SANTA FE (AP) – Republicans are scrambling for legislative leadership positions after picking up enough seats to take control of the House for the first time in generations.
GOP House members meet Saturday to select their leadership slate, including a nominee to become House speaker – a powerful position in the Legislature.
Rep. Don Tripp of Socorro, one of the most veteran House Republicans, said he’s seeking the speakership. “I don’t have any driving agenda personally. I just think I may have some of the management skills to do the job,” Tripp said in an interview.
Tripp stressed his ability to work with Democrats, who remain in control of the Senate.
“When we get to the session, the members of the Legislature they’re all interested in making New Mexico a better place to live. So you just have to reach the common ground to try to move that agenda forward,” he said.
Another possible contender for the speakership or other leadership job is Rep. Nate Gentry of Albuquerque, who currently is the GOP whip, Tripp said. Gentry declined Friday to talk about his plans.
Legislative leadership races usually are cloaked in secrecy as members jockey for support among their colleagues. It’s not uncommon for leadership candidates to withdraw at the last minute after concluding they don’t have enough votes to prevail.
Republicans will make their decisions in a meeting in Albuquerque that’s closed to the public and the press.
The GOP will nominate one of its members to become speaker. But the leadership job won’t become final until a vote in January by all 70 members – 37 Republicans and 33 Democrats. The GOP nominee will win the speakership if the party remains unified in its choice.
The GOP gained four seats in Tuesday’s election, providing it with a majority for the first time in 60 years.
By controlling the House, Republicans will be able to advance measures that have been blocked for years by Democrats. That potentially includes right-to-work legislation that would prohibit unions from requiring dues from nonmembers for representing them.
Besides the speakership, Republicans will select a majority floor leader, a whip and the chairman of the GOP caucus for the upcoming Legislature.
Rep. Dennis Roch of Logan, a school superintendent, said he’s interested in becoming majority leader, a position responsible for managing House sessions and debates on legislation.
“We’re going to come out of Saturday unified. It’s not going to be divisive at all,” Roch predicted.
The speaker largely controls the legislative agenda in the House. An important source of power is the speaker’s ability to name chairmen and members of committees, which conduct much of the work of the Legislature by approving and rejecting bills. The top Senate leader has less power over assigning members to committees.
Senate Democrats hold a 25-17 majority. Senators weren’t up election this year. Their terms expire in 2016.