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Ingle replaced as Senate minority leader

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A longtime area legislator has come up short in his bid to retain his leadership position in the New Mexico Senate.

State Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, was unsuccessful in his pursuit of another four-year term as Senate minority floor leader Tuesday when Senate Republicans chose state Sen. Greg Baca, R-Belen, for the post during their caucus leadership elections, according to a press release issued after the meeting.

Baca will begin his stint as the party’s Senate leader effective immediately.

“I’ve had opposition before and won. This time I had opposition and didn’t get enough votes,” Ingle said Wednesday in explaining his loss.

State Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, who has served as minority whip since this summer, was retained in that position while state Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, was elected minority caucus chair.

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A farmer from Portales, Ingle was first elected to the Senate in 1984 and has been minority leader since 2001. He was unopposed in November when he was reelected to a 10th four-year term representing a district comprised of parts of Chaves, Curry, De Baca, Lea and Roosevelt counties. Ingle said he will still occupy his seat in the Senate.

“It just happens and it’s not anything that is the end of the world for me or anything like that. I’ll continue to serve the people of my district,” he said.

Baca, who represents Senate District 29, which includes parts of Bernalillo and much of Valencia counties, said in an interview Wednesday he contemplated a run for minority leader for a long time but officially decided to do so after being reelected three weeks ago to a second term.

“I think as a Republican caucus we were due for a change, a little bit of a change in direction and I felt like I had something to contribute there, and so I decided to run for those reasons,” Baca said.

He added that while he does have some ideas, he does not yet have any concrete agenda ready to release. Baca said now that the leadership election is over, he and the other caucus members are starting to develop their proposals in greater detail.

Numbers on how many of the caucus’ 15 members voted for Ingle and Baca were not released, but state Sen. Bill Burt, R-Alamagordo, said he believes the election was a sign the caucus wanted a change at the top.

“And I think that the caucus wanted a different direction than we have been pursuing, in the last, well 10 years since I’ve been here, and along with some new members of the caucus they had the votes to make those changes,” he said.

Burt along with state Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, declined Monday to say who they backed in the leadership election.

However, state Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, said she voted for Ingle, in part because of his experience in the Senate, especially as it pertains to redistricting of legislative seats which is slated to happen next year.

“Regardless, after you have had an election, you all come back together, and certainly I am going to support the new leader and help in any way I can,” she said.

On Wednesday, Pirtle released a statement expressing thanks to Ingle for his years of work in the leadership and congratulating Baca on his new role.

When the Legislature is scheduled to convene in January, Democrats will have a 27 to 15 seat majority in the Senate, an increase from the 26 seats they now hold.

Given their small numbers, Burt said he expects Senate Republicans are going to be more aggressive in ensuring the Senate’s procedures and rules are correctly adhered to and they have opportunity to hear all legislation pertinent to New Mexico.

“We want to make sure we have what little advantage we have within the Senate to play on an equal field with the Democrats in the Senate,” he said.

Burt added Senate Republicans will likely also be making more of an effort to better communicate with constituents within their respective districts.

“We put out traditional press releases but I think we need to explore all digital possibilities and all other opportunities for us to make sure our public knows all of the things we are doing and the battles that we are fighting up here,” he said.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301 or breakingnews@rdrnews.com.