Longtime Westside Albuquerque Congressman Antonio “Moe” Maestas will serve two years in the New Mexico Senate, an appointment that came at the end of a Bernalillo County Commission session punctuated by accusations of “scheming” and “conspiracy theories.” .
The commission has been tasked with appointing the replacement for former Senator Jacob Candelaria, a longtime Democrat who recently changed his party affiliation to “opposing the state.” He announced his retirement on October 19, saying he wanted to start a family.
Maestas, who has represented a Westside seat for 16 years, immediately expressed an interest in Candelaria’s seat, and Candelaria has left his support behind.
District commission delays over deadline to name replacement for NM Senate
Since the district’s lines are entirely within Bernalillo County, the commission must name his successor. Two commissioners immediately raised concerns about Maesta and whether Candelaria’s seat should be filled before others had a chance to run for the seat.
Another commissioner countered that delaying the vote would deprive the area of an MP for too long. Candelaria also said in posts on Twitter that the extension of the deadline is a Mitch McConnell-style tactic aimed at delaying the appointment until a new commission sits in early January — one that may be less favorable to Maestas.
Commissioner Debbie O’Malley, who was pushing for the appointment to be postponed, also expressed concern Tuesday night about Maestas’ wife, lobbyist Vanessa Alarid, and a $5,000 donation she gave to a commissioner, Charlene Pyskoty who ended up voting for Maestas. O’Malley said the donation was a way to buy Pyskoty’s vote, and O’Malley tried unsuccessfully to get Pyskoty to back down and suspend the nomination vote until an ethics complaint was heard on the matter on December 3.
“I think she should withdraw from voting to replace the senator because Ms. Alarid’s husband is one of the nominees,” O’Malley said. “I think that’s important because instead of an election, we’re making an appointment.”
Pyskoty denied any wrongdoing and said she does not give Maestas special treatment. She also said that his spouse’s position as a lobbyist should not affect the appointment before them.
“Vanessa Alarid is not the candidate here. It’s her husband. And he’s never given me a dime,” Psykoty said. “And I only spoke to him a few times. During this process, I spoke to all candidates, all applicants.”
Pyskoty and O’Malley previously disagreed sharply on the matter. The last time the issue was raised at the commission’s Oct. 25 meeting, O’Malley called Pyskoty an insult after the meeting, according to the Albuquerque Journal. She apologized Tuesday, but she also explained what she said was a “scheme” a year in the making to get Maestas a Senate seat.
She said during the meeting that Maestas tried to use redistribution at the county and state levels to ensure he had an easy route to Candelaria’s seat, and she accused him of depriving voters of the ability to choose their next to influence the senator.
“What is disturbing … and very suspicious is the fact that Rep. Maestas and Sen. Candelaria have denied constituents in their districts, their constituents, the people they should be fighting for, the right to elect their representative in the legislature in the next two years,” she said.
Maestas, who could be reached shortly after the meeting, denied that he had any “plan” to get the appointment. He said he learned along with the rest of the public that Candelaria was stepping down. And he said O’Malley accused him of the same tactics she used in her political career as Albuquerque Commissioner and City Councilman.
“It’s just amazing that people judge other people by what they would do,” he said. “That’s how she rolls. She thinks everyone else rolls like her.”
O’Malley could not be reached after the meeting.
Three commissioners – a majority – voted for Maestas. They are Pyskoty, Vice Chairman Walt Benson and Steven Michael Quezada.
Maestas and seven other candidates threw their names in the hat for senator nomination. They included Julie Radoslovich, principal of South Valley Academy, Steve Gallegos, former county commissioner and former Albuquerque City Councilman, and Em Ward, a physician.
Radoslovich received two votes for her appointment, the most of any other applicant. O’Malley and Chairman Adriann Barboa voted for her. And about a dozen supporters stood up to speak for her, including former students and colleagues.
Quezada, who attended the meeting from afar, nominated Maestas for the seat, his voice coming through the overhead speakers. Before voting via the screen Tuesday night, he accused O’Malley of dismissing a half-baked theory about Maestas without evidence.
“Putting forward conspiracy theories 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 to the video stream. “That’s okay. The whole world saw that. But that’s the truth. You don’t have any facts to back your conspiracy theories. I don’t think this was a place to have this conversation.”
Quezada had hinted minutes earlier that Barboa — the leader and herself a registered lobbyist — could be conspiring to nominate a state legislature to lobby for when the January legislature begins.
“If there is a commissioner who is himself or herself a registered lobbyist appointing legislators or appointed officials, maybe that could also be seen as a conflict of interest,” he said. “And I hope the news media will look into that too.”
Towards the end of the meeting, Barboa defended her lobbying on behalf of reproductive rights and affordable health care. According to the Openness Project, she has been committed to Forward Together since 2013.
“So I don’t work as a lobbyist for corporations or companies,” she said. “I work for a non-profit organization and I deal with problems from the people.”
Maestas will soon be sworn in as a senator.
The commission must also replace him in the state House of Representatives since his district is also in Bernalillo County. It is not yet clear whether this appointment will be so controversial.
However, the commission voted on Tuesday to try to clean up the appointments process to potentially avoid that kind of harshness. Now, within three weeks of receiving a letter of resignation from a lawmaker leaving his seat, the commission chair must call a special session to set a date.
The commission has appointed 11 alternate state legislatures since 2015.
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