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State GOP urges Anderson to quit Legislature

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State Rep. Phelps Anderson, pictured here during a November 2019 meeting of the Chaves County Federated Republican Women, changed his voter registration from ‘Republican’ to ‘Decline to State’ following a recent vote for a bill that would repeal a currently unenforceable state statute that would outlaw most abortions in New Mexico. Anderson’s House District 66 includes parts of Chaves, Lea and Roosevelt counties. (Daily Record File Photo)

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Backlash against a southeast New Mexico lawmaker’s recent decision to leave the Republican Party continued Wednesday, when the state GOP called on him to resign from the Legislature.

Members of the Republican Party of New Mexico’s Executive Board voted unanimously for a statement Tuesday night urging state Rep. Phelps Anderson of Roswell to resign from his seat, following news he had changed his voter registration from Republican to Decline to State (DTS). His exit from the party came after joining with six Democrats to vote for passage of House Bill 7 (HB 7), which would repeal a dormant 1969 state statute that outlaws most abortions in New Mexico. 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.

“Rep. Anderson should step down immediately. He has betrayed the people of his district. He ran as a Republican and he’s chosen to leave those who had trusted him to represent them in Santa Fe,” Steve Pearce, chairman of the Republican Party of New Mexico, stated in a press release.

Anderson, whose House District 66 consists of areas of Chaves, Lea and Roosevelt counties, declined to comment Wednesday. Anderson though told the Roswell Daily Record Monday that he will not resign because he doesn’t believe legislators should have to step down when they cast a controversial vote.

The release states the Republican parties of Lea and Roosevelt counties have also asked Anderson to resign from his seat. Claire Chase, chair of the Republican Party of Chaves County, said Saturday that late last week she asked him to consider resigning when he told her that he is no longer a Republican.

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Anderson has been an active Republican for decades. From 1977 to 1981, he served in the New Mexico House, first being elected as the body’s youngest member. He has also in the past served as chair of the Republican Party of Chaves County and in 2002, made an unsuccessful bid to be the party’s nominee to succeed U.S. Rep. Joe Skeen, R-New Mexico, in the race for New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District.

In 2018, Anderson was elected to the seat he now holds in the New Mexico House of Representatives, in a staunchly Republican district.

Meanwhile, with Anderson having left the party, House Republicans on Wednesday announced that state Rep. Candy Ezzell, R-Roswell, will fill the Republican seat on the House Appropriations and Finance Committee that was left open when Anderson left the party.

House Minority Leader Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, said Wednesday Ezzell was chosen to fill the seat because she will effectively represent the interests of both House Republicans and her constituents.

“She is a dedicated Republican, consistent in her representation of her constituents and their values,” Townsend said in a statement. He added that while Anderson remains on the committee, he no longer represents the Republican Party.

Whether Anderson will retain his committee assignments as a member of both the House Appropriations and Finance Committee and the House Health and Human Services Committee will ultimately be up to Speaker Brian Egolf, a Democrat, now that Anderson is no longer caucusing with the Republicans.

Babaak Parcham, a spokesperson for New Mexico House Democrats, said Wednesday there have been no changes at this time to Anderson’s committee assignments.

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