State Sen. Mimi Stewart will replace fellow Albuquerque Democrat Michael Padilla as Senate majority whip, elevating her to a leadership position for the first time after 23 years in the New Mexico Legislature.
Senate Democrats, meeting behind closed doors Monday, chose Stewart to replace Padilla, who Senate Democrats voted to remove from the post because of an old sexual harassment case that took place before he was elected to the Senate.
Stewart, a retired educator, said she believes she was chosen because of hard work. “You know I’m a teacher by trade,” she said. “I told my students, ‘I have eyes in the back of my head.’ … I’m able to juggle things.”
She was among eight legislators who this month helped rewrite the Legislature’s anti-harassment policy after fallout from the national uproar over sexual harassment hit the Capitol.
It’s not clear whether the vote for whip was contested. At least two other senators, Linda Lopez and Jacob Candelaria, both D-Albuquerque, had expressed interest in the post.
Stewart has been a senator for three years after serving two decades in the state House of Representatives.
She chairs the interim Legislative Education Study Committee and co-chairs the Senate Education Committee, but Stewart said she will have to step down from those positions to take over the leadership post.
Party whips are responsible for counting votes among their members and making sure they show up to floor sessions. “The whip makes sure that the floor runs smoothly,” Stewart said. “The whip helps the majority leader and the [Senate president] pro-tem and steps in if one them is absent for something. The whip does take part in leadership decisions about the direction of the caucus and presenting to the media what we want to do.”
The senator said she doesn’t see the role of whip as being an enforcer, making sure members follow the party line. “That’s not the job of the whip in the Senate,” she said. “It’s not to go twist arms. It’s to see if we have enough votes to bring the bill up on the floor, to see if there’s going to be a lot of debate when we don’t have enough time.”
This is the first time Stewart has run for leadership position in the Senate but she had run for majority leader and majority whip in the House. “This is the fourth time I’ve run for leadership,” she said. “… This is my first win.”
Stewart last year was named by Fiscal Note as the most effective legislator in New Mexico. Fiscal Note is a Washington D.C.-based company dedicated to improving the way businesses organizations deal with governments.
She told reporters that since 1996 she has passed 171 bills that were signed into law.
Besides losing his whip post, Padilla also dropped his bid for lieutenant governor after U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the perceived front-runner for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, and others called on him to step down.
The 2018 Legislature convenes noon on Tuesday.
This BBSNews article originally appeared on NMPolitics.net.