- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - Republican leaders began wielding their newfound political power Wednesday by advancing a measure that would revamp the way some things work in New Mexico’s House of Representatives.

It’s been six decades since Republicans have held the majority in the chamber, and now they’re scrambling to set a new course with a slew of committee changes they say are aimed at making things more efficient. They proposed consolidating some panels and eliminating others.

The proposal cleared its first hurdle Wednesday when it passed the House Rules Committee on a 10-8 party-line vote. It must still be approved by the full House.

“We’d like to make some changes and move forward,” said House Speaker Don Tripp, R-Socorro.

As part of the proposed changes devised by Tripp, the panel that deals with voters and election issues would be eliminated while the agriculture and water committee would be expanded to include wildlife. The energy and natural resources panel would also include other environmental concerns.

The plan drew criticism from Democrats and members of the audience. Some were concerned about lumping wildlife with commercial interests and said a committee on voters is necessary now more than ever after last year’s low turnout.

“I am a little worried about change for change’s sake only,” said Rep. Ken Martinez, D-Grants. Martinez is the former House speaker.

Tripp finished making committee assignments late Wednesday, but he said it could be a few days before the full House approves the resolution, which will slow the process down.

“It’s actually been very smooth. Speaker Martinez has been very cordial in helping us through the transition,” Tripp said.

The legislative review process essentially begins at the committee level. The sooner committee chairs are appointed and operations are in full swing, the sooner legislation can be considered.

House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said Republicans shouldn’t get too comfortable in their new role.

“This is a two-year experiment and the state of New Mexico gets to see what happens with a Republican majority,” Egolf said, counting the days until Democrats have a chance to regain power.

“It is very unfortunate to see Rep. Brian Egolf continue promoting divisiveness and Washington dysfunction at every turn,” Gentry said, adding that the House should work together.

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