Lujan re-elected Speaker of House

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By Associated Press

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — House Speaker Ben Lujan of Santa Fe won re-election Tuesday to the top leadership spot, dodging an expected challenge from a fellow Democrat.

Democrat Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces had planned to run against Lujan but wasn't nominated for the post when the House convened. It was a sign that he lacked the votes to oust Lujan, who has served as speaker since 2001.

Cervantes needed the support of most, if not all, of the 33 House Republicans and some were reluctant to back a Democrat for the leadership post.

Lujan retained the speakership on a 36-33 vote, with Republicans supporting GOP Tom Taylor of Farmington for the speakership.

Lujan, 76, was first elected to the House in 1974.

Cervantes is a lawyer who's served in the House for 10 years.

The speakership is among the most powerful positions in the Legislature. The speaker largely controls the legislative agenda in the House and has broad discretionary powers in presiding over daily proceedings.

On the opening day of the session, Republican Gov. Susana Martinez proposed to improve New Mexico's public schools by ending social promotion of struggling students and providing financial incentives for the state's best teachers.

Martinez was to outline a package of educational reforms in her State of the State speech to a joint session of the Legislature.

In prepared remarks for her speech to legislators, Martinez said school should be assigned grades, such as A, B, C, D or F, to reflect their performance.

Martinez wants to cut spending on school administration and shift it to classrooms. She said the state must end the practice of so-called social promotion, which allows students to advance from one grade to another even if they haven't mastered the necessary basic skills. The governor also said New Mexico must reward its best teachers. Currently, the state has a teacher pay scale that is mostly based on an educator's years of service and academic credentials.

"Unless we take decisive action to improve our schools, history will judge us harshly, and rightfully so," Martinez said. "To reverse years of decline, we must place a command focus on student performance and progress, not just on how much money we're spending."

Martinez also called on the Legislature to reinstate the death penalty, which was repealed in 2009 when Democrat Bill Richardson was governor.

"When a monster rapes and murders a child or a criminal kills a police officer, the death penalty should be an option for a jury," said Martinez, who was district attorney in Las Cruces before winning election as governor.