SANTA FE – For the first time, a woman took the leadership seat June 6, on the influential joint finance committee that drafts New Mexico’s state budget – a position that has been dominated by men over its 60-year history.
Democratic Rep. Patricia Lundstrom of Gallup seized the reins as chairwoman of the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee, which commands subpoena powers and a staff of 38 analysts, evaluators and economists who study the costs and effectiveness of state government.
Lundstrom moved up after serving as the first chairwoman of the powerful House Appropriations and Finance Committee, where she insisted this year that the state look for new sources of tax revenue to resolve a state budget crisis.
“We really need to be careful about how we’re spending our limited resources, and I want to be sure we get that return on investment,” said the 58-year-old Lundstrom, who also serves as executive director of the Greater Gallup Economic Development Corp.
Female lawmakers across the country are taking leadership roles for the first time on state finance committees that hold the purse strings for vital programs and projects.
Oklahoma this year has its first female chairs of the House and Senate appropriations committees, despite the state having one of the lowest percentages of female legislators in the country.
In Texas, Republican state Sen. Jane Nelson in 2015 became the first woman in state history to chair a budget-writing committee. In Michigan, a woman is leading the House Appropriations Committee for the first time.
Overall, “it’s not on a parity with men,” said Katie Ziegler, a program manager at the National Conference of State Legislatures, which counts nearly 40 chairwomen currently at the top of major state budget and taxation committees.
An analysis by The Associated Press last year showed that women remain significantly underrepresented at all levels of elected office in the U.S.
In New Mexico, voters made history in 2010 when they elected Republican Susana Martinez as the state’s first female governor. The state has elected three women to Congress – but not a female U.S. senator.
In the Legislature, women currently hold 30 percent of the seats – ahead of the 25 percent national average, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
But women have yet to serve as the House speaker or Senate majority leader. And they had long been kept at arm’s length in budget making decisions, said former four-term state Sen. Dede Feldman.
Women assigned to specialty committees, from health care to education, have been frustrated because they have limited influence with finance committee leaders, Feldman said.
“The real bulls of the Senate have been the finance chairs, and in the House dating back to” the 1960s, she said.