SANTA FE (KRQE) - The clash over who would lead the New Mexico Senate this session turned instead into a unanimous and bipartisan vote that may benefit Gov. Susana Martinez.
As the 60-day session of the Legislature opened at noon Tuesday, early word anticipated a Democratic power-play bumping against a coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats.
Instead the Democratic caucus nominee yielded to Sen. Mary Kay Papen, a Las Cruces Democrat, who was elected Senate president pro-tem by a unanimous vote of Democrats and Republicans.
And this isn't just insider baseball for political junkies.
That outcome could make it easier for Republican Gov. Susana Martinez to get her agenda through the session.
The senate president has the important job of picking chairmanships and assigning senators to committees.
Papen wasn't alone in wanting the job. Sen. Pete Campos from Las Vegas wanted it, too.
He was nominated for president by a majority of fellow Democrats last month, but Papen challenged him and insisted she had the votes from Republicans and dissident Democrats to beat him.
But in rare form lawmakers avoided a potentially ugly fight.
Campos not only stepped aside, he nominated Papen in his place.
"We're united, and our focus is to ensure that the task at hand which is to serve the people of our great state is first and foremost,' Campos told his colleagues.
Republicans favored Papen, a 12-year lawmaker and retired car dealer, for being more conservative than Campos.
"That goes with a person that has basically made a living in business most their life," Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said. "They tend to be a little more conservative."
Papen herself admits she is more conservative on fiscal matters but she adds that doesn't necessarily mean the governor and her top agenda items will have an easier time in the Senate.
"On social issues, I'm pretty liberal there," Papen told KRQE News 13. "So I think I hit that middle-of-the-road stride."
Papen succeeds another coalition Senate president, former Sen. Tim Jennings, D-Roswell, who lost his seat in the November election.
Meanwhile on the other side of the Roundhouse there was no suspense as members of the House elected a new speaker.
Rep. Ken Martinez, the Grants Democrat who has been majority leader, was elected on a straight party-line vote.
He succeeds long-time speaker Ben Luján of Santa Fe who died last month of cancer.
Martinez' father Walter, also a Grants Democrat, was speaker for six years in the 1970s.
The speaker runs the show controlling the agenda, presiding over daily proceedings and deciding who gets a seat on what committee.
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