislature.
So is it possible that the GOP could play the role of kingmaker in an ongoing state Senate leadership battle?
Sen. President Pro Tem Tim Jennings, D-Roswell, believes so.
The Senate Democratic caucus nominated Sen. Carlos Cisneros over the weekend as president pro tem, effectively pushing Jennings aside.
But Jennings said Monday he is reaching across the aisle for support to keep his job and that the battle for the post is far from over. Jennings acknowledged that he has solicited support from Republicans and Democrats over the past few weeks to keep his post.
Unlike the Senate Majority Leader, who represents the majority –- in this case, the Democrats — the president pro tem post is voted on by the full 42-member Senate in January.
Whoever becomes president pro tem must secure 22 of the Senate’s 42 votes on Jan. 20, the first day of the legislative session.
With 27 Democrats and 15 Republicans expected to be in the Senate for next session, Jennings would need to get pledges of support from seven Democratic senators as well as all 15 Republicans to keep the post. And Jennings is feeling bullish about his chances.
“I think I have the votes,” Jennings told NMI on Monday.
In an interview, Cisneros acknowledged that Jennings could conceivably keep his post by forming a coalition of Democrats and Republicans.
“It’s been done before. And that can indeed happen,” Cisneros said. But the Questa Democrat said he would not reach across the party aisle to find support. Instead, Cisneros said he would focus on solidifying his support among the 27 Democrats in the Senate.
It is unclear how many Democratic Senators supported Cisneros over Jennings in this past weekend’s caucus.
“I’ll stick to the party line,” Cisneros said.
Sen. Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, the Senate’s top Republican, wouldn’t say Monday whether Jennings had the support of every Republican in the Senate. But he indicated that the Roswell Democrat might be a better fit in leadership than Cisneros given the state’s difficult financial situation.
“He’s a known quantity,” Ingle said of Jennings, adding “he comes from a more conservative district in the state than Senator Cisneros… This year there are some money problems and we will have to deal with them in a conservative nature.”
New Mexico is struggling with a deficit estimated at around $500 million.
The Senate president pro tem is the Senate’s top-ranking leader and officially oversees the Legislature’s upper chamber when the lieutenant governor is not present. He or she works with the Senate majority leader, who controls the legislative pipeline and timekeeping in the body.
But over time the post of Senate president pro tem has accrued power and it is not uncommon for the senator filling the post to sit in on all kinds of back-door negotiations on important legislation. The last time a bi-partisan coalition elected a state Senate president pro tem was 2001, when three Democrats joined all the Republicans to oust longtime, powerful Senate President Pro Tem Manny Aragon and gave the top job to another Democrat, Richard Romero.
That caused a rift that was felt in every subsequent session, until Aragon and Romero, both of Albuquerque, left the Senate in 2005.
Jennings has not been afraid to court controversy or to challenge Gov. Bill Richardson’s power. Jennings came in for Democratic criticism last month for a robocall he made for Sen. Minority Whip Leonard Lee Rawson, the Senate’s second-ranking Republican, days before the Nov. 4 election. Jennings’ calls prompted Gov. Bill Richardson to blast Jennings, saying that the Roswell Democrat might pay for his perceived disloyalty with the loss of his leadership post.