Legislature: Health issues could cost House Democrats

Note: This story is part of a package of stories on the New Mexico Legislature that the Quay County Sun has obtained from the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper.

By Steve Terrell
The New Mexican

It’s possible that House Democrats could be short two members this session because of health problems. If that happens, it could result in a de facto majority in the House for Republicans because there are some conservative House Democrats who frequently vote with the GOP on major issues.

House Majority Leader Rick Miera, D-Albuquerque, told The New Mexican on Sunday that he is waiting to hear back from Reps. Phillip Archuleta of Las Cruces and Ernest Chavez of Albuquerque concerning whether they will be able to serve during the 30-day session, which begins Tuesday.

Efforts to reach Archuleta and Chavez for comment on Saturday and Sunday were unsuccessful.

Currently, Democrats have a 37-33 edge over Republicans in the House. If Archuleta and Chavez are on the sidelines, that lead would shrink to 35-33. That is uncomfortable for Democrats considering that Rep. Sandra Jeff, D-Crownpoint, and Rep. Donna Irwin, D-Deming, have been known to break with their party on several issues, including driver’s licenses for immigrants and retention of third-graders who can’t pass reading tests.

Democrats still have control over the Senate. In the past, the Senate has stopped Martinez’s proposals regarding driver’s licenses and third-grade retention.

The Democrats’ majority already decreased by one member last year after Rep. Stephen Easley of Santa Fe died unexpectedly. Gov. Susana Martinez appointed Republican Vickie Pera of Belen to fill out Easley’s term.

Both Archuleta and Chavez have been reliable Democratic votes in the House.

Archuleta, 64, a freshman legislator, fell and broke his hip last year, the Las Cruces Sun-News reported. But even after hip surgery, he said in November that he would seek re-election. Former Rep. Andy Nunez from Hatch, who lost to Archuleta when he ran as an independent, last year switched to the Republican Party and announced he would challenge Archuleta in the 2014 general election.

Chavez, 76, has represented his South Valley District since 2004. He initially was appointed to fill a vacancy, but he has easily won re-election since.

Contact Steve Terrell at sterrell@sfnewmexican.com. Read his political blog at roundhouseroundup.com.

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