Maestas appointed to state Senate following bitter debate and dark accusations 

By: - November 16, 2022 6:54 am

Bernalillo County Commissioner Charlene Pyskoty, on screen at left, speaks during the meeting Tuesday. Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas will be replace outgoing Sen. Jacob Candelaria in District 26, after a majority of commissioners named Maestas.

Longtime Westside Albuquerque Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas will serve two years in the New Mexico Senate, an appointment that came at the end of a Bernalillo County Commission meeting punctuated with accusations of “schemes” and “conspiracy theories.”

The commission was tasked with appointing the replacement for former Sen. Jacob Candelaria, a longtime Democrat who recently changed his party affiliation to “decline to state.” He announced his resignation Oct. 19, saying he wants to start a family. 

Maestas, who has represented a Westside seat for 16 years, immediately announced his interest in Candelaria’s seat, and Candelaria threw his support behind him. 

County Commission spars over deadline to name NM senate replacement

Because the district’s lines are fully within Bernalillo County, the commission is required to name his replacement. Two commissioners immediately raised concerns about Maestas and whether Candelaria’s seat should would be filled before others had a chance to apply for the seat.

Another commissioner countered that delaying the vote would deprive the area of a representative for too long. Candelaria, in posts on Twitter, also said extending the timeline was a Mitch McConnell-style tactic aimed at stalling the appointment until a new commission is seated in early January — one that might be less favorable to Maestas.  

Commissioner Debbie O’Malley, who pushed for postponing the appointment, also raised concerns Tuesday night about Maestas’ wife, lobbyist Vanessa Alarid, and a $5,000 donation she gave to a commissioner who ultimately voted for Maestas, Charlene Pyskoty. O’Malley said the donation was a way to buy Pyskoty’s vote, and O’Malley unsuccessfully tried to get Pyskoty to recuse herself and also to pause the appointment vote until after an ethics complaint regarding the matter is heard on Dec. 3. 

“I believe she should recuse herself from the vote for the senator replacement, because Ms. Alarid’s husband is one of the nominees,” O’Malley said. “I think this is important because we are making an appointment in lieu of an election.”

Pyskoty denied any wrongdoing and said she wasn’t giving Maestas any special treatment. She also said that his spouse’s position as a lobbyist should have no bearing on the appointment before them.

“Vanessa Alarid is not the candidate here. It’s her husband. And he has never given me one thin dime,” Psykoty said. “And I’ve only spoken to him just a handful of times. I’ve spoken to all the candidates, all the applicants, in this process.” 

Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, right, during a legislative meeting in December. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source NM)

Pyskoty and O’Malley have disagreed sharply on the matter before. The last time the topic came up at the commission’s Oct. 25 meeting, O’Malley called Pyskoty a slur after the meeting, according to the Albuquerque Journal. She apologized on Tuesday, but she also spelled out what she said was a “scheme” a year in the making to get Maestas a Senate seat. 

She said during the meeting that Maestas has tried to use redistricting at the county and state level to ensure he had an easy path to Candelaria’s seat, and she accused him of depriving constituents the chance to weigh in on their next senator. 

“What is disturbing … and very suspect is the fact that Rep. Maestas and Sen. Candelaria denied the voters in their districts, their constituents, the people they’re supposed to be fighting for, the right to choose their representative in the Legislature for over the next two years,” she said.

Maestas, reached briefly after the meeting, denied that he’d “schemed” to get the appointment. He said he learned along with the rest of the public that Candelaria was going to resign. And he said O’Malley is accusing him of the same tactics she’s employed in her political career as a commissioner and Albuquerque city councilor. 

“It’s just amazing that people judge other people based on what they would do,” he said. “That’s how she rolls. She thinks everybody else rolls like her.”

O’Malley could not be reached after the meeting.

Three commissioners —  a majority — voted for Maestas. They are Pyskoty, vice-chair Walt Benson and Steven Michael Quezada. 

Maestas and seven other applicants threw their names in the hat to be appointed senator. They included Julie Radoslovich, director of the South Valley Academy, along with retired county commissioner and former Albuquerque City Councilor Steve Gallegos, and Em Ward, a doctor. 

Radoslovich got two votes in favor of her appointment, the most of any other applicant. O’Malley and Chairperson Adriann Barboa voted for her. And about a dozen supporters stood up to speak in her favor, including former students and colleagues. 

Quezada, who attended the meeting remotely, nominated Maestas for the seat, his voice piped in on the overhead speakers. Before he voted Tuesday night, via screen, he accused O’Malley of throwing out a half-baked theory about Maestas without evidence. 

“To put conspiracy theories forward sounds a lot like MAGA (Make America Great Again) to me. But at the end of the day – yeah, you can roll your eyes,” he said, apparently seeing O’Malley’s reaction on the video stream. “That’s okay. The whole world saw that. But that’s the truth. You have no facts to base your conspiracy theories. I think this wasn’t a place to have that conversation.”

Quezada had, minutes earlier, suggested that Barboa — the chair and herself a registered lobbyist — might be conspiring to appoint a state lawmaker that she could lobby when the legislative session begins in January. 

“If there’s a commissioner that’s a registered lobbyist that is herself or himself, appointing legislators or appointed officials, perhaps maybe that also could be looked at as a conflict of interest,” he said. “And I’m hoping that the news media will also look into that.”

Barboa, near the end of the meeting, defended her lobbying as being on behalf of reproductive rights and affordable health care. She has lobbied for Forward Together since 2013, according to the Openness Project. 

”So I don’t work as a lobbyist with corporations or businesses,” she said. “I get to work for a nonprofit and with issues, by the people.”

Maestas will soon be sworn in as senator. 

The commission will also have to replace him in the state’s House of Representatives, because his district also sits in Bernalillo County. It’s not clear yet whether that appointment will be as contentious.

However, the commission did vote on Tuesday to try to clean up the appointment process to potentially avoid this kind of acrimony. Now, the commission chair will be required to set a special meeting to name an appointment within three weeks of receiving a resignation letter from a lawmaker leaving ar seat. 

The commission has named 11 replacement state lawmakers since 2015.

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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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