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Opinion: Roswell Rep. Anderson no publicity hound


Last updated 2/25/2021 at 4:22pm

Say what you will about state Rep. Phelps Anderson of Roswell, but he's no publicity hound.

Anderson, who recently quit the Republican Party, voted with Democrats to repeal New Mexico's 1969 anti-abortion law.

The decision marked a turnabout for Anderson. In 2019, he voted to retain the old, poorly written and unenforceable law criminalizing abortion.

Not this time. Anderson, now an independent, sided with 39 Democrats in voting to do away with the anti-abortion law.

The repeal measure, Senate Bill 10, cleared the House of Representatives on a 40-30 vote.

Next, the bill goes to Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who has said she will sign it.

Anderson has sidestepped my questions about why he changed his stand about the anti-abortion measure.

But he hasn't lost his sense of humor, even after the state Republican Party called on him to resign from the Legislature.

After leaving the Republican Party, Anderson changed his voter registration to "declined to state," New Mexico's loose version of independents.

When I asked Anderson, 69, if he had any response to the Republicans who want him out, he sent me a wry message.

"On behalf of the entire DTS delegation, I am ready for lunch," he wrote.

Anderson, of Roswell, is getting almost all the heat for breaking party ranks on abortion.

Far less attention has gone to the six Democrats in the House of Representatives who joined with Republicans in a failed attempt to save the anti-abortion statute.

In most cases, hometown voters weren't surprised or riled by their Democratic representatives siding with Republicans.

Four of the Democrats — Reps. Anthony Allison, D. Wonda Johnson, Patricia Lundstrom and Candie Sweetser — also voted in 2019 to retain the old anti-abortion law.

All from rural districts, they were re-elected last year without difficulty.

Political life might get more difficult for Rep. Harry Garcia, D-Grants, who changed his position. He voted to repeal the anti-abortion law in 2019, but did the opposite this time.

The other House Democrat who voted in favor of the old law was Rep. Ambrose Castellano. He is a freshman from Serafina in San Miguel County.

Abortion was a more critical issue to the future of state senators.

Eight Senate Democrats in 2019 voted with Republicans to keep the anti-abortion statute in place. Seven of the eight were targeted in primaries. The eighth senator would have been as well, but he died before the election.

Voters ousted five of the Democratic senators in the primary election of 2020. Those who were defeated included Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces and Sen. John Arthur Smith of Deming, who was the powerful chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

But the vote on abortion wasn't necessarily what did in Democratic senators who lost re-election campaigns.

Critics called Smith and Papen leaders of "the corporate Democratic coalition."

Smith in particular had angered the liberal wing of the Democratic Party with his votes on financial matters. He once tried to delay a tax increase for single people making more than $210,000 a year.

Another of the ousted Democratic senators, Richard Martinez of Ojo Caliente, lost his seat after being convicted of two petty misdemeanors — a deceptive classification for his crimes.

Martinez slammed his Mercedes SUV into a Jeep in Española, seriously injuring two people.

A judge convicted Martinez of reckless driving and aggravated drunken driving. He served five days in jail, then continued with his re-election bid.

Democratic primary voters were in no mood to return Martinez to the Senate. He lost his bid for a sixth term by a landslide.

Of all the legislators who have gone against their party's majority on abortion, only Anderson has been pressed to resign.

He was just re-elected in November, and has shown no interest in quitting. Anderson told me he was pleased the five bills he's sponsoring were moving forward.

Anderson can do as he pleases during the next two years, but he knows what's ahead if he runs again in 2022.

An independent has almost no chance to win a legislative election in New Mexico. Beyond that, the Republican hierarchy would label Anderson a traitor and pour money into defeating him.

Votes on abortion don't often make or break a politician in New Mexico. Anderson looks like the exception.

He wasn't the only one to go against the grain on abortion. He's just the only Republican.

Contact Milan Simonich at: [email protected]


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