On June 7, New Mexico State Representative Christine Trujillo announced her resignation from the New Mexico House of Representatives effective July 1. It is now the responsibility of the Bernalillo County Commission to appoint her replacement to complete the remainder of her term. The replacement will serve the rest of the term ending on December 31, 2024. Whoever is appointed will have to stand for election to a full 2 year term in 2024. The winner of the November 2024 election will then serve a full term starting January 1, 2024. The district straddles central I-40, mainly in the Northeast Heights, including neighborhoods between Carlisle and Louisiana in Bernalillo County.
COUNTY COMMISSION ANNOUNCES MEETING
On June 30, 2023 the Bernalillo County Commission announced it was accepting applications from individuals interested in filling the vacancy and applicants had until Friday, July 28, 2023, at noon.
The Bernalillo County Commission announced it will appoint a replacement from the list of applied candidates at their Friday, August 11 meeting at 10 am. The meeting will take place in the Ken Sanchez Commission Chambers at BernCo @ Alvarado Square, 415 Silver Ave SW.
The Bernalillo County Commission website reports that seven candidates have applied to fill the vacncancy. The 7 seven applicants are:
- Cristina Parajón (D)
- Robert Padilla (D)
- Sofia Sanchez (D)
- Brian A. Thomas (D)
- Andres P. Valdez (D)
- Derek James Villaneuva (D)
- Denis Litvinenko (R)
You can review each applicants letter of application and resume by clicking on each of the candidate names above.
DEMOCRATIC PARTY WARD AND PRECINCT CANDIDATE FORUM
After the forum, the Democratic Party of Bernalillo County (DPBC) will facilitate an online election for registered Democrats living in HD25. The election will be ranked-choice, with voters able to rank all the candidates according to their preferences. If you’re a registered Democrat residing in HD25, you can register here to receive a ballot.
The election is non-binding. The Bernalillo County Board of Commissioners is ultimately responsible for appointing a candidate to fill the open seat with the goal of the election to provide the County Commission with a recommendation of a preferred candidate. DPBC will send out ballots on Friday, August 4. Voters have until 6:00 pm on Sunday, August 6 to cast their ballot.
The Candidate Forum will be held at AFT New Mexico (530 Jefferson St. NE) on Wednesday, August 2, 2023, at 6:00 pm. Doors will open at 5:30, with the proceedings beginning at 6:00 pm.
Anyone is welcome to attend the candidate forum, but only registered Democrats living in HD25 will be allowed to take part in a vote that will recommend to the County Commission who should be appointed.
Each candidate will give a 2 minute opening statement and a 2 minute closing statement. Each candidate will have 1 minute to answer each question. The order in which candidates will be asked a question will be rotated so that no candidate will be asked the question first each time.
The vote is a non-binding election that establishes a preferred candidate. Democrat voters will rank the candidates according to their preferences. The Democratic Party of Bernalillo County (DPBC) will then deliver the full voting results to the Bernalillo County Commissioners. The final results are strictly a recommendation and in no way is binding upon the Bernalillo County Commission.
Only Democrats in House District 25 can register to attend and vote. While attendance is not required to vote, it is highly encouraged. DPBC will tally the votes on Monday, August 2, and deliver the results to the Board of Commissioners the next day.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
The current makeup of the current Bernalillo County Commission is as follows:
District 1: Progressive Democrat Barbara Baca, Commission Chair
District 2: Moderate Democrat Steven Michael Quezada
District 3: Progressive Democrat Adriann Barboa
Disrtrict 4: Conservative Republican Walt Benson
District 5: Progressive Democrat Eric Olivas
The legal and constitutional process of filling vacancies in the New Mexico legislature caused by the early departure of a legislator has always rested with the County Commission where the legislators district is located. On paper, it is pretty straight forward process. There are 5 county commissioners and the applicant who secures a 3 vote majority wins, period, end of discussion.
EDITOR’S NOTE: In the interest of full disclosure, Pete Dinelli intended to apply for the vacancy but decided against it preferring to continue with retirement and publication of www.PeteDinelli.com as a Democrat activist and having other priorities in life without political drama.
In practice, the process of filling a legislative vacancy is always a very messy process, especially when there are philosophical rifts within the same party that has the majority of the votes on the commission. Such is the current makeup of the Bernalillo County Commission which is comprised of 4 Democrats and 1 Republican.
There currently exists a politcal rift between the 3 Progressive Democrats of Barbara Baca, Adriane Barboa and Eric Olivas who have the majority over Moderate Democrat Stephen Michael Quesada and Conservative Republican Walt Benson. It will be the progressive majority of Commissioners Baca, Barboa and Olivas who will decide to fill the vacancy giving very little or no consideration to what is said by the other two commissioners. Sadly, such is the reality of politics.
Sources have confirmed that the reason why there will be a candidate forum on August 2 held by the Bernalillo County Democratic Party is because of just how messy and divisive the last appointment was. Many Democratic party officials’ believe there is a need for the party to be involved with the selection process and to at least voice their opinions and not give exclusive authority to appoint to 3 elected officials who hold the majority on the County Commission.
It was on November 16 that longtime Westside Albuquerque Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas was appointed by the County Commission to serve the remaining 2 years in the New Mexico Senate caused by the resignation of Senator Jacob Candelaria on October 19. Maestas, who represented a Westside seat for 16 years, immediately announced his interest in Candelaria’s seat, and Candelaria threw his support behind him. Two county commissioners immediately raised concerns about Maestas and whether Candelaria’s seat should be filled before others had a chance to apply for the seat. The November 16 County Commission meeting making the Maestas appointment degenerated into a verbal slug fest of false accusations, innuendos and slurs with one commissioner even calling another commissioner a “bitch”.
It has been confirmed by sources that the desires of the county commissioners whose district the vacancy falls within, which in this case is both Baroboa and Olivas, will be given greater consideration and relied upon. It’s called politics with a touch of retaliation thrown in for good measure sending the message as to who is in charge now that Commissioners Debbie O’malley and Charlene Pyskoty are gone and that the 3 like minded progressives have majority control of the commission.
The blunt truth is that the August 2 forum to be held by the Bernalillo County Democratic Party is strictly advisory. The individual County Commissioners can and will vote for whoever they want regardless of recommendation made by the party.
Three or more of the 5 county commissioners are strictly prohibited by law from attending the August 2 Democrat forum together all at once because it would constitute a quorum and be in violation of New Mexico’s Open meetings act. Notwithstanding, confidential sources are saying that at least 2 County Commissioners are planning on attending the meeting.
County Commissioners should not attend the August 2 candidate forum and there are very good reasons for that. If any county commissioner does attend, their presence means that they will be lobbied by the candidates themselves or the Democrats attending who will want to know how the commissioner intends to vote. It’s more likely than not they will be asked if they are endorsing anyone. Those who attending commissioners say they will vote for and any discussions of applicant’s qualification should be a matter of public record and of conducting interviews of the applicants at an open commission meeting.
It is highly commendable that House District 25 Democrat Ward and Precinct leadership of Wards 25A, 25B, 25C, and 25D are holding a moderated, in-person candidate forum for the applicants. It is clearly necessary to allow the Democrat Party to have input on the process and to voice their preference. What is also commendable is that the meeting is open to the public and the Bernalillo County Democratic Party is thereby making accommodations for neighborhood association participation and other private citizens to attend who may want to merely listen to the candidates and become informed.
The Bernalillo County Commission should hold a special meeting of the county commission, all day if needed, where all applicants are given an equal opportunity to speak and be interviewed and questioned in public by all 5 county commissioners during a public meeting with a record of the proceedings and what is said. The county commission should also allow testimony from the public, including from Democrats, Republicans and Independents and make public all communications and lobbying efforts on behalf of individual candidates. It’s called transparency in the public interest to avoid back-room politics of pre selection of appointments.