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Congressional speculation abounds


Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

A Roswell legislator mentioned in political circles as a possible successor to U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce has told the Daily Record he will not run for Congress, but he hopes another local Republican will.

State Rep. Greg Nibert told the Daily Record this week he will not run for Congress next year.
“While I have been honored by several people inquiring and asking me to consider running for Congress, I think it’s in the best interests of the people in southeast New Mexico, or southern New Mexico, to have a younger guy run,” Nibert said. “If I were 10 years younger, I probably would jump in the middle of it. But I’m almost 60 years old and I think there’s enough old guys in Washington. So, my time has come and gone for that. I will not be running, but will be interested in trying to get someone from our community to step up to the plate and run, whether that be Cliff Pirtle or someone else.”
State Sen. Cliff Pirtle, also a Roswell Republican, told the newspaper this week he’s thinking about running for Congress.
Pearce’s flirtation with a possible run for the GOP nomination for governor, with the Republican primary less than a year away, has prompted speculation on who might run to succeed the seven-term congressman from Hobbs.
Pirtle, a 2004 Roswell High School graduate, said Wednesday he is interested in running for Pearce’s congressional seat as Pearce eyes a race for governor. Incumbent Republican Gov. Susana Martinez cannot run for a third term in 2018 due to term limits. Pearce is currently the only Republican among New Mexico’s five-member congressional delegation.
Pearce and Pirtle squared off in the June 2010 Republican primary for the 2nd Congressional District, when Pearce won 84.8 percent of votes cast, compared to Pirtle’s 15.2 percent.
“My wife and I have just been discussing the possibility, weighing the pros and the cons,” said Pirtle, a 31-year-old farmer who has worked at Pirtle Farms for over 12 years.
Pirtle ran unopposed in 2016 for a second four-year term for Senate District 32 and is not up for re-election until 2020, meaning he would not have to choose next year whether to run for re-election to his Senate seat or for Congress. Pirtle said he would make a decision about a congressional bid by Aug. 1. The Republican and Democratic primaries are June 5.
Not since former Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Skeen retired from Congress in January 2003 after 11 two-year terms has the state’s southernmost congressional district had a representative who resided in Roswell.
If Pearce were to step out of the congressional race, political insiders say a vacuum would quickly develop in the 2nd Congressional District that spans the southern half of New Mexico and represents a very varied constituency from those who work in the Permian Basin oil fields of southeast New Mexico, where Pearce is from, to more progressive cities of Las Cruces and Silver City, where the oil and natural gas industry is held in far less regard.
The GOP’s geographic influences within the 2nd Congressional District were evident in December when Roswell’s Andrea Moore defeated Victor Contreras Jr. of Las Cruces by one vote, 80 to 79, for the post of 2nd Congressional District vice chair, one of eight officers elected in December by state Republican Party leaders. Only members of the State Central Committee living in the 2nd Congressional District could vote in the party race, which was Moore’s first run for a state or local party leadership position.
Moreover, Moore succeeded Chaves County Commissioner Will Cavin of Roswell, who had been the vice chair of the 2nd Congressional District for two years. Cavin succeeded former Chaves County Commissioner Alice Eppers of Roswell as the vice chairman from the 2nd Congressional District, geographically one of largest congressional districts in the nation, stretching from Hobbs to the Arizona border.
“I think for Chaves County and Roswell’s sake, we need to make sure that somebody from our community does run,” said Nibert, a former two-term Chaves County Commissioner, chairman of the Republican Party of Chaves County from 2001-03 and a resident partner in the Roswell law office of Hinkle Shanor, assigned to the law firm’s Oil and Gas Department.
“I’m encouraging some people to think about it,” Nibert continued. “It’s a great honor that people have even thought that I would have the ability to represent CD 2 in Washington. But, I will not be running.”
Caleb Grant, chairman of the Republican Party of Chaves County, said much hinges on Pearce’s decision.
“If Pearce does make that decision, obviously it will open up the seat,” said Grant, 31, adding he would not run for Congress next year. “Southeast New Mexico has held that seat for a long time. It has a certain set of values and industry at its core. Many people are waiting to see what Pearce decides, and then that would change the landscape of the 2018 election.
“We’re waiting to see who declares.”
The 2nd Congressional District includes all of Chaves, Catron, Cibola, De Baca, Doña Ana, Eddy, Grant, Guadalupe, Hidalgo, Lea, Lincoln, Luna, Otero, Sierra and Socorro counties, and portions of Bernalillo, McKinley, Roosevelt and Valencia counties. The congressional district is geographically the fifth largest district in the nation, and the largest one that does not comprise an entire state.
Interim editor Jeff Tucker can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 302, or at editor@rdrnews.com.