Ken Martinez prepares to become House speaker, a job his dad held
Eras are about to bridge at the state Capitol.
Rep. Ken Martinez, D-Grants, is on his way to becoming speaker of the House of Representatives, a job his late father, Walter Martinez, held from 1971-78.
Democrats will caucus on Friday, and the biggest shock of their meeting would be if Martinez faces any competition for the speaker’s job.
“It’s kind of overwhelming,” Martinez said in an interview.
He has been majority floor leader, the No. 2 job in the House, since 2005. Martinez campaigned for speaker as early as 2006. Now that it is almost his, he said, his ascension feels strange.
“The way it happened — our speaker getting sick,” Martinez said.
He referred to Rep. Ben Lujan, 77, who has late-stage lung cancer and did not seek re-election to a 20th term in the House of Representatives. Lujan was House speaker for 12 years.
Doctors diagnosed Lujan with lung cancer in November 2009, but he did not make the finding public until early this year. Since then, most House Democrats have considered Martinez a lock to inherit the gavel from Lujan.
Democrats control the House 38-32. If they unify behind Martinez, Republicans have no chance of winning the speaker’s chair when the Legislature convenes Jan. 15.
Martinez, 53, is an attorney, having graduated from Notre Dame. He also is one of the Legislature’s most intense debaters. On contentious matters, he will pull a copy of the state constitution from his jacket pocket to back up his arguments.
He first was elected to the House of Representatives in 1998. This year, he won his eighth term without opposition.
Martinez has been perhaps the strongest voice against a Republican-sponsored bill calling for term limits on state legislators.
He said power does not disappear when term limits are installed. Rather, Martinez said, it shifts from elected officials to staff members and paid lobbyists who have more institutional knowledge than green politicians.
With Martinez in line to be the Democrats’ choice for speaker, the most spirited competition of the caucus could be for his old job of majority leader.
Rep. Rick Miera of Albuquerque is the favorite for the job, according to a number of his colleagues. He needs 20 votes to hold off a challenge from Rep. Debbie Rodella of Espanola.
Democrats also will elect a whip and a caucus chair. Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton of Albuquerque is the sitting whip, and Rep. Patricia Lundstrom of Gallup is the incumbent caucus chair.
Stapleton, right, has said little since December 2011, when she publicly accused another lawmaker of “carrying the Mexican’s water on the fourth floor.” Her reference was to Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, whose office is on the fourth floor of the Capitol.
Stapleton, 55, apologized a day after her outburst and won re-election to the House this fall.
She has not granted interviews in the year since her troubles, but other Democrats say they expect Stapleton to again run for whip.