In the spirit of being politically incorrect, I say the New Mexico Senate has too many men.

This august assembly is out of step with the state’s population. Like a funhouse mirror, it distorts the way New Mexico looks.

The Senate has 32 men, nine women and one vacancy. The numbers were even more lopsided before politicians moved the needle by appointing two women to the Senate this year.



I learned long ago that gender shouldn’t matter in deciding who holds public office. The nuns who rapped young knuckles and dispensed pearls of sexism told me and my classmates the best man should win. President John F. Kennedy was their guy, even though he had accepted a Pulitzer Prize for a book crafted by Ted Sorensen, his lyrical speechwriter.

With voting rights for women approaching its 100th anniversary, I realize few believe gender should still be a political consideration. Smarts, honesty and a good work ethic are all that should matter in choosing someone for public office.

Normally, I would agree. But because 78 percent of the Senate’s members are men, the chamber doesn’t resemble the state it’s supposed to understand and reflect.

This is why I hope Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham appoints well-qualified Kristina Ortez to fill the Senate vacancy. The opening occurred because of the death in September of Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa.

Cisneros’ Senate District 6 is a Democratic stronghold that includes parts of Taos, Santa Fe, Rio Arriba and Los Alamos counties.

Ortez, 45, knows the territory, though she grew up in a rural enclave of California’s San Joaquin Valley. She received a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Harvard College and a master’s in public administration from the University of New Mexico.

Ortez, executive director of the Taos Land Trust, would provide the Legislature with expertise on water issues and climate change.

The governor’s other option for the appointment is Rep. Bobby Gonzales, D-Taos. He is a retired school administrator who’s been in the House of Representatives for 25 years.

In terms of government experience, Gonzales wins by five furlongs. But the Capitol is full of lawmakers who either work in public schools or have retired from teaching jobs. They are built-in lobbyists for the school system, yet public education remains one of the weaker parts of what New Mexico has to offer.

Ortez would be a fresh voice in the Legislature. She’s lived and studied in other parts of the country. She would provide a perspective that’s often lacking in a place where every other elected official claims to be a 15th-generation New Mexican.

And Ortez has just as much of a rooting interest in the state’s betterment as any sitting legislator. She is raising her two young daughters in Taos. The demographic of parents with small children is another that’s underrepresented in the statehouse.

If Lujan Grisham chooses Ortez, Gonzales wouldn’t lose any power. He would remain in the House of Representatives and have the opportunity to run for the Senate in next year’s election.

But as an incumbent by appointment, Ortez would become the favorite to win the Democratic primary in June. That will be the decisive race. Republicans are so dispirited they don’t bother fielding candidates in most legislative elections in Northern New Mexico.

A newcomer such as Ortez might even be closer to neighborhoods and ordinary people than are longtime lawmakers who are accustomed to receiving handouts and prodding from lobbyists.

Someone unconnected to the free-spending customs of the Legislature might also question the bloat of state government.

Frugal Democrats are in short supply in the statehouse. I keep waiting for at least a few of them to show a rebellious streak by moving to shrink the number of Cabinet departments from 23 to perhaps 15. Instead, lawmakers added another Cabinet agency this year, the Early Childhood Education and Care Department.

Republicans are almost as ho-hum about the size of government as Democrats. Only 10 of the 112 state legislators voted against yet another stand-alone department.

It’s clear the old guard won’t stop the growth of government in a state that should economize. That’s another reason I hope someone who’s not steeped in Capitol excess gets the Senate appointment.

But the prevailing issue is representation. The Senate looks more like a men’s club than a snapshot of a state where 50.5 percent of the residents are women.

Lujan Grisham, New Mexico’s second female governor, can change the political equation, if ever so slightly.

It’s not social engineering. It’s about hearing opportunity when she knocks.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-490-1048.

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(7) comments

Dr. Michael Johnson

Oh my, another left wing gender counter here. Yes, of course everything has to be PC and the quota has to be filled to reflect "what we look like", not who is the best person. This lady is totally unqualified for this job, yes, there are others who also are in the Senate, but why knowingly put another one in? She is not a New Mexican, and I would offer that living in Taos for a short time hardly qualifies her to understand the state's problems, like in my part of this district for instance. Anthropology and the ubiquitous "public administration" faux degrees also are not qualifiers. She is also a partisan political activist/organizer, pushing very one-sided, biased issues, and knows about as much about "climate" as Greta, she is no scientist with any climate experience, but a load of political bias, opinions, and preconceived notions from other partisan political operatives. If she is so well qualified, let her run against a decent choice to step in and start governing, Mr. Gonzales. A "fresh voice" is not necessarily a good voice when it comes to politicians. But, I suspect old Mich thinks just like Milan here, so get ready for a quota pick........she can't resist her biases......the people will get another incompetent legislator to represent us.

BARRY SILVER

having followed mike johnson's entertaining comments, as they dance from topic to topic, i suggest he book a stage somewhere in town so that his many fans can see and hear him declaim in person with hyperbolic thrust and trenchentless analysis on whatever comes to mind. dress would be casual: jeans, a silk smoking jacket, kimonos for those so inclined or even knickerbockers

Nicoletta Munroe

One of the issues in the New Mexico state legislature is that not only are few women present, few people are there who possess a law degree. When people serve without a foundation in the law, there is an increase in the chance that they will be prey for lobbyists and haphazard legislation. Santa Fe needs a law school. Santa Fe is home to the legislature, the New Mexico Supreme Court, the Office of the Attorney General, the Office of the Secretary of State, and other state agencies. Why is there not a law school here, that people whom want to run for office may become educated at the level that is necessary for those offices?

Dr. Michael Johnson

"Why is there not a law school here,..." Because there is no university here, and never will be, simple. And the thought of more and more lawyers in NM makes me ill.

Khal Spencer

Think of all the lawyers in Congress and how well that august institution is run.

Barry Rabkin

Thankfully, no reporter or politician can mandate to people who to vote for.

Stephen Fox

Senate seats are won by whoever runs for them and wins them. If women ran for those offices, many more would win. There is no independent defining chauvinism orchestrating the percentages in the NM Senate. More women should run, and then that 78% would drop to 50%.

On this particular appointment, for replacing Carlos Cisneros, I do thank you for putting forth Ortez's credentials in a straightforward and thorough manner.

I am certain the Governor will do the right thing, and not just the politically expedient thing.

Welcome to the discussion.

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