House Speaker Javier Martinez had plenty of opportunities to speak with Rep. Patty Lundstrom, chair of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, before he yanked her from the position.
On Dec. 5 she briefed him on the budget. In mid-December House and Senate budgeters met in Santa Fe for a week.
On Jan. 17, opening day, Martinez, a progressive, called Lundstrom, a moderate Dem, into his office.
“The way it worked was 10 minutes before we were to go on the floor, he called me in and said, ‘I’m making changes,’” Lundstrom said. “’You’re not appropriations chair any more. You do not meet my vision.’”
She asked if there was some way they could work together. He said no.
“Then we went on the floor. I was just devastated. Nobody knows what to say. Everyone is shell shocked,” she said.
Politics can be brutal, and Martinez has the right to choose committee chairs. However, as speaker he must keep an eye on the big picture of economic cycles and state spending. We would expect him to value ability and experience in his chairs. Yet, Martinez took out the one person who’s known every number in the budget for two decades, who’s served during economic ups and down. And the way he did it inflicted maximum pain and humiliation.
Why? Martinez has only offered vague rhetoric about moving the House forward.
Patty Lundstrom, of Gallup, joined the House Appropriations and Finance Committee in 2001 and became vice chair in 2006. As the understudy of Roundhouse veterans Kiki Saavedra, chairman, and Lucky Varela, vice chairman, she learned the value of teamwork and including Republicans in discussions. Saavedra threw her into the deep end, she once said, by making her chair of all the appropriations subcommittees.
In 2011 and several years after, revenues were flat, and our then-governor opposed tax increases. Lundstrom was running appropriations hearings as her mentors retired, and she was Democratic caucus chair, the only woman in either party in a leadership role. Her expected takeover of appropriations stalled in 2015 after voters gave Republicans the House majority.
When Democrats took control of the House again in 2017, Speaker Bryan Egolf made Lundstrom the youngest and first female House Appropriations chair. She took the helm during the most difficult period the committee experienced in her 17 years in the House. After her committee crafted a bill and she defended it on the House floor, members gave her a standing ovation.
“You need a lot of energy, a lot of stamina for this job,” she said. “I’m here every day at 7 a.m. I want to look at everything.”
She still believed in teamwork and inclusion but expected committee members to show up on time and be ready to work. Anyone who talked on the phone or missed meetings didn’t last.
Lundstrom asked tough questions during hearings. She wasn’t afraid to challenge the powerful chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. And she was fierce in backing initiatives like hydrogen to replace lost jobs in Cibola and McKinley counties.
She’s feisty and hard-headed. Lundstrom rankled people in 2019 by trying to force UNM to reinstate cancelled sports. She contributed to the campaigns of Democratic moderates challenging progressives who opposed her hydrogen bill.
Martinez has chosen Rep. Nathan Small, Lundstrom’s understudy, to replace her. He joined the committee in 2019 and became vice chair in 2021.
Small is a nice guy and a progressive. His vice chair, Meredith Dixon, is an unknown. Neither served during the harrowing years when Lundstrom had to slash budgets to keep state government solvent. Neither represents a rural area. With a whopping $9 billion to spend, are they willing – and do they know enough – to ask hard questions?
Don’t expect Lundstrom to hide under a rock. She’ll be working for her constituents. As always.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES