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NM Republicans elect new leader

Rep. James Townsend, R-Artesia

Republicans in the state House elected James Townsend of Artesia to serve as their new leader heading into the next legislative session.

His ascension comes after voters wiped out a quarter of the House Republican caucus in the general election.

Townsend, who’s retired from the energy industry, has represented a chunk of southeastern New Mexico, near Carlsbad, since 2015.

He will replace House Minority Leader Nate Gentry, an Albuquerque Republican who didn’t seek re-election to the Legislature.

Rep. Rod Montoya of Farmington will continue as House minority whip, and Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell of Roswell will remain as the chairwoman who presides over caucus meetings.

Townsend was one of just three members this year to vote against a $6.3 billion budget plan that sailed through the House. He argued that his $41 million proposal to help school districts wasn’t treated fairly in the committee process, and he called for an investigation into whether a subcommittee had met in violation of House rules.

Townsend also pushed this year for legislation to prohibit requiring employees to pay fees to a union as a condition of employment – a bill that was rejected along party lines in a committee.

Sunday’s caucus meeting came after Democrats made huge gains in the Nov. 6 general election. They expect to pick up eight seats altogether, though some recounts are pending.

Democrats had a 38-32 edge in recent legislative sessions, but this month’s wins would push their advantage to 46-24.

Republicans suffered particularly painful losses in Albuquerque, as Democrats claimed two open seats and made gains in the Northeast Heights, foothills and West Side.

The departure of some moderate Republicans – from Albuquerque-based districts – may strengthen the influence, within the GOP caucus, of representatives from rural areas.

Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, was also a candidate to serve as minority leader.

Democrats in both the House and the Senate, meanwhile, re-elected their leadership.

Senate Democrats met Saturday and chose Peter Wirth of Santa Fe as majority leader and Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque as majority whip. Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces is their pick for Senate president pro tem.

Senate Democrats had an opening for a caucus chair and elected Pete Campos of Las Vegas to that position.

House Democrats, who met earlier this month, are headed by House Speaker Brian Egolf of Santa Fe, House Majority Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton of Albuquerque and House Majority Whip Doreen Yvonne Gallegos of Las Cruces. The caucus chairwoman is D. Wonda Johnson of Church Rock.

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