ABQ Democrat leaves panels in Senate spat

In this file photo, Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, speaks on the Senate floor during debate on a COVID-19 relief package. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Sen. Jacob Candelaria has resigned as a voting member from legislative interim committees – the latest salvo amid his dispute with Senate leadership.

In an interview, Candelaria accused Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, a fellow Democrat from Albuquerque, of retaliating against him by changing his seating assignment on the Senate floor and moving his Roundhouse office.

Stewart, in an email exchange with Candelaria last month, said that she wasn’t asking him to resign from interim committees and that, in fact, she thought Candelaria had done a good job on the Senate Finance Committee, a powerful standing committee that meets during legislative sessions.

As for the seating and office location, she said Tuesday that it was her prerogative to make changes.

Candelaria called it retaliation.

Sen. Jacob Candelaria

“This is kind of her ‘Mean Girls’ approach to governing senators,” Candelaria said Monday. “Any attempt to hold her accountable is going to be met with these petty retaliatory acts.”

“Mean Girls” is a 2004 teen comedy about high school cliques and bullying.

Candelaria said he gave up his voting role on interim committees – the panels that meet between formal legislative sessions – to deprive Stewart of leverage after she threatened to remove him. He will still participate, he said, as an advisory member.

Interim committees handle much of their work without formal voting, although they occasionally vote on whether to endorse legislation for a coming session. Much of their work involves accepting public testimony and providing a forum to question administration officials.

In an email exchange obtained by the Journal under a public records request, Stewart said it was Candelaria who brought up resigning from interim committees, which she asked him not to do.

Sen. Mimi Stewart

“I will reiterate to you that I made no threats to you on any of these issues,” she said in the email to him about committee assignments.

As for Candelaria’s other allegations, she released a statement through a spokesman Tuesday.

“I dislike discussing internal senate matters in a public forum but yes, one of my prerogatives as pro tem is to assign office spaces and seating in the chamber,” Stewart said. “When I feel a change is necessary it’s my job to make it.”

Candelaria, who represents neighborhoods in Southwest Albuquerque, has clashed repeatedly with Democratic leaders of the Senate and with Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

In 2018, he resigned as chairman of the Senate Democratic caucus, and he later opted against participating in Democratic caucus meetings altogether. He has said he has no plans to change party affiliation.

In May, he accused a Cabinet secretary of filing a defamatory ethics complaint against him.

More recently, Candelaria has slammed Stewart for her role in the handling of a personnel investigation involving a top legislative staffer.

The staffer, Rachel Gudgel, was put on probation and reprimanded last year after an investigation into allegations that she made disparaging comments about Native Americans, among other complaints.

Candelaria said Stewart and other members of a legislative panel that oversees Gudgel’s work should have fired her, given the critical role Gudgel plays in analyzing education policy as director of the Legislative Education Study Committee.

Nevertheless, Candelaria said this week, the dispute with Stewart won’t interfere with his ability to represent his constituents.

“I don’t care where I sit,” he said. “I’m not a child.”

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