Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning reporter formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado. She covers the environment for The Paper.

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The yellow brick road might have just opened for Albuquerque Democrat State Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas. It looks like it might be a hop, skip and a jump to a promotion to the New Mexico Senate, replacing Senator Jacob Candelaria, who has resigned. And he does not have to deal with ballot boxes, mail-in votes, or any kind of campaigning. He just has to win over the Bernalillo County Commissioners and he may have already done that.

It appears Maestas has the votes and just had to put in an application with the commission to become the new senator and fill out the two years left on Candelaria’s term. The commissioners have just scheduled a replacement vote on Monday, Nov. 31 for the vacated Senate seat Candelaria has held since 2013. Maestas’s House district overlaps Candelaria’s Senate District 26 on the west side.

Democratic Commissioners Steven Michael Quezada, Charlene Pyskoty and Adriann Barboa will most likely give Maestas the three out of five votes he needs to win the Senate seat from any competition. Maestas, Barboa  and State Rep. Javier Martinez recently secured a “yes” vote from lawmakers for a $50,000 capital outlay appropriation that became controversial after an investigative report by KRQE-TV. 

Marcia Fernández of the community group Contra Santolina told The Paper. her group and several others are upset over the resignation of Sen. Jacob Candelabra and the possible appointment of Maestas to his Senate seat. 

“Moe’s ( Maestas’s) wife is a powerful lobbyist who works for Santolina. This will cause so much trouble for us and for other groups as well. We are trying to get them to wait until after the election to appoint, and to appoint someone without this obvious conflict of interest. The people need to know,” Fernandez said.

Contra Santolina fears that Maestas’s appointment could be a way to stack the deck in favor of Santolina. Maestas’s wife, Vanessa Alarid, is a well-known lobbyist who works for Western Albuquerque Land Holdings (WAHL), developers of Santolina, a west side housing development the size of Santa Fe, that community members have fought against for over a decade.

In the past Maestas has ignored conflicts of interest with his wife and voted on bills that Alarid is paid to promote. For example, Maestas voted to pass a New Mexico Lottery bill that was promoted through five legislative sessions. Alarid lobbied for a lottery vendor backing the bill. Had the bill passed, it would have reduced the amount of money guaranteed for college scholarships funded by lottery proceeds and given the extra money to lottery staff for prizes and advertising.

Alarid has lobbied for AT&T, the office of State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg, the New Mexico Independent Automobile Dealers Association, Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund and Hilcorp San Juan, an oil and gas business based in Texas. Alarid’s campaign finance report for the 2022 election cycle says she made $242,000 in political contributions on behalf of her company or various clients. Several state legislators were recipients. Alarid’s expenses listed $24,700 spent on meals and beverages.