Candelaria steps down from Senate seat

Originally published in the Albuquerque Journal on October 19th, 2022

By Dan Boyd

SANTA FE – State Sen. Jacob Candelaria resigned Wednesday from the Senate about halfway through his third term, clearing the way for a successor to be named to his West Side Albuquerque district by as soon as next week.

Candelaria, who emerged as a political renegade of sorts after clashes with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration and other Democrats, said last year he would not seek election to a new term in 2024. He also changed his party affiliation from Democrat to independent.

In a letter to Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver announcing his resignation, Candelaria said he plans to focus on his private legal practice and starting a family with his husband.

He also expressed frustration with the culture at the Roundhouse, saying political dynamics often outweigh policy-driven considerations.

“It is a rare exception to the rule when a bill is voted up or down on its merits,” Candelaria said. “Instead, all too often, political tribalism and personal political ambition matter more than the common good.”

Candelaria was elected to the Senate in 2012 at age 25, becoming one of the youngest senators and the first openly gay man elected to the chamber. He was reelected to his Senate District 26 seat in 2016 and again in 2020.

During his tenure, some of the high-profile bills sponsored by Candelaria and ultimately signed into law include the 2019 Energy Transition Act, a 2017 bill that banned gay conversion therapy and a pandemic relief measure that made up to $500 million available for small-business loans.

He also teamed up last year with the Senate’s top Republican – GOP floor leader Greg Baca of Belen – on a lawsuit that challenged the governor’s authority to spend more than $1.7 billion in federal relief funds without legislative approval. The Supreme Court ultimately sided with the lawmakers in the dispute.

But his tenure at the Roundhouse was also marked by tension.

After changing his party affiliation, Candelaria lost his spot on the powerful Senate Finance Committee and accused Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, of retaliation.

Previously, Candelaria stepped down as Senate Democrats’ caucus chairman in 2018 due to friction with Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth of Santa Fe.


Meanwhile, Candelaria’s decision to step down before the end of his term will allow Bernalillo County commissioners to pick his replacement.

In an interview, he said he would back Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, as the appointee, praising Maestas’ advocacy for the city’s West Side.

Candelaria also left open the possibility of running for elected office in the future, including the 2026 race for governor, but said he was looking forward to being out of the spotlight for the time being.

“The best thing I can probably do for the institution is step back when I no longer have that same level of commitment,” he told the Journal.

For his part, Maestas confirmed his interest in being appointed to the Senate seat, saying he plans to submit his application Thursday to the county commission.

He also said his current House district is largely enveloped by Candelaria’s current Senate district. If Maestas were to be appointed to the Senate, he would then have to resign his House seat, creating another vacancy for county commissioners to fill.

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