Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – State Sen. Jacob Candelaria – who has clashed with his chamber’s Democratic leadership for months – is set to lose his spot on the powerful Senate Finance Committee.
A recommendation heading to the full Senate would strip him of the assignment and replace him with Democrat Michael Padilla of Albuquerque.
The move comes as Candelaria has intensified his criticism of high-ranking Democrats in the Senate. He also has clashed with Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
Candelaria, who represents part of southwestern Albuquerque, began this month’s special session by announcing he had changed his party affiliation from Democrat to “decline to state,” the category for independents.
In an interview Tuesday, he said he is happy to participate in the new committees he will serve on, focusing on education and public affairs. But removal from Senate Finance, he said, is obvious retaliation.
“I knew there would be a price to pay for my independence,” Candelaria said. “My integrity matters more than any committee assignment ever will.”
Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, an Albuquerque Democrat and frequent target of Candelaria’s criticism, proposed the committee changes Tuesday. They would go into effect Jan. 1, ahead of the regular 30-day session.
“I think Sen. Candelaria has made it clear that he’s no longer a Democrat,” Stewart told reporters. “He’s not been in our caucus since April. This is an important committee, and we need to have team players on that committee.”
The Senate committee in charge of committee assignments adopted Stewart’s recommendations, and they now go to the full chamber. Senate Minority Whip Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, was the lone dissenting vote.
Candelaria resigned as chairman of the Senate Democratic caucus in 2018 and stopped participating in caucus meetings this year.
He wasn’t at the Capitol on Tuesday and was also absent earlier this week. Candelaria has been excused because of a scheduling conflict involving his legal work, and he is not able to debate or cast votes remotely due to a Senate rule adopted for the special session.
Over the last year, he has repeatedly slammed Stewart for her handling of a personnel investigation involving a staff member, and he accused a Cabinet secretary under Lujan Grisham of filing a defamatory ethics complaint against him.
More broadly, he has accused white progressive legislators of using Black, Indigenous and people of color for political purposes while discriminating against them.
The committee change for Candelaria was one of many recommended to the Senate. The recommendations would also reshuffle a variety of vice chair assignments.