After rough campaign, he says his door open to the governor
State Sen. Michael Sanchez, a high-profile legislator that the governor tried but failed to oust in this month's election, said today he hopes to continue as the leader of majority Democrats.
"I feel pretty comfortable where I'm at," Sanchez said in an interview at the Capitol, ending any speculation that he would run for president pro tem of the Senate instead of majority leader.
The majority leader decides which bills will be heard on the Senate floor, making it the most powerful job in the chamber.
Republican Gov. Susana Martinez has accused Sanchez of blocking bills that she favored, such as one that would have given the state power to retain thousands of third-graders who fared poorly on reading tests.
Martinez and her political team tried to defeat Sanchez in this month's general election. A group friendly to her pounded Sanchez with ads alleging, among other things, that he was soft on baby killers.
Even after all the combat of the campaign, Sanchez said he did not expect the forthcoming legislative session to be polarized.
He said Democrats would offer bills on job creation, education and ways to reduce drought to help farmers and ranchers.
Sanchez declined to talk about what education bills Senate Democrats would put forth, saying he was not yet ready to offer specifics.
But, he said, was ready to talk with Martinez.
"I've always said I'm available," said Sanchez, who appeared at a committee hearing in a red necktie adorned with Democrat donkeys.
"Compromise isn't a bad word. Working with Democrats isn't a bad thing," Sanchez said.
Scott Darnell, the governor's press secretary, said Martinez would remain steadfast in seeking a repeal of a 2003 law that enables illegal immigrants to obtain New Mexico driver's licenses.
This issue, among numerous others, has put Martinez in a stalemate with the Democrat-controlled Senate.
"Not only do New Mexicans overwhelmingly support repealing this dangerous law, but it has passed the House of Representatives in a wide bipartisan manner," Darnell said earlier this month. "The governor believes it's a law that has made New Mexico less safe and a magnet for criminal activity..."
But, Darnell said, Martinez wants to work with legislators on other important issues.
"The governor is focused intently on leveling the playing field with other states so that we can compete for jobs in New Mexico. This will take tax reform, infrastructure investment and a focus on job training help for small businesses, all of which the governor looks forward to working on in a bipartisan way with lawmakers," Darnell said.
Sanchez, 62,said he had no sense of who would replace fellow Democrat Tim Jennings of Roswell as president pro tem of the Senate. At least six Democrats are interested in the Senate presidency.
A senator since 1979, Jennings lost to Republican Cliff Pirtle in the general election. Jennings' defeat was Martinez's biggest victory of the campaign, as she also targeted him.
In contrast to Jennings, Sanchez won re-election with more than 55 percent of the vote, besting Republican state Rep. David Chavez by more than 11 percentage points.
"It felt good," Sanchez said of winning a race in which Martinez's camp filled the airwaves with ads against him.
He said he took nothing for granted, knocking on doors of Republicans and Democrats alike to ask for their support. The wide margin of Sanchez's victory surprised many Republicans, who had predicted that voters were eager for a change.