Senator Antonio “Moe” Maestas submitted the following article for publication in The Blue Review in response to an article we ran Tuesday. The Blue Review has not edited the letter and is publishing it in full. Any assertions of fact, allegations, or commentary are those of the author, not The Blue Review. The Blue Review does not normally run letters to the editor, but in these exceptional circumstances it makes sense to do so.
By Sen. Antonio “Moe” Maestas
The New Year brings tremendous opportunity for hard working Democrats to make impactful changes to our state. With the power the electorate has given us comes great responsibility. We have a duty to shape government for decades to come and responsibility to provide an example to the nation of how Democrats govern. In doing so we cannot skirt the rule of law or take shortcuts. With strong, principled leadership we can achieve true success while still being true to our values.
Allow me to explain how recently a handful of our leaders fell short. Let’s recall when on February 13, 2016, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died leaving a vacancy on the Supreme Court in Obama’s final year in office. President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland and awaited Senate confirmation.
Then something very strange happened.
Within a few hours after Scalia’s death, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate should not confirm a replacement for Scalia until after the 2016 election. “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president,” said McConnell. With strong repeated rhetoric, Republican Party backing Garland’s confirmation was stopped without a vote.
Donald Trump took office and Justice Neil M. Gorsuch who was confirmed on April 7, 2017. To illustrate this hypocrisy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was replaced by Amy Coney Barrett on October 26, 2020, just one week before the 2020 Presidential elections.
How could our most sacred democratic institutions unravel before our eyes? Where was the free press to educate the masses about what the reader of this article saw as plain as day? Do you recall your outrage?
Sadly, some New Mexico democrats live by the same hypocrisy.
On October 19, 2022, Jacob Candelaria resigned after serving 10 years in the State Senate. When a legislative district is entirely within a single county, our state constitution dictates its County Commission fills the vacancy. Bernalillo County Commission filled 10 prior vacancies in the past 8 years averaging 20 days to make the appointment.
Filling a legislative vacancy (or two) during this similar period is not unprecedented. On December 4, 2014, then state Rep. Mimi Stewart was selected to replace outgoing Senator Tim Keller, who had won election for State Auditor. Stephanie Maez was then selected to fill the pending Stewart House vacancy. Both appointments became effective January 1, 2015, as Keller had yet to resign from the Senate.
Then something very strange happened.
On October 23, 2022, former Sen. Dede Feldman goes full McConnell and writes to the Commission saying, “I urge you to slow down the process. County residents— your constituents—should have a chance to weigh in on this matter. The election is just days away and, in the interest, again, of letting the voters have the maximum “say”, the newly elected commission, not those on their way out, should select (the new Senator). That seems like a good government move, and the right thing to do.”
Marla Parsons also writes to the Commision stating, “[T]he voters are about to choose the next County Commission. Let’s let the voters speak first.”
Under Bernalillo County Rules its Chair (Adriann Barboa) has the same power to set the calendar as the Majority Leader (Mitch McConnell) does in the US Senate.
By the next regular commission meeting on October 25, 2022, Chair Barboa had yet to announce the application process nor scheduled a special meeting to fill the Senate vacancy. This prompted Commissioner Pyskoty to submit a letter calling for a special meeting to be held the following Monday. Commissioners Benson and Quezada added their signatures. O’Malley immediately expressed outraged saying, “this is my district … and I’ve asked that I be able to set this meeting” and called it disrespectful and rude. Barboa expressed disappointment in going over her authority and usurping the “unwritten rules of the commission.” It was at this meeting that when the webcast ended O’Malley walked over to Pyskoty and hovered over her calling her a “bitch”. She then verbally threatened a staff person.
It was understood by all a meeting would take place on the following Monday. At 6:43 a.m. the next morning the county manager e-mailed the 5 commissioners to coordinate a time for Monday’s meeting. At 7:37 a.m. O’Malley replies to all writing, “it’s my understanding that while any two commissioners can call for a meeting, that only the Chair can set the date and time. [W]e need our attorney to decisively weigh in.” The county attorney eventually weighed in siding with O’Malley and the meeting was never scheduled.
The ‘postpone the vote’ propaganda was ramped up as O’Malley’s campaign consultant Neri Holguin posted at 10:02 a.m. on Facebook: “STOP THE FIX” “WAIT TO APPOINT” – E-mail commissioner Barboa today and ask her to hold the appointment – Email ALL our commissioners to express your outrage—tell them to hold off appointing until January 1—not NEXT MONDAY.” wrote Ms. Holguin. It was shared 36 times including by Democratic elected officials Rep. Joanne Ferrari and Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn.
On Ms. Holguin’s thread north valley advocate Lora Lucero said, “If you truly want to argue “democracy” …. I expect you’ll be urging the County Commissioners to delay the appointment process until … after the Nov. election when the voters have spoken about who will represent them on the County Commission.”
Rep.-Elect Eleanor Chavez questioned people’s character and integrity said calling for a speedy appointment a “shameful act.”
Rep. Patricia Roybal Cabellero said, “The Senate is not going to fold without an appointment. In fact, the Interim Session is winding down now. So let’s Wait To Appoint!”
Chair Barboa refused to convene a special meeting but did begin the application process and placed the vacancy appointment on the November 15, 2022, regular meeting agenda. I was then appointed to the State Senate – thus creating a House vacancy. The next day I was sworn-in as Senator and submitted a resignation letter to the Secretary of State’s office announcing the House District 16 vacancy until December 31, 2024.
To avoid this whole mess a second time, at the meeting the Commission moved for an ordinance [Administrative Resolution AR 2022-128] imposing a new 3-week deadline to fill a legislative vacancy. O’Malley continued to call for a delay and moved to amend the 3-week rule to become effective January 1, 2023. That amendment failed 3-2 with Barboa joining O’Malley in also voting against the ordinance. Problem solved, right? Wrong.
Instead of naming a replacement for the upcoming 2023 session, Chair Barboa called for a special meeting on December 14, 2022, to name a replacement – get this – until December 31, 2022. Chair Barboa usurped the new 3-week rule by suggesting that Maestas cannot resign from a term of office that has yet to be certified by the Secretary of State. Keep in mind, I ran unopposed, and the Commission certified its general election results on November 21, 2022. The Secretary of State was scheduled to mail certification notices to winning candidates on December 9, 2022, which was received within 3 weeks of January 1, 2023.
At the regular meeting on December 13, 2022, to try once again to fulfill its constitutional duty and fill the January vacancy, the Commissioners amended the 3-week ordinance using more precise language: “Upon the date of vacancy due to resignation, death, or being sworn into incomparable office, the Board of County Commissioners (BCC) will appoint a replacement as soon as practical but not to exceed 10 business days.” Keep in mind I was sworn into the State Senate which is an incapable office to serving in the State House. The ordinance also reads: “Nothing prohibits the commission from filling a vacancy occurring in the near future consistent with this resolution.”
The next day, on December 14, 2022, longtime party activist and kindergarten teacher Marsella Duarte received an 18-day appointment.
Two commissioners, Quezada & Pyskoty once again called for a special meeting to be scheduled under the 10-day deadline ordinance. After a flurry of internal e-mails Chair Barboa continued to use her procedural power and refused to call a meeting arguing, this time correctly, the seat will become vacant on January 1, 2023. A special meeting has been scheduled for January 9, 2023, 54 days since my resignation.
Who served as Commission Chair during the December 2014 Stewart / Maez appointments? Debbie O’Malley, of course. Hypocrisy at its finest.
The Mitch McConnell ultra-left forces led by O’Malley and Barboa won this battle. But not without significant help from powerful propaganda, parroted by influential party leaders and ignored by aloof local media. The ends do not justify the means. As we hold all the major leavers of power in the New Mexico Democrats must be better than this. It’s time more than ever for principled centered leadership. After all, what can be more progressive than defending Democracy itself?
-Tim Keller elected State Auditor Nov. 4th, Stewart appointed Dec. 4th effective Jan. 1st (31 days) NOTE: appointment was before Keller’s resignation & before general elections were certified by SOS
-Mimi Stewart appointed Dec 4th effective Jan. 1st – Stephanie Maez appointed Dec. 14th (10 days) NOTE: Application process lasted 2 days, Monday to Wednesday.
-Stephanie Maez resigned Oct. 22nd effective Nov. 5th – Idalia Lechuga-Tena appointed Nov. 10th (21 days)
-Cisco McSorley resigned Jan. 8th – Antoinette Sedillo-López appointed Jan. 13th (5 days)
-William Pratt died Dec. 25th – Marian Matthew’s appointed Jan. 6th (12 days)
-Pat Ruiloba resigned Aug. 10th – Art De La Cruz appointed Sept. 8th (29 days)
-Melanie Stansbury resigned June 11th effective June 14th – Pamelya Herndon appointed June 22nd (11 days) NOTE: Stansbury won caucus nomination on March 31st & won special election to Congress on June 1st
-Sheryl Williams Stapleton resigned July 30th – Kay Bounkeua appointed Aug. 24th (25 days)
-Brittany Barreras resigned Jan. 27th – Art De La Cruz appointed Feb. 2nd (6 days)
-Debbie Armstrong resigned July 15th – Garcia Benavidez appointed Sept. 6th (53 days) [until end of 2022] NOTE: Benavidez may have been the only person to apply, and the application process was either very short or nonexistent.
-Jacob Candelaria resigned Oct 19th – Antonio Maestas appointed Nov. 15th (27 days)
-Antonio Maestas resigned Nov. 16th – Appointment schedule for Jan. 9th (54 days) NOTE: Marcella Duarte appointed on Dec.13th until end of the 2022.