News Column

NM House Republicans Shake Up Leadership

Nov 29, 2012

Steve Terrell

While most eyes have been on the impending battle among state Senate Democrats in nominating a new president pro-tem, Republicans in the New Mexico House of Representatives this week pulled a surprise by shaking up their leadership.

At a closed-door meeting in Albuquerque, Republican representatives ousted current GOP floor leader Tom Taylor of Farmington, replacing him with Rep. Don Bratton of Hobbs, who has been serving as House Republican whip for the past two years.

"People like to change every few years," Taylor said in a phone interview Tuesday. "That's healthy. There's no animosity anywhere."

Bratton, in a news release, also was magnanimous. "I look forward to serving as Floor Leader for the Republican Caucus and equally anticipate Rep. Taylor's full support. It has been a pleasure working with Tom these past two years. I know his experience and knowledge will be crucial to a smooth transition."

The Republican caucus also elected Rep. Nate Gentry of Albuquerque as minority whip, replacing Bratton. Alonzo Baldonado of Belen was chosen as caucus chairman, defeating Rep. Ana Crook of Clovis for that position, which she held for eight years.

Both Gentry and Baldonado are freshman lawmakers who won re-election earlier this month.

Asked for comment about the changes, Gov. Susana Martinez said through a spokesman, "The governor is very appreciative of Tom Taylor's and Anna Crook's service in the minority leadership, and she looks forward to working with the new leaders to reform education, create jobs and improve New Mexico."

What effect -- if any -- the new leadership will have on the Republican governor's legislative agenda isn't clear. Democrats have a stronger grip in the House than they did when Martinez first became governor two years ago.

Though initially optimistic about taking control of the House, Republicans ended up with a net loss of at least two seats in the recent election -- possibly as many as four, depending on results of mandatory recounts in two close races.

Bratton is a retired Air Force lieutenant who worked in the oil industry for 28 years in engineering and management positions. A former mayor of Hobbs, Bratton was first elected to the Legislature in 2001.

Taylor said he's looking forward to moving to the back row of the chamber and concentrating on legislation.

Among bills he wants to work on are those implementing changes to the state Public Regulation Commission, which were mandated by constitutional amendments adopted in the recent election. One amendment calls on the Legislature to establish minimum requirements for commission members. Another calls for removing the Insurance Division from the commission and setting up an independent insurance agency.

House Democrats also will choose new leaders before the Legislature convenes in January. House Majority Leader Kenny Martinez of Grants is expected to be nominated for speaker of the House, replacing longtime Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Nambe, who didn't seek re-election this year because of health problems. Rep. Rick Miera of Albuquerque has said he'll run for the majority leader position.

Several Senate Democrats have said they are running or considering running for the president pro-tem position, currently held by Sen. Tim Jennings of Roswell, who was defeated for re-election this month.

While Sen. Michael Sanchez of Belen is expected to hold on to the majority leader post, Democrats must choose a new majority whip -- a position currently held by Sen. Mary Jane Garcia of Dona Ana, who was defeated in the general election -- and a new caucus chairman to replace Sen. David Ulibarri of Grants, who lost in the primary election.

Like their counterparts in the House, they are expected to meet in December.

Source: (c)2012 The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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