SANTA FE — I thought maybe the governor’s giant killer would be carried around the Roundhouse and into the Senate chamber on the first day of the Legislative session on a golden litter, but there was no hoopla around Cliff Pirtle, the young farmer from Roswell, as he showed up to fill the seat held for 34 years by Tim Jennings.
Before 9 on Tuesday morning, Pirtle was in his new office, a cubbyhole on the fourth floor of the State Capitol. The office was bare except for Pirtle’s sunglasses and briefcase, a blue cup of water and one cardboard box.
Pirtle, 27, said he was glad I stopped by to talk to him because he had a case of the nerves and nothing else to do before his first meeting — a Republican caucus at 10:30.
He compared biding his time in his office to those long minutes in the locker room before basketball games at Roswell High School, when he and the rest of the Fighting Coyotes were pumped up and ready to play but had to wait to run out on the gym floor.
“We need some AC/DC,” he said.
Fifteen of the 42 senators are new to the body this year, but only Pirtle was credited with changing the face of the politics by knocking off Jennings, a Democrat from Roswell, who had been in the Senate since 1979 and in recent years was the Senate’s powerful leader.
Gov. Susana Martinez and her political team targeted Jennings for defeat and threw lots of PAC money and nasty ads into the race. The governor went to Roswell twice to rally voters for Pirtle, a tea party Republican who campaigned for the 2nd Congressional District two years ago as a more conservative alternative to Steve Pearce (if that is even possible).
When Pirtle, who had never held public office or even gone out for the debate team in high school, defeated Jennings in the upset, he looked like the boy who slew the dragon.
I asked him if he thought he might be considered the governor’s guy and have a target on his back in the partisan Legislature.
Pirtle pointed out that the attack ads didn’t come from him and that he had been respectful of Jennings in the campaign, always calling him “Senator.”
“I ensured that what I had control over was respectful,” Pirtle said. “I don’t think anyone is going to hold it against me.”
He said he’s just ready to work hard, learn a lot and support conservative causes.
Pirtle wasn’t the youngest senator sworn in Tuesday — that was 26-year-old Jacob Candelaria representing Albuquerque — but he was the only one wearing Levi’s.
Pirtle has a diploma from Roswell High School, has been married to his high school sweetheart, a hairdresser, for seven years and has a 15-month-old son. He is a fifth-generation farmer in the Pecos Valley and a partner in the family business, Pirtle Farms. The company grows feed for dairies and, in 2006, expanded into the dairy business.
Pirtle’s picture on the Legislature’s website shows him leaning against a center-pivot irrigator — a portrait of a man out standing in his field.
There was no AC/DC playing to pump him up when Pirtle left for his first meeting 15 minutes early and began the search for the correct room on the third floor. The only round buildings in Chaves County tend to be grain silos, and Pirtle was having the usual newcomer’s Roundhouse deliriums and then some.
“Oh, great,” he said, turning down the wrong corridor. “I’m already lost.”
We walked a ways more. “Let’s go this way,” he said.
We stopped. “Hmm.”
“This is why I leave early,” he said.
Pirtle found his caucus room, and I drifted away, only to see the new senator from Roswell walking around in circles again. “I’m trying to find a rest room,” he confided.
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— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal