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Nominee chosen to fill Morales’ Senate seat

January 4, 2019

Howie Morales of Silver City left a seat empty in the New Mexico Senate when he took office as lieutenant governor this week.

By Thursday, officials in the three counties he represented had settled on a single nominee to serve as his successor: Gabriel Ramos.

If appointed, the former two-term member of the Grant County Board of Commissioners will step into a legislative chamber where his fellow Democrats hold a 26-16 majority but are divided on issues such as funding for early childhood education, gun control and legalizing marijuana.

Appointing a successor to Morales, then, could prove significant when it comes time to count votes on some of the biggest issues of the legislative session that begins Jan. 15.

It is up to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to formally appoint a successor based on nominations by counties in the district, which spans from Hachita to Silver City, Socorro and Quemado.

Boards of commissioners in each of the three counties — Grant, Socorro and Catron — voted in recent weeks to nominate Ramos, 48, leaving the new Democratic governor with just one choice.

Born in Silver City and raised in Hurley, Ramos is a veteran of the New Mexico National Guard and a graduate of Western New Mexico University. He runs an insurance agency with Farmers Insurance in Silver City and has been involved in politics around Grant County for years, winning election as clerk at the age of 25.

In that post, he got to work with former state Sen. Ben Altamirano and saw the legislative process firsthand.

“I’ve always wanted to be up there,” Ramos said Thursday.

Ramos supported Morales’ run for governor back in 2014 and donated to his campaign for lieutenant governor last year.

“I want to work with the lieutenant governor and governor on pre-K and better pay for teachers,” he said.

Ramos also said he wants to work on protecting the elderly and addressing drug addiction as well as mental health.

At this point, Ramos said, he would support a constitutional amendment that would increase the share of the Land Grant Permanent Fund used to pay for education, which proponents say would allow for a major expansion of early childhood education.

Ramos did not commit to voting for or against legalizing marijuana, saying he would have to study the issue further.

The big question for those following the legislative session is the fate of Morales’ seat on the influential Senate Finance Committee, which is where the constitutional amendment on education funding usually languishes amid opposition by conservative Democrats.

It would be unusual for a new senator to land a spot on the committee.

Senate leaders are likely to give the seat to a more senior Democrat.

In turn, it will be revealing if they choose a liberal Democrat who might back the constitutional amendment on the permanent fund or a budget hawk more in line with the committee’s fiscally conservative chairman, John Arthur Smith of Deming.

Meanwhile, lawmakers from Albuquerque are likely to argue that one of their own deserves the spot. There is no Democrat from the state’s biggest city on the 11-member committee.

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