The Final Word | New Mexico House Speaker Brian Egolf

9/27/2019

Attorney Brian Egolf’s New Mexico roots go back to territorial days, when his great-grandfather served as a county delegate to Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive Party Convention. Before establishing a law practice in Santa Fe, Egolf worked at the White House, the Treasury Department and for a congressman. He attended Georgetown University and graduated magna cum laude from the University of New Mexico School of Law. Elected to the House in 2008, Egolf was elected speaker in 2017.

New Mexico House Speaker Brian EgoggWhat is your leadership style?

I talk a lot about this idea of durable solutions—that for the biggest problems you want a durable solution that will last year after year. From the moment I was elected speaker, the core thing I insisted on was that we’ve got to have people from all sides at the table talking and trying to find solutions that will work and stick. The other big theme for me is ending the weaponization of government. For way too long, governors and legislative leaders would deploy the power of government either to punish an enemy or to reward a friend. I won’t tolerate it.

You were elected speaker by acclamation. How did that inform your approach to the job?

In fairness, I was elected by acclamation probably because the Republicans nominated someone to be speaker who declined the nomination and they didn’t have a backup plan. Nevertheless, it had a big impact on me. It really brought into focus that you are speaker of the whole House. It reinforced my desire to be as bipartisan as the members would allow, and to reach out in meaningful ways, not just on easy bills.

What are your thoughts about professional versus citizen legislatures?

The concept of citizen public servants is great. But it’s very much outweighed by the detriment caused by having no pay and no staff. And it’s a detriment to candidate recruitment. We’ve got members from the Navajo Nation who drive four and a half hours. We have folks who have six-and-a-half-hour drives for a job that doesn’t pay anything and gives you per diem that covers 80% of the cost of a hotel room in Santa Fe. Trying to get members in their 20s and 30s to run is really hard because they don’t work in places where their employer will let them be gone 60 or 30 days a year. If we had compensation, it would be easier to attract a much more diverse group of people to serve.

What keeps you up at night?

I’m worried about a lot of 2-, 3- and 4-year-old New Mexico kids living in poverty that don’t have time to waste while the grown-ups in their lives figure out how to save them from a life of poverty.

What gives you the most hope?

That in New Mexico now, we have the perfect storm of budget surpluses, a dynamic new governor and legislative leaders who all are focused on the same goal for kids, and we have the resources to make enormous change very quickly.

Who inspires you?

My wife. She does not have a background in business, but she started a company making cold-pressed juice. She had jaw surgery and couldn’t chew for many months. This idea that helped her recover from surgery became a company. She is now off onto the next phase—a major expansion that is going to have a huge impact on the community and the economy. She works so hard, putting in long hours to pursue her dream. She is a powerful and inspiring woman.

What final words would you like to share?

Transformational change and bipartisanship are not rocket science. Anyone can do it. You just have to be willing to be the first person to stick your neck out.

Jane Carroll Andrade, a contributing editor, conducted this interview, which has been edited for clarity and length.

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