SANTA FE — Just 10 days into this year’s legislative session, House Republicans are reshuffling their leadership team.
After a lengthy closed-door caucus meeting Friday afternoon, the House GOP announced its 25 members had voted to remove Rep. Jason Harper of Rio Rancho as their caucus whip and replace him with Rep. Greg Nibert of Roswell.
The rare mid-session leadership change comes just two months after House Republicans voted in a new leadership team — Rep. Ryan Lane of Aztec as their new floor leader and Harper as their whip, or second in command.
In a Friday interview after the shake-up was announced, Harper wished Nibert success in his new role but declined to discuss specific reasons.
However, he did confirm the decision was not voluntary, saying, “That wasn’t my choice.”
In a statement, Lane said Harper would continue to be a “integral part” of the caucus and a leading expert in tax policy issues.
“Our caucus remains resolved to upholding conservative principles and working to make sure that New Mexicans see results and not just political grandstanding,” Lane said.
He said during a subsequent interview that House Republicans “chose to go in a different direction” but also declined to provide specifics about what sparked the change.
Harper, a six-term legislator and Sandia National Laboratory engineer, was the lone House Republican to speak last week in favor of a provision spending $2.5 million to study full-time staffing and field offices for legislators that was tucked into a session spending bill.
Several other House Republicans criticized the provision and sought unsuccessfully to have it stripped out of the bill, which ultimately passed.
Democrats have controlled the House of Representatives since 2017 and currently outnumber Republicans by a 45-25 margin in the chamber, after GOP hopes for a big gain during last November’s general election were largely dashed.
The numerical disadvantage has made if difficult for House Republicans to pass their bills during recent legislative sessions, and previous House GOP leaders frequently used parliamentary procedures to try to delay votes on Democratic-backed bills.
But Lane vowed after being elected to the leadership post that he would try to strike a new tone with top-ranking Democratic leaders. He said Friday the caucus shakeup did not represent a step away from that pledge.
“We’re still going to be working well and congenially,” said Lane, who added he had met with House Speaker Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, on Friday afternoon to discuss the change. “I don’t anticipate any issues with the culture.”