Changing of the guard: New generation of leaders in New Mexico, nation

Diane Denish
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On Nov. 17, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced she would not run for a leadership position in the Democratic Caucus for the new session of Congress. Given the recent attack on her husband Paul by a right-wing extremist and the razor thin victory giving Republicans a majority in the House, it wasn’t totally unexpected.

Pelosi, in her gracious and eloquent style, recounted her path from homemaker to House Speaker, her proud accomplishments with Democrat and Republican presidents. She reminded her colleagues of their shared values. She emphasized the fragility of the republic, making a brief but veiled reference to Jan. 6. And she underscored the voters’ rejection of violence and insurrection in the recent mid-terms and in her words “in doing so, gave proof that our flag was still there.” Still there indeed.

Then after thanking those who made her success possible, from family to staff and colleagues, she passed the torch, saying that “the hour has come for a new generation of leadership.”

We now know that the new leadership for Democrats in the U. S. House is young, diverse and experienced. Hakeem Jeffries, D-NY, is the first Black congressperson of either party to hold the top leadership position. Three of them including Jeffries, Katherine Clark, D-Mass., and Pete Aguilar, D-CA, have an average age of 52 – 30 years below the average age of their predecessors. They have just the right amount of experience in the House—eight to ten years. And Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-SC, rounds out the team with 30 years of experience.

This is leadership that represents the changing demographics of the country.

We don’t yet know who will be in the Republican leadership so we will wait and see.

Meanwhile in Florida, Maxwell Frost, the first-Generation Z (ages 18 to 29) congressperson was elected. Frost, who turned 25 in January, won with 60% of the vote in a four-way race. In a recent interview, he was thoughtful, articulate, and at the same time enthusiastic. What caught my attention was his understanding that many of the Generation Z issues are cross generational – healthcare, education, climate change impacts, and gun safety.

At home in New Mexico, transitional leadership is also occurring. Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, will follow House Speaker Brian Egolf, of Santa Fe, who chose not to run for re-election. Martinez’s team will be Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, Reena Szczepanski, D-Santa Fe, and Raymundo Lara, D-Doña Ana, seasoned members combined with a newly elected woman of East Indian descent.

Perhaps the more interesting changes are on the other side of the aisle. Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, will be minority leader. Lane, who was just re-elected to his second term, replaces Rep. Jim Townsend, R-Artesia. It’s a welcome change, as Townsend had become an obstructionist and was viewed as having little desire to work across the aisle. Lane, however, talked about ways to work together on issues such as tax reform, crime, and education. He set a different tone than Townsend and his sidekick Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, who was defeated as Republican whip by Rep. Jason Harper of Rio Rancho. Rep. Gail Armstrong, R-Magdalena, the new Republican caucus chair, is respected by both sides for her open, calm, and cooperative style.

Whether it’s Speaker Pelosi passing the baton to a new generation, Floridians electing the first Gen Z congressman, or New Mexico House Republicans taking a fresh approach with younger, more open leaders, there is no question there is a changing of the guard.

Let’s cross our fingers and wish them well as they confront the challenges of the present and make decisions that will impact generations to come.

This article originally appeared on Carlsbad Current-Argus: Changing of the guard: New generation of leaders in New Mexico