Copyright © 2023 Albuquerque Journal
AZTEC – For Ryan Lane, the day often starts in the middle of the night.
The alarm goes off at 3:25 and by 4 a.m. he’s out the door, training for long-distance races that can reach 100 miles.
It’s a routine now interrupted by legislative sessions in Santa Fe.
Lane – a long-haired ultramarathon runner who owns a law practice and an ice cream shop – is the new Republican leader in the state House of Representatives, a quick ascent in just his third year at the Capitol.
He is part of a sweeping overhaul of leadership in the House, a chamber known for partisan clashes, slow-moving debates and overnight floor sessions.
Democrats are now led by House Speaker Javier Martínez, 41, an attorney in Albuquerque who lists as a priority the needs of working families.
And Republicans have Lane, 40, an attorney in Aztec who describes support for personal liberty as his foundational principle.
Lane doesn’t sugar-coat those early-morning runs or the challenges facing New Mexico. But he is eager to see how the session plays out with new leadership on both sides of the aisle.
“To me, it’s the ideal opportunity to set a new tone in the House,” Lane told the Journal in an interview.
Lane describes himself as a “strong conservative” like his predecessor, James Townsend of Artesia, and he said the House will still see plenty of three-hour debates – a strategy that slows the pace of Democratic legislation.
But Lane also hinted at some changes, and his legislative track record has demonstrated a focus on the substance of legislation rather than broader political attacks.
“We intend to remind New Mexicans of the benefit of Republican policies,” Lane said. “I think, as a party, we’ve lost sight of that.”
The Republican members of the House elevated Lane to minority leader in November after a disappointing election cycle.
Townsend, who had led the House Republican caucus since 2018, didn’t seek reelection to the post.
The change came after Republicans failed to cut into the healthy majority Democrats hold in the House after an aggressive campaign that accused Democrats of doing too little to combat New Mexico’s high crime rates.
Democrats struck back with their own ads, often highlighting GOP opposition to abortion rights.
The end result was almost no change in the composition of the chamber. Republicans had a net gain of only one seat, which had been held by a conservative-leaning independent and former Republican.
Once again outnumbered in the House – by a 45-25 margin – Republicans will have to secure bipartisan support to get their legislation into law.
On that front, Lane has had at least some success.
He co-sponsored two education bills – one on stipends to help train new teachers, the other on incentives for retired teachers returning to work – signed by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham last year.
State Rep. Meredith Dixon, D-Albuquerque, said she liked working with Lane in past sessions when they served together on the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, a key budget-writing panel.
She and Lane are now teaming up on legislation intended to support development of the law enforcement workforce but also public defenders.
“He’s really smart, very thoughtful and pragmatic,” Dixon said.
Lane grew up in Aztec – a small town along the Animas River, near the Colorado state line – where he wrestled and played baseball. He left for college, earning a baseball scholarship to Dordt University in Iowa.
His bachelor’s degree is in math, but he’s spent much of his adult life as an attorney. He went to law school at Liberty University in Virginia and clerked for a federal judge in Phoenix before returning to New Mexico.
His legal work includes serving as city attorney for Bloomfield, but he also has a law practice in Aztec, where he handles business formations, property transfers, and similar work.
Bloomfield Mayor Cynthia Atencio describes Lane as approachable and a good listener. As Bloomfield’s attorney, she noted, Lane works for a mix of Republican and Democratic officials.
“From what I’ve seen from him,” Atencio said, “it’s not just about party lines. … He listens to each of us.”
Lane and his wife, Nicole, have two sons – one in high school, the other an adult who works in the Aztec area.
And they share ownership of the Vanilla Moose, the kind of hometown ice cream shop that draws a girls softball team celebrating a state championship and employs teens looking for their first job.
“It’s the place to be seen on a summer evening in Aztec,” Lane said.
Nicole makes the ice cream herself. And there’s mentorship, too, Lane said, with his family helping high school graduates employed at the shop open and fund a Roth IRA, a type of investment retirement account.
Lane also goes for long runs – really long runs.
Just last month, he ran 100 miles over the course of 26 hours as part of a fundraiser for the Aztec wrestling team. It snowed.
For long-distance races, Lane said, aid stations are typically established about every 10 miles for hydration and nutrition. But there’s no place or time for naps.
Lane trains year-round for ultramarathons, necessitating the early wake ups.
“It’s terrible,” Lane said. “The alarm goes off at 3:25 and you never get used to that. … But I found it carries over into life whenever you face challenges or anything that throws you out of your comfort zone.”
The job of a minority leader isn’t necessarily to make friends.
Exhausting the clock – and the opposition – is part of the minority strategy in both chambers. It’s intended to produce leverage and force the majority to pick and choose which bills to take up on the floor in legislative sessions limited to 30 or 60 days.
Any measure that doesn’t pass both chambers by noon on the last day is dead.
But former House Minority Leader Tom Taylor – a Farmington Republican who left the Legislature in 2014 – said a minority leader also has a chance to build relationships with the other party that can help the caucus gets its own bills or amendments passed.
“You have the ability to go to leadership on the other side and try to find middle ground,” Taylor said.
But he said Lane will discover that a leadership position is much different from serving as a rank-and-file member. And he noted that Lane – who was elected in 2020 – is just starting his third year in the House.
“He can handle the job,” Taylor said. “It’s just he’s short on some experience that he’s going to have to gather up in one bite.”
The week before the session started, Lane, for his part, said he wasn’t taking the new assignment for granted.
“You’re a fool if you don’t have nervousness entering leadership in the Legislature,” he said, regardless of tenure. “There are days when I’m incredibly excited, and there are days where I feel like I have impostor syndrome.”
But he hopes, he said, to earn a reputation as a problem-solver.