One of House's best-known figures wants Senate seat
State Rep. Joseph Cervantes, who could have been a contender for speaker of the House, instead will run for the state Senate.
Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, said in a statement tonight that he will seek the seat now held by another Democrat, Sen. Cynthia Nava. She is retiring after 20 years in office.
Cervantes, 51, is in his 12th year as a member of the House of Representatives.
He attempted to become speaker of the House in 2011, but the Republican support he needed to oust incumbent Ben Lujan did not materialize.
Lujan, D-Santa Fe, is now at the end of his political career. The 76-year-old speaker, sick with late-stage lung cancer, is leaving the House of Representatives after 38 years.
Cervantes would have been a possible successor to Lujan, depending on whether Democrats maintained control of the House after the November election.
But he probably would have faced competition for the speaker's job from a formidable opponent, Rep. Ken Martinez.
Martinez, of Grants, is the majority leader of House Democrats and the son the late House Speaker Walter K. Martinez, who led the body from 1971-78.
Cervantes this year carried a bill for the organization Think New Mexico to increase qualifications to serve on the five-member Public Regulation Commission. The commission sets utility rates and regulates telecommunications, but its members are not required to have any particular expertise.
The measure Cervantes sponsored will be on the fall ballot, to be decided by voters.
An attorney, Cervantes co-chaired a special subcommittee last fall that began an impeachment investigation of former regulatory commissioner Jerome D. Block Jr.
Impeachment proceedings ended when Block, 34, pleaded guilty to a series of felonies and resigned from office.
Like Nava, a retired school superintendent, Cervantes has an abiding interest in education issues.
He sponsored a bill in 2011 to increase the number of school days and eliminate the traditional three-month summer vacation. It generated plenty of media interest, given its potential to remake the school system. But Cervantes' bill died before getting to a vote on the House floor.
Quick on his feet, Cervantes this year helped prevent the Legislature from stumbling out of the gate without funding to pay bills and employees.
Republican lawmakers were perturbed because a spending bill to finance the 30-day legislative session also contained money to appeal a judge's redistricting decision.
One vote ended without money being appropriated to pay the Legislature's bills. Cervantes then went to the Republican leadership and explained that the negative vote had left the session unfunded.
A minute later, Cervantes moved for a second vote and the funding bill carried unanimously.
Fred Nathan, executive director of Think New Mexico, said he sought Cervantes to carry the PRC reform bill because he is a top-flight legislator.
Democratic Rep. Brian Egolf, only half-joking, publicly touted Cervantes as the man who would be the next governor of New Mexico.
In two high-profile votes this year, Cervantes agreed with Republican Gov. Susana Martinez on her major initiatives.
He voted to repeal a 2003 law that enables illegal immigrants to receive New Mexico driver's licenses, and he voted for state-mandated retentions of third-graders who do not read proficiently.