OPINION: Egolf blisters former friend seeking reelection

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Jun. 1—One of the stranger feuds in New Mexico pits House Speaker Brian Egolf against Rep. Roger Montoya.

Both are Democrats who used to be on friendly terms. Egolf advocated with all his might for Montoya in the 2020 election when the seat, in rural House District 40, was open.

Now the two men are enemies. The main reason is Montoya didn't support all the legislation Egolf favored. A secondary factor for Egolf is Montoya criticized the tactics of Julianna Koob, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood.

"There's absolutely a rift," Montoya said of his dealings with Egolf. "I have a recording of him screaming obscenities at me on the telephone. It's something I'd never heard from another adult."

Egolf, of Santa Fe, wouldn't admit to any rooting interest when I asked him if he's opposing Montoya in his bid for a second term. Former Rep. Joseph Sanchez, a conservative Democrat of Alcalde, is challenging Montoya, of Velarde, in next week's election.

"I'm not involved in that primary. I don't have anything more to say on it," Egolf told me.

Egolf had a good deal to say when one of his constituents wrote him an email asking the speaker to donate $10,000 each to Montoya and a handful of other Democratic House members who are in contested primaries. Montoya and the other incumbents are facing Democrats backed by wealthy Republican Harvey Yates and others in the GOP.

Egolf wrote back to his constituent, saying he wouldn't help finance Montoya's reelection campaign.

"I have sent all but one of the PAC-targeted candidates $2,500, and [House Majority] Leader Javier Martínez sent $5,200. I am concerned about Rep. Montoya," Egolf wrote. "He's staked an anti-choice position and is celebrating his non-endorsement by Planned Parenthood.

"I am not currently planning to support his campaign as he is actively walking away from the core Democratic values. Rep. Montoya opposed the clean fuels standard bill (he cast the deciding vote that killed the bill), voted against the ban on trapping, and has gone out of his way to work with archconservatives and true extremists in the Republican Party against the Democratic caucus and Democratic issues. His comments today in [The New Mexican] about Ms. Koob were outrageous."

I wrote the column about rancor between Montoya and Koob. Montoya disagreed with one plank in Planned Parenthood's platform. The organization opposes what it calls forced parental notification by minors seeking abortions.

"I have a problem with a blanket way of eliminating parental notification," Montoya said. "In real life, there are too many variables."

By Montoya's account, Koob browbeat him for an hour in hopes of getting him to switch his position. He refused, losing Planned Parenthood's endorsement.

Montoya said Koob was so nasty to him he wanted nothing more to do with her or the organization she represented. Koob wouldn't comment.

Egolf's statement about Montoya taking "an anti-choice position" focuses on Montoya's stand on parental notification. It ignores the differences between Montoya and his primary opponent, Sanchez.

As a House member in 2019, Sanchez voted to keep on the books a 50-year-old law criminalizing abortion. Montoya in 2021 joined with most Democrats to repeal the anti-abortion statute.

Then there's Egolf's claim that Montoya cast the vote killing the bill on a clean-fuel standard. Egolf's assessment is fiction.

Ten of the 45 Democrats in the House voted against that bill. It died on a 33-33 vote.

It would have passed if Egolf had been able to persuade any of the 10 to vote his way. So why did Egolf claim Montoya's vote decided the issue? The speaker avoided that question.

"I do not want to say anything negative about Representative Montoya in this phone call," he said. "I'm not going to go tit for tat on every point in an email that was a response to a friend of 20 years."

Of course, Egolf ignored that his email attacking Montoya has reached many people.

Montoya said he voted his conscience and sometimes that led him to disagree with Egolf.

"I voted against the ban on trapping as my district covers 6,000 square miles of extremely rural communities that must protect their livestock. It was not an easy vote, as I agree that traps cause unintended harm. But I was elected to serve House District 40," Montoya said.

Along with Montoya, eight other Democrats voted against the trapping bill. Most are running for re-election. Egolf, however, isn't accusing them of being cozy with GOP extremists.

Egolf paints Montoya as a right-winger in Democrat's clothing. Sanchez is campaigning to defeat Montoya on grounds that he's a liberal.

"The California-style progressive policies introduced by politicians like my opponent further harm our economy and devalue our culture and traditions," Sanchez told me.

Sanchez isn't Egolf's type of Democrat, making the speaker's disparagement of Montoya all the more peculiar.

Oh, I almost forgot. Egolf insists what he wrote about Montoya was a private matter.

That's an odd defense for a lawyer such as Egolf. He was taught no one can unring a bell.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at msimonich@sfnewmexican.com or 505-986-3080.