County Commission spars over deadline to name NM senate replacement

Despite the back-and-forth, a date still hasn’t been set

By: - October 26, 2022 5:25 pm

Sen. Jacob Candelaria addresses the Senate during a redistricting debate in December. (Screenshot via nmlegis.gov livestream)

Westside Albuquerque residents might have only a few days to toss their names in the hat to become the area’s next state senator, and the tight deadline is drawing angry opposition from some Bernalillo County commissioners, who will have to make the selection.

Sen. Jacob Candelaria, a Democrat-turned-independent, announced Oct. 19 that he would be resigning that day, which was two years before his term was up. The announcement spurred frantic planning at the Bernalillo County Commission. Because District 26, which Candelaria represented, sits entirely in the county, the commission is tasked with naming his replacement.

Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, a Westside Democrat, announced quickly that he had eyes on Candelaria’s seat and would soon apply. He told Source New Mexico that he hoped the commission would act quickly. 

Jacob Candelaria resigns from New Mexico Senate; Maestas wants his seat

But in the days since Candelaria resigned, commissioners said they’ve gotten a flurry of emails from politicians and residents with opinions on when would be best to replace the 10-year senator.

The debate happens two weeks before an election, so a new commission would not be seated in time to name Candelaria’s replacement. The 60-day legislative session begins Jan. 17.  

The commission met Tuesday for nearly three hours, though Candelaria’s seat was not on the agenda. At the end of the meeting, commissioners discussed when the meeting date would be set. Three of them announced support for an Oct. 31 meeting, though they did not reach a decision.

County spokesperson Tia Bland clarified on Wednesday that the commission still has not set a date to appoint Candelaria’s replacement. It’s not clear exactly when that date will be decided.

During the Tuesday meeting, Commission Chair Adriann Barboa proposed Nov. 18, a date she said was a compromise between competing voices seeking a speedy replacement while also drawing as many applicants as possible. 

Instead, three of five commissioners — Charlene Pyskoty, Walt Benson and Steven Michael Quezada — supported a Halloween meeting. Psykoty said Candelaria’s resignation was expected and widely publicized, and it’s important to act quickly.

“I know that people did know this resignation was coming down the pipeline, and a few people have reached out to us wanting to apply for this position,” she said. “So I don’t see a reason to delay.”

But Debbie O’Malley, a Westside commissioner, said she fears the appointment is being rushed in a way that favors political insiders. Would-be senators now have only (four) days to apply. She agreed with Barboa that Nov. 18 would be a better appointment date.

“I think it’s important to be able to accept applications and give people time to apply,” O’Malley said. “Clearly, there are some folks that have the advantage, because they already knew that this was going to happen. But a lot of people did not.”

O’Malley said it was “rude,” “inconsiderate” and “disrespectful” that the commission would overrule her and Barboa. She said there’s no need to rush, given that the Legislature won’t meet for several months. 

Maestas, in a text message, told Source New Mexico that the commission needs to establish written rules for filling legislative openings to avoid all this mess.

“It’s sad that after five appointments in the past four years, the county still has no written procedures to deal with legislative vacancies,” he said. “This gives rise to petty politics and Mitch McConnell-style shenanigans. The application process should’ve started the very next day.”

If Maestas is appointed to the New Mexico Senate, the commission will also name his replacement in the state House, likely at a later date. 

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Patrick Lohmann
Patrick Lohmann

Patrick Lohmann has been a reporter since 2007, when he wrote stories for $15 apiece at a now-defunct tabloid in Gallup, his hometown. Since then, he's worked at UNM's Daily Lobo, the Albuquerque Journal and the Syracuse Post-Standard. Along the way, he's won several state and national awards for his reporting, including for an exposé on a cult-like Alcoholics Anonymous group and a feature on an Upstate New York militia member who died of COVID-19. He's thrilled to be back home in New Mexico, where he works to tell stories that resonate and make an impact.

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