SANTA FE – The leadership ranks of the New Mexico Legislature have been no place for young men, at least in recent years.
That’s changed this year, however, as three Albuquerque lawmakers have risen to ranking positions, bringing with them a fondness for social media and the possibility of new bipartisan alliances.
Nate Gentry, Tim Keller and Antonio “Moe” Maestas have something in common in addition to their Duke City roots – each of the three returned to New Mexico after attending college outside the state.
As for the age issue, not one of them has yet hit 45.
“We all know each other quite well, because we’re all about the same age, we’re all involved in politics and we all live in the same area,” said Keller, who is 35. “So I think it certainly can be nothing but positive in terms of bipartisanship and finding workable solutions for both sides of the aisle.”
A number of incumbent legislators retired last year or were defeated in their re-election bids, leaving vacancies in several key leadership positions.
While some of those spots have been filled by veterans – like Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, who is 80 – the new generation has also taken advantage of the opportunity.
In voting done by their respective caucuses before the 60-day session began, Keller was elected Senate Democratic whip, Maestas earned the votes to become House Democratic whip and Gentry took over as House GOP whip.
In the Legislature, the whip is a lieutenant of sorts who helps the top-ranking leaders and rounds up votes.
Gentry, 37, described Keller and Maestas as friends, although they’re Democrats and he’s a Republican.
Those personal ties are evidenced in the fact Gentry is co-sponsoring legislation with Maestas, a fellow lawyer, on commercial real estate liability.
“I think there’s a recognition among the new leadership that at times we’re going to fight about things, but then we’re going to move on,” Gentry said. “We’re taking a very conciliatory tone this session, and I hope it keeps up.”
The trio’s ascent into leadership positions could also be a boon for Albuquerque, whose representation in the Legislature increased during the once-per-decade task of redistricting, completed last year.
A total of 35 of the state’s 112 part-time lawmakers are now from Albuquerque.
However, lawmakers from the state’s largest city have struggled in recent years to secure state funding for certain local public works projects, such as the renovation of the Paseo del Norte/I-25 interchange.
“Historically, the rural areas have wielded the most power,” Maestas, 44, told the Journal.
In addition to Gentry, Keller and Maestas, there are also several other Duke City lawmakers in leadership roles this year at the Legislature.
That list includes Senate Republican Whip Bill Payne, House Democratic floor leader Rick Miera and Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jacob Candelaria.
While the city’s presence has been beefed up this year in leadership posts, Maestas noted that Albuquerque still is lacking proportionate representation on at least one powerful panel, the Senate Finance Committee.
Just one of the committee’s 10 members is from the Albuquerque area.
While their names have been mentioned as potential future state government leaders, Keller said the leadership roles taken on by the younger generation will not mean an immediate changing of the guard.
“I look at this not as a huge shift; it’s just aligning a little better with the urban center in our state,” Keller said. “No one would ever think that just because the whips are young and from Albuquerque that it’s going to drastically change the Legislature.”
He also acknowledged that the Legislature’s high rate of turnover in the last year means a loss of institutional knowledge.
What it lacks in Roundhouse experience, however, the “new-school trio” makes up for in social media savvy.
Maestas, Keller and Gentry are all avid Twitter users.
“We’re all in an urban environment in the biggest media market, so I think a lot of us are more familiar with social media and things like that,” Keller said. “I think it’s a training ground for modern politics.”
— This article appeared on page A4 of the Albuquerque Journal