The return of the Republican Party to majority status in the New Mexico House of Representatives, after sixty years in the wilderness, is the political story of the decade--up to now. Three points:
First, this is healthy. Even if some policy directions taken by the new leadership should prove wrongheaded (and I don't necessarily predict this), new leadership in itself is welcome relief. Shifts in leadership stimulate competition, transparency, and accountability. They generate new ideas, new perspectives. After decades of knee-jerk, tired and predictable power relations within a major branch of government, even youthful brashness and chest-thumping by some of the new victors, should it emerge, can create a healthy dynamic. Yes: Democrats, independents, this is good; get used to the competition. It isn't going to go away.
Second, while this triumph is due in part to the colossal, accumulated failure of the Democratic Party--at the top, middle, and bottom levels--in recent decades, it is not entirely so. A cadre of Republicans worked for decades to improve the competitive environment. For example, it took hard work to counter the gerrymandering of districts: Rod Adair, Pat Rogers, and others spent years leveling this field. Others, like Jay McClesky, helped create a solid local fundraising infrastructure linked to the national party. Among the major longtime godfathers of success are Mickey Barnett and the late John Dendahl. There are many others. Without their work this power shift could not have happened. Moreover, thankfully, leaders within the Republican Party have avoided the temptation to follow national party ideology, at least up to now, focusing instead on problem-solving at state and local levels rather than simple-minded one-size-fits-all formulas. Another way of saying this: while exiled in the hinterlands, many Republicans learned something about New Mexico. This, too, is good.
Third, on a more personal note, as I have interacted with some of the legislative leaders in the Republican Party (I am still a Democrat), I can say I am impressed by the aplomb, the energy, wit, and sincerity of many of them. Don Tripp is not known for his Republican views, but for his moderation, tact, and common sense. If he were to exchange positions with, say, John Arthur Smith, a Democrat, unless you were truly involved you would not notice the difference in voting behavior. Ditto for Larry Larranaga. Conrad James, who regained a seat in the House this year, is another case in point: I've seen him struggle to understand a complicated issue, from various perspectives, and make up his own mind. Rod Montoya is a seasoned campaign pro, experienced in grass roots problem solving in the Lt. Governor's office, and full of energy. There is talent here.
The achievement of the Republican Party last November was not a freak accident, a weird turn of events. It was the result of years of hard work combined with the unsatisfactory performance, for many years, of those previously in charge. For most of us politics is not about cheering for the party or lamenting the victories of the other team; it is about creating effective governance and New Mexico has a long ways to go in this department. We wish the new leaders the best.