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New Mexico state senator leaves Democratic Party after winning lawsuit against governor

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Bethany Blankley | The Center Square contributor

(The Center Square) – On the first day of the special legislative session Monday, state Senator Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, announced he was leaving the Democratic Party.

Candelaria switched to become the sole Independent in the state Senate and the second in the state legislature, following a Republican in the state House who left the Republican Party earlier this year.

Candelaria switched his party affiliation to “declined to state,” which according to New Mexico’s election code allows individuals to have no affiliation to a political party.

The special session was convened for the legislature to address redistricting based on 2020 Census data and to allocate more than $1 billion in federal relief money.

Candelaria’s announcement comes after he and Republican state Senator Greg Baca filed a motion with the state Supreme Court last week seeking the court to censure Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham after they had defeated her in court.

The two lawmakers sued the governor, arguing she allocated federal relief money the state received through the American Rescue Plan Act in violation of the state constitution. The state Supreme Court agreed and barred the governor, state treasurer and all other state officials from transferring or committing federal funds that were appropriated without legislative approval.

After the ruling, Candelaria and Baca said the justices “preserved the appropriating authority of the legislature and affirmed the separation and balance of powers enshrined in our Constitution.

“The governor’s attempts to assume unilateral control of our state by bucking the authority of her office and the state constitution are an egregious power grab, and we are thankful that the high court has ruled in favor of the people,” they added.

Last week’s censure motion was filed after the senators learned that the administration had made two payments from the ARP funds totaling about $283,000 despite the court’s ruling saying it couldn’t.

The governor's office said the payments were allocated before the court's decision and since then, the funds were redeposited.

It’s not just the governor Candelaria said is frustrated with; he said he’s frustrated with partisan politics in New Mexico.

The two-party system, Candelaria said, is flawed because it leaves “no room to debate, no room for discussion, and more importantly no adherence to the rule of law.”

He described political partisanship as a “virus” and criticized both parties, saying, “I don’t think anyone can look at the events of January 6, 2021, or many of the unconstitutional acts of this governor, and not conclude that this partisan virus is starting to affect who we are as a country.”

Candelaria also accused Democrats of ignoring legislation proposed by Republicans or not voting for Democratic-sponsored bills because the lawmaker wasn’t “progressive enough” or hadn’t “signed on the dotted line where you gave up your integrity, and your common sense to a political party.

“If the Republicans were in the majority, it would be absolutely the reverse,” he said.

He also claimed, “the Democratic Party has been asleep at the wheel for decades, on issues that we claim matter most to communities of color, and the poor.”

New Mexico Democrats are “deliberately” gerrymandering state Senate districts in proposed maps, he added. To his former Democratic colleagues, he said, “You would strip representation from people that I represent, many of whom are Hispanic, simply because it benefits you at the ballot box.”

Candelaria is the second state legislator this year to leave his political party. Rep. Phelps Anderson of Roswell left the Republican Party, also becoming an Independent, after he received blowback for voting to repeal a 1969 law criminalizing abortion.

Before he announced he was leaving the Democratic Party, Candelaria had announced earlier this year that he wasn’t running for reelection.