By Torres G. Leyba
At noon on the seventeenth day of January 2023 the New Mexico state Legislature will officially convene for the 56th time since statehood. For those who follow politics, state history, or a bit of both, opening day at the Legislature is a time for new beginnings, fresh promise for the future, and can always be counted on to provide plenty of high drama throughout!
The first session of what we know today as the New Mexico state Legislature actually convened as a Territorial assembly in 1911, the year prior to our being declared the 47th state of the Union by President William Howard Taft. Among that first legislature’s chief pieces of business were to draft and approve a final state Constitution and complete all the final business of applying to become America’s newest state. Unlike today’s Legislature, that first legislature ran for three years rather than the customary two we know today, meeting in 1911, 1912 and 1913. Following our admission to the Union, the 1912 session sat for 90 days, and for a 60 day session the following year. The second legislature was convened as our first official state Legislature two years later in 1915. For the next half century, the Legislature sat for two years per legislature, and its legislators only met to consider bills and pass legislation during odd numbered years. Following a new series of Constitutional reforms, beginning with the 27th legislature from 1965-66, The New Mexico Legislature adopted the business calendar we know today – meeting at the start of each calendar year for either 30 days (in even numbered years), or for an extended 60 day session (in odd-numbered years).
This year, the extended 60 day session begins with all the pomp and ceremony that we usually see at the start of a new Congress in Washington, D.C. Here, as there, the day begins with the business of establishing the leadership of both houses that make up the Legislature – the House, and the Senate. By law, the New Mexico Secretary of State presides over the business of Opening Day until a Speaker is chosen to lead the Representatives in the House, and a Majority or Floor Leader is selected to preside over the Senate. These leaders officially swear in their respective members for their respective terms (two years for Representatives, four years for Senators), a ceremony witnessed in the galleries by the public, and by the elected members’ family members who are granted temporary dispensation to be on the floor during this very special and memorable occasion.
Following the installation of Leadership, an official invitation is sent by messenger to the Office of the Governor, inviting the state’s Chief Executive to formally address both houses in a speech known as the State of the State Address. This speech, comparable to the State of the Union speech given by the American President to Congress each year, sets forth the Governor’s vision for the year, including legislative priorities and critical state priorities that the Governor feels should be given top priority by the Legislature. Sometimes lofty, sometimes chock full of details and political stagecraft, the State of the State address is the opening salvo in the battle for legislative action on the Governor’s agenda, as well as that of the parties who are in the majority in both chambers.
Following the Governor’s stirring address, the real business of the Legislature begins, as the leadership of both chambers formally appoint members to sit on a variety of committees that will help to draft, advocate for, and shepherd critical bills through the legislative process up to and through passage by a majority vote of both chambers, whereupon they will be sent to the Governor’s desk for consideration, approval, or veto.
After several action-packed hours of history, political theater and legislative housekeeping, at last, the Opening Day of the 56th New Mexico state Legislature will be gaveled into the pages of history – a proud tradition of governmental continuity stretching back over a century, observing always the historic importance of its business while always gazing towards the horizon of our future, ever striving to bring even greater times of prosperity to all those lucky enough to count themselves citizens of this beautiful Land of Enchantment.
source: p. 179 from the New Mexico Blue Book, 2007-08 edition