State Rep. Doreen Gallegos has a grand new title — acting majority leader of the House of Representatives.

Gallegos, D-Las Cruces, should not have received the designation. If she runs for the job of full-fledged majority leader in a couple of weeks, her Democratic colleagues ought to reject her for an obvious reason.

Gallegos is married to Scott Scanland, a New Mexico lobbyist since 1987. Scanland has a higher profile at the Capitol than many lawmakers. He’s represented clients ranging from cities to the fireworks industry to Sunland Park Racetrack & Casino.

He makes a living by persuading legislators to see the world through the eyes of his clients. The majority leader can also try to steer the votes of her caucus.

Legislators who are married to lobbyists have a conflict of interest unless they disqualify themselves from voting on bills involving their spouse. Money clients pay to Scanland also benefits Gallegos. New Mexico is a community property state.

House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, told me he suggested Gallegos for acting floor leader. Egolf said Gallegos has done a good job as Democratic whip, No. 3 position in the caucus. She would take over any routine administrative duties that are the statutory responsibility of the majority leader, Egolf said.

What Capitol insiders view as routine business can appear inappropriate to most everyone else.

This is a time House members should be especially attuned to avoiding even the appearance of conflicts. Gallegos has stepped in for Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, who’s the target of a wide-ranging criminal investigation.

Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, resigned Friday from the House of Representatives. She quit some 48 hours after heavy publicity about investigators from the state attorney general’s staff searching her home and office in the Albuquerque Public Schools.

Williams Stapleton is suspected of funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Albuquerque school system to accounts she controlled, according to an affidavit the state filed to justify a search warrant. She says she’s innocent of any wrongdoing but surrendered the legislative seat she held for 27 years.

House members must choose wisely in replacing Williams Stapleton or lose the chance to rebuild public trust.

“I don’t know if Doreen is going to seek the job,” Egolf said of the upcoming election in which 44 Democratic House members will choose their longer-term floor leader.

Asked if Gallegos had a conflict because her husband is a statehouse lobbyist, Egolf said, “I think that’s for the caucus to decide.”



Gallegos didn’t respond to messages seeking comment.

A former Democratic majority whip, Rep. Moe Maestas of Albuquerque, is in a position similar to Gallegos. He is married to high-profile lobbyist Vanessa Alarid.

Maestas sent me a message Sunday stating he is not a candidate for majority leader.

With Williams Stapleton’s abrupt resignation, Egolf said, Democratic House members need time to confer with family members to decide if they want to run for the leadership job. He said he expects an election in 10 days to two weeks.

Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, wants to install a short-term replacement. McQueen said Rep. Daymon Ely, who is not seeking reelection, would be an excellent floor leader until his term ends in 17 months.

Ely, of Corrales, is an attorney and a recognized expert in the House on legislative procedures. He is not lobbying for the leadership job but is willing to do it.

“Having Ely would avoid the specter of people campaigning,” McQueen said. “Even though what Sheryl is alleged to have done is horrible, people have a lot of fondness for her.”

The idea of choosing a caretaker as majority leader might not appeal to everyone. House Democrats have talented younger members, some of whom might want the job.

Rep. Javier Martínez is one possibility. He ran for majority leader in 2017, losing to Williams Stapleton.

Martínez, son of immigrants and an attorney in Albuquerque, had been a legislator for only two years at the time. Williams Stapleton’s seniority carried the day. Martínez is better positioned this time. He told me he’s considering another run for majority leader. But, as McQueen suggested, Martínez said campaigning for the job would be uncomfortable.

“It’s been a long, sad three days,” he said of Williams Stapleton’s fall from power.

Egolf says he’s staying out of the election. He doesn’t want to be accused of favoring one of his House members over others.

There’s a certain inconsistency at play in all this. Lobbying is out of bounds for the speaker, but the spouse of a lobbyist still might end up as Egolf’s floor leader.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.

(19) comments

Chris Mechels

And of course Egolf himself has a conflict, in that he represents Cannabis clients. In New Mexico, with our part time Legislature, such "conflicts" are common. So, what's the fuss?? Our corrupt Trifecta likes it this way, so save your breath...

Emily Hartigan

Seems as if now (the sad investigation of ....) is not the time for someone who is conflict-challenged.

John Cook

Conflicts and potential conflicts are a problem for lots of married couples. Since women have (very properly) moved into the professions and into elected positions, couples have had to resolve conflicts. To act as if Rep. Gallegos and her husband are in a unique position is wrong. They will avoid conflicts as so many married people do. The undisputed fact is that there has been no hint of impropriety all these years they have been married and she has been Whip.

Mike Johnson

How many investigations were done of her voting and influence records vs. his clients? Evidence that is not investigated is not proof of lack of evidence.

John Cook

How clever. By that 'reasoning' we can all assume that you were a criminal in your oil and gas career. You just haven't been investigated but that is not proof of lack of evidence.

Mark Ortiz

As there was no hint of impropriety by Rep. Williams Stapleton for 26 years in the legislature and then voila", house raided. Just the fact that the Gallegos-Scanland's household is partially financed by the bounties of a lobbyist who may or may not benefit from the voting decisions of his spouse, an elected official that serves in the State house he lobbies in. If they had any ethics, he'd find work elsewhere or she exclusively devote her time to La Mesilla CASA. How long before a conflict of interest story on these two is exposed? Good job Milan.

Mike Johnson

[thumbup] I say an investigation should be launched of her voting records vs. his clients, that is the only way for her to clear her name, if she is interested in that.

John Cook

Her name is perfectly clear. Those who know her know it will remain that way.

Mike Johnson

This should be of interest to the investigators, a place to start:https://portal.sos.state.nm.us/FinancialDisclosure/FDSDocument.ashx

Maggie Washburne

Conflicts of Interest (COIs) can be difficult to understand, much less to deal with. COIs can, in many cases, be managed and, where there is one, this can be the best solution. In public life, it can be challenging to avoid the "appearance" of a conflict and this is where we often need outside advice. Given the situation in New Mexico government and politics right now, it may be that avoiding the appearance of a conflict is the safest approach. Whatever is decided, we are at a time when trust is in short supply, so seeking the highest road may be the answer.

Mike Johnson

Well said, most people do not trust any politician or the government today. They have become wise, but it's wisdom gained through pain and suffering.

Jerry Appel

Let's just hope this is just a temporary assignment as she is the third ranking leader in the New Mexico House of Representatives. Let's also hope that Speaker Egolf and his party select someone who is not so obviously compromised by her relationships. All politicians are influenced by others, but it is who they allow to influence them that makes the difference. It is pretty hard to avoid the influence of one's spouse. I know as I've been married for 40 years.

Mark Ortiz

I am by no means Republican. I find the majority of their policy makers to be rooted in he/she with the most toys win, Christian zealotry win, misguided bigotry, hypocrisy galore, unempathetic to the working class, poor, minorities, and women, even those in their own party (see McConnel & Kentucky) , but hey, at least they OWN it. The corporate Dems, may be okay with a woman's right to choose, the LGBTQ community, kinda immigration rights, but they are a pandering group for the flavor of the day, arrogant, disingenuous, and can be corrupt as the day is long, who oh, by the way, are led by Pelosi. Between her and her legal insider trading husband are in the 9-digit club$$$, all miraculously made while she's been a "public servant". Speaker Egolf (D) is showing his disingenuousness, arrogance, and corruption, in suggesting Doreen Gallegos-Scanland her for acting floor leader, pretending he doesn't know if she'll seek the job, and being spineless in deferring to the caucus whether it's a conflict of interest. Elitism incarnates.

John Cook

Milan is happily living in the past. The distant past. These days, lawyers are married to lawyers, practicing in the same towns; Realtors are married to bankers and legislators are married to lobbyists. Hundreds of married couples in Santa Fe learn how to avoid conflicts that arise from love and marriage. Anyone who knows Doreen Gallegos and Scott Scanland knows them to be honest, above board and very capable. They have avoided potential conflicts when she was Majority Whip and they can avoid them when she is Leader.

Mike Johnson

Mr. Cook opined: "She is honest, careful, talented and capable." Humm...more partisan political opinion than the facts as presented, care to rephrase?

John Cook

The record speaks for itself and is a fact, not an opinion. The public record speaks to years of marriage while Rep. Gallegos has been whip with no allegations of conflict or self-dealing. The absence of such allegations is a fact. Do you have factual allegations to the contrary? No? That is also a fact.

Mike Johnson

The facts as presented: "Gallegos is married to Scott Scanland, a New Mexico lobbyist since 1987. Scanland has a higher profile at the Capitol than many lawmakers. He’s represented clients ranging from cities to the fireworks industry to Sunland Park Racetrack & Casino.

He makes a living by persuading legislators to see the world through the eyes of his clients. The majority leader can also try to steer the votes of her caucus.

Legislators who are married to lobbyists have a conflict of interest unless they disqualify themselves from voting on bills involving their spouse. Money clients pay to Scanland also benefits Gallegos. New Mexico is a community property state." Potential corruption personified.

Stefanie Beninato

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup] Plus it is temporary for a few weeks according to Milan's first column. This article strikes me in the same way as those complaints about lawyers in legislature who have conflicts of interest because they introduce legislation that might eventually bring them business. It would be another thing if there was evidence that Rep Gallegos as whip tried to steer business exclusively to those businesses represented by her husband.

Lynn k Allen

Oh no. Please show us that there is a spread of ethics left.

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