Sen. Candelaria resigns; Rep. Maestas hopes to fill term

Originally published in the Santa Fe New Mexican on October 19th, 2022

by Daniel J. Chacón

State Sen. Jacob Candelaria, who announced last year he would not seek a fourth term in 2024, resigned from the New Mexico Senate, effective at noon Wednesday.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Moe Maestas, D-Albuquerque, confirmed he plans to submit his name for consideration to serve out the remainder of Candelaria’s term.

“I was planning on running for the Senate in ’24 after [Candelaria] announced he wasn’t going to run,” Maestas said. “It’s very important that someone with experience represent [Senate] District 26. I think it’s going to be the most important and impactful [legislative] session we’ve had in decades, so hopefully the folks from District 26 will allow me to fill out the remainder of his term.”

Maestas has the backing of Candelaria, an independent who said he is encouraging the Bernalillo County Commission to appoint him to the seat.

“Part of the large reason is his House district encompasses the vast majority of my former Senate district [before redistricting],” Candelaria said of Maestas. “He’s been representing this community in the House for over 10 years, and I think he’s just really the obvious choice to move into this new position of leadership.”

Maestas said Senate District 26 envelops House District 16, which he has represented since 2007, with the exception of five or six precincts.

“It’s the same community,” Maestas said, adding familiarity with the Senate district and his years of experience in the Legislature make him a good candidate to fill out the remainder of Candelaria’s term.

Maestas, who is running unopposed in the Nov. 8 midterm election, also said he understands the district’s infrastructure needs and has a good rapport with a lot of community leaders.

“I think experience is the key,” he said. “We need someone to hit the ground running.”

Candelaria, who switched his party affiliation from Democrat to independent last year, often clashed with members of the Democratic Party, including Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

He teamed up with Republican Sen. Greg Baca of Belen to file a lawsuit against the governor over whether the executive or legislative branch of government had the authority to appropriate federal relief funds. The state Supreme Court ultimately ruled against the governor in the case.

In his resignation letter, Candelaria cited the lawsuit among the “meaningful contributions” he made to the well-being of the state and its residents.

He also took issue with the inner workings of the Roundhouse.

“As a private citizen, I pray that our Legislature will commit itself to real cultural and institutional reform. It is a rare exception to the rule when a bill is voted up or down on its merits,” he wrote. “Instead, all too often, political tribalism and personal political ambition matter more than the common good. Politics do not have to be this way. It is up to all of us however to demand better of those that serve in elected office. I know that I will.”

Candelaria, an attorney, said his decision to step down was “certainly a difficult decision but the absolute right decision for me and my family.”

“All politics aside, institutionally we have a system that if you are a working-age person [who] needs to work for a living, it just is near impossible to do the job,” he said. “When I joined the Legislature, I was a student. I didn’t have a growing business.”

The first openly gay man to serve in the state Senate, Candelaria said he couldn’t point to a specific event that led to his decision to step down early.

“When I got into the Legislature, I always promised myself that if I felt like I could no longer do the job, it would be time to leave, and I think that’s important,” he said. “I think you have way too many people in the Legislature who stay on way too long, and it isn’t good for the institution and isn’t good for the state. … Through the pandemic, getting married, I just came to the conclusion that I just could no longer give my whole self over to this job, and that’s what it requires.”

In the end, he said, it was a simple choice.

“It’s time for someone else to do the work,” he said. “It’s really as simple as that. It’s putting ego aside and trying to do what you think is just best for the principles that led you to run in the first place.”

Candelaria said he doesn’t feel any sense of loss or sadness for leaving the Senate early.

“I would be lying if I said I don’t feel a tremendous weight lifted off my shoulders,” he said.

Candelaria isn’t ruling out running for public office again in the future.

“What I’m most excited about and what fills my thoughts is, ‘What’s next?’ “ he said. “I’m only 35. Who knows? In several years, I may want to return to public life in some capacity. But 10 years is a long time, and giving 10 years of your life to public service is a significant contribution. So, for the time being, I’m looking forward to being an attorney, building our business and enjoying life.”

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