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For the second time in less than a month, the Bernalillo County Commission has appointed a teacher to fill a seat in the New Mexico House of Representatives.
And, while it’s the same position, it’s now a different teacher.
The commission on Monday chose Flor Yanira Gurrola Valenzuela to serve West Side Albuquerque-based District 16 in the legislature.
Gurrola, 48, spent much of her career as a bilingual and math teacher at Washington Middle School, and is currently a professional development coordinator for Dual Language Education New Mexico. A Mexican immigrant, Gurrola said she sees her appointment as an opportunity to give voice to the low-income and immigrant populations she has worked with in Albuquerque.
“(There are) kids who, no matter how good they are at school or the dreams they have, sometimes … don’t have opportunities when they finish school,” she said in an interview after Monday’s virtual meeting. “That’s in my mind right now. I’m shaped by them.”
Gurrola, a Democrat, fills a seat that Antonio “Moe” Maestas, also a Democrat, had to vacate to accept a conflicting appointment to the state Senate.
Maestas’ November move to the Senate occurred with a month and a half left on his 2021-22 term and just a week after he won reelection to a two-year term for 2023-24.
Under county policy, the commission had to fill his House seat within three weeks of his resignation. The commission in December chose Albuquerque elementary school teacher Marsella Duarte to complete the last few weeks of his existing term. Adriann Barboa, the commission’s then-chairwoman, said the board would meet again after that term expired to pick someone for the next two years.
Duarte sought to extend her time in the legislature and was among the six applicants the commission considered in Monday’s special meeting.
But the commission – which welcomed two new members on Jan. 1 – considered and voted on Gurrola’s nomination first. She earned the appointment on a 3-2 vote with Barboa and the two new commissioners, Barbara Baca and Eric Olivas, in support.
Baca – whose district overlaps with House District 16 – described Gurrola as a good fit for the position, noting that she is a trained engineer, educator, and advocate for underserved and immigrant populations.
“She’s (the) salt of the earth; she just has the heart and ability to represent our district,” Baca said.
When she first considered applying for the seat, Gurrola said someone told her the Legislature needed her perspective as an immigrant and educator. She began imagining her students seeing someone like themselves in public office.
“That was very powerful,” she said, noting that she would focus on education and opportunities for youth, as well as West Side transportation and jobs.
Steven Michael Quezada and Walt Benson voted against Gurrola. Quezada said the commission would set a bad precedent by replacing Duarte and not heeding an appointment decision made by last year’s commission.
“I don’t really believe our precedent today should be replacing a sitting representative that’s already sitting in that chair and has done the work up in Santa Fe for the last 15 days that we asked her to do,” he said.
Gurrola’s appointment ensures a record number of women serving in the New Mexico House. Women now occupy 38 of the 70 seats.