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Anderson says he will not resign House seat

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State Rep. Phelps Anderson speaks to an audience during a November 2019 meeting of the Chaves County Federated Republican Women. Anderson, whose House District 66 includes parts of Chaves, Lea and Roosevelt counties, changed his voter registration from Republican to Decline to State following a recent vote he cast in the House Health and Human Services Committee for a bill that would repeal a currently unenforceable state statute which would outlaw most abortions in New Mexico. (Daily Record File Photo)

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A Roswell legislator who last week left the Republican Party after casting a controversial vote to repeal a 1969 state law that criminalizes most abortions said he will not resign from the seat he now holds in the New Mexico House of Representatives.

“Resignation is not a choice for me because I believe when an unpopular vote is made, we cannot expect our legislators to resign,” state Rep. Phelps Anderson said Monday.

Anderson, who represents House District 66, which includes eastern Chaves County as well as portions of neighboring Lea and Roosevelt counties, last week changed his voter registration from Republican to Decline to State. His exit from the party comes amid fallout he has received from social conservatives after a vote he cast Jan. 27. A member of the House Health and Human Services Committee, Anderson voted with Democrats to pass out of committee House Bill 7 (HB 7). The proposal would repeal a dormant state law that makes most abortions in New Mexico illegal.

The ban on abortions was made unenforceable in 1973, with the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision. However, many abortion rights activists worry that if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, the law could be used to once again criminalize abortion.

Anderson voted against the same repeal legislation in 2019 when it passed the House but was defeated in the Senate. During the Jan. 27 committee hearing, Anderson said he is pro-life but that the bill would not do anything to increase access to abortion, and merely leave in place the protections and procedures that are legal under the Roe v. Wade decision, rebutting the claims by some of the bill’s opponents.

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For decades Anderson has been active in local Republican politics, first serving in the New Mexico House from 1977 to 1981 and then later for a stint as chair of the Republican Party of Chaves County. In 2002, he made an unsuccessful run for Congress to be the party’s nominee in New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District. In 2018 he returned to the House without primary or general election opposition. He was re-elected this past November.

House Minority Leader Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, said Anderson approached him about possibly leaving the party and resigning after receiving “numerous calls of complaint” about the vote.

Townsend said he urged Anderson to seriously consider stepping down from his seat, after Anderson acknowledged that he would not have been elected if he had ran as a Decline to State in the district and that the vote was not indicative of what the majority of his constituents wanted.

“So it was problematic,” he said.

Members do not always vote in lockstep with the party, Townsend said, but they do have to be accountable to their constituents. According to the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office, as of 2021 57% of registered voters in House District 66 are Republicans.

Townsend said he has received hundreds of calls and messages from House District 66 constituents upset with Anderson.

“I haven’t had anyone call me, you know out of District 66 call me that said we really like Phelps’ vote,” he said.

However, Townsend said what has angered Anderson’s constituents the most is his departure from the Republican Party, just months after he was re-elected to his seat.

If Anderson remains in the House, he could still caucus with the House Republicans, but Townsend said Monday he does not envision that happening.

A meeting of the House Republican caucus was held soon after the news about Anderson leaving the party. Though he is known and respected among many House members, Townsend said Republican caucus members were not eager to extend an invitation for him to do so.

“Most of them said that he had chosen his path and it wasn’t with the Republican Caucus. So we wished him well, we can be friends, but he wasn’t going to caucus with us,” he said.

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

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