State Senator Moe Maestas Proposes Constitutional Amendment To Fill Legislative Vacancies By Special Election Ending Appointments By Bernalillo County Commission; It Would Be Simpler Replacing Incumbents Barboa, Olivas and Baca

On August 14 , NM State Sena Antonio “Moe” Maestas announced he will propose an amendment in the 2024 legislative session that would mandate special elections to fill legislative vacancies caused by the early departure of a legislator. The proposal follows two hotly contested appointments in Bernalillo County of one NM State Senator and one NM State Representative. Maestas himself was one of the appointments.

According to Maestas, special elections to fill legislative vacancies will eliminate “backroom” politics of appointments and allow voters to decide who fills an unexpired term. Under the current appointment system, a county commission makes the appointment for legislative districts that lie entirely within one county. For multi-county districts, the governor chooses from nominees forwarded by the counties.

Maestas argues the system now in place results in behind-the-scenes competition to secure support for a legislative seat. According to Maestas,  in Bernalillo County the five-member commission has sometimes deferred to the commissioner who represents the district with a vacancy.  Maestas said this:

“Five people should not choose a legislator, much less three, much less one, which is the custom of the Bernalillo County Commission. … It’s time to modernize our democracy and go to a special election.”

Maestas said he will introduce his constitutional amendment in the 30-day legislative session that starts January 16. If adopted by both the Senate and House, it would ask voters in 2024 to amend the New Mexico Constitution to require special elections within a certain period of time after a legislative vacancy.  Some details, such as how to select each party’s nominees to go on the special election ballot, could be handled in a follow-up bill if voters agree to amend the Constitution.

Appointments are a significant source of power for counties and the governor. In Bernalillo County alone, the commission has made 10 appointments in the last five years.


Bernalillo County officials were quick to dispute that they defer to one commissioner’s opinion for an appointment.  Democrat Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa said she likes the idea of developing a more democratic process to address vacancies. But then she added special elections may not be practical given the volume of legislative departures and the cost of holding an election.

Barboa said the county has taken steps to standardize and open up the way appointments are made. Barboa also said it puts commissioners in a difficult position as they face pressure to choose among candidates backed by competing interests. Barboa said she would need to review the details of Maestas’ proposal before taking a position on it.

The link to relied upon news source material is here:


NM State Senator Maestas went through the county commission appointment process last year in November when he moved from the NM House of Representatives after serving in the chamber for 10 years to the NM State Senate. 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. Senator Jacob Candelaria, an independent stepped down to focus on his law practice and family. Candelaria endorsed Maestas to replace him.

Notwithstanding, objections to the Maestas appointment quickly emerged from Commissioner Adriann Barboa and then Commission Chair Debbie O’Malley with them arguing it was a rush job. What happened was that then Democrat County Commissioner Charlene Pyskoty, Democrat County Commissioner Steven Michael Quezada and Republican Walt Benson called for a meeting 6 days after the Senate vacancy to name an appointment. It was outgoing Commissioner Charlene Pyskoty who said that she and the  2 other commissioners wanted an early appointment meeting date and that it was common to fill the vacancies in 2 weeks.

The line of attack against the Maestas appointment was particularly egregious by outgoing commissioner O’Malley who called the recommendation for an early appointment meeting date “inconsiderate” and “disrespectful”  and more time was needed for applications. O’Malley’s allegations got particularly nasty and personal against Maestas by including Maestas’s wife, who is a very successful and respected registered lobbyist, and included allegations that the Maestas appointment was an “insider deal”.  O’Malley said this:

“It is possible—even likely—that the Commission will sanction this insider deal at the meeting to appoint, and I have no choice but to accept the majority vote, but appointing a State Senator is a very big deal. Vacancies in the Senate are a rare occurrence. …  I do not regret standing up for the constituents in my District while certain members of the Commission do everything they can to railroad a two-year political appointment to appease a Senator, a Representative, and a corporate Lobbyist who have been plotting this for a year.”

The November 16 County Commission meeting making the Maestas appointment degenerated into a verbal slug fest of false accusations, innuendos and slurs with then Commissioner Debbie O’Malley calling then Commissioner Charlene Pyskoty a “bitch”. Commissioner Pskoty for her part called O’Malley “disingenuous at best, and flagrant hypocrisy and political gamesmanship at its worst”. Pyskoty said this:

“There is no question that Commissioner O’Malley’s unprovoked verbal attack on me, using a gender-based slur, was deplorable and wrong. … O’Malley compounded the problem by engaging in threatening and disorderly behavior toward my assistant, making things even worse, and sending the message that politically motivated violence is acceptable. One just needs to turn on the news to see that inflammatory rhetoric from an elected official is never ok. Appointments are typically made within a few weeks of a vacancy.”

Quoted news source: November 16 , 2022 New Mexico Politcal Report “Bernco Votes-State Rep Maestas To Fill State Senate Vacancy.”

Both O’Malley and Pyskoty are no longer on the commission having left office after the 2022 elections.


On June 7, 2023 New Mexico State Representative Christine Trujillo announced her resignation from the New Mexico House of Representatives District 25 effective July 1.  On July 1, the Bernalillo County Commission announced it was accepting applications and seven candidates applied to fill the vacancy. On Friday Augusts 11, the commission met and appointed Cristine Parajón to fill the vacancy.

The Parajón appointment became very controversial with questions raised on Parajón’s length of residency in the district and accusations that the fix was in with Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa recruiting Parajón and conspiring with Commissioners Eric Olivas and Barbara Baca to appoint Parajón over far more qualified applicants.


There are 3 voter registration cards signed and submitted for filing by  Cristine Parajón with the Bernalillo County Clerk’s Office that reveal she changed her registration address the very day after Trujillo announced her resignation and 22 days before the County Commission started to accept applications to fill the vacancy.

The first voter registration card is dated and signed by Parajón on November 4, 2022. The registration card gives a Broadmoor street address that is not within the House District 25.

The second  Parajón  voter registration card was signed on June 8, 2023 the next day after the Trujillo resignation, and 22 days before the County Commission started to accept applications to fill the vacancy, making the change in her address for voting purposes and determining the House District where she resides. The second registration card provides a home address on Chinlee Street which is in House District 25. The registration card gives the Broadmoor Avenue Street address where she gets mail which is in HD District 18.

The third Parajón  voter registration card is dated July 1, 2023. It gives a Chinlee Street address where she lives and the same Chinlee Street address where she gets mail.


From 2019 to 2023 Parajón has held 5 jobs and she became unemployed.  She was required to resign from her state employment as Director of Strategy for the  New Mexico Human Services Department because state law prohibits state employee from holding elective offices. Those 5 jobs were:

August 2019 to April 2020 (8 months):  University of New Mexico Office for Community Health, Special Projects Coordinator “analyzing medical data for the viability of clinical services for the City Westside Emergency Housing Center.”

 April 2020 to September 2020 (5 months): Deputy Incident Commander, City of Albuquerque Emergency Operations Center to deal with logistics associated with COVID quarantine and isolation hotels.

September 2020 to September 2021 (1 year):  Employed as consultant working in New York, NY, for Oliver Wyman working on availability of prescription drugs to the under privileged and minorities.

September 2021 to May 2023 (1 year, 9 months): Gateway Homeless Shelter Administer, City of Albuquerque appointed by Keller Administration.

July 2023 to present (1 month):  Director of Strategy, New Mexico Human Services Department.


It has been confirmed by sources, despite county officials stating otherwise, that the desires of the county commissioners whose district the vacancy fell within, which in this case was both Barboa and Olivas, would be given much greater consideration and relied upon. Therefore it was the progressive majority of Commissioners Baca, Barboa and Olivas who  decided to fill the vacancy giving very little or no consideration to what was  said by the other two commissioners.

Three confidential sources within the Democratic Party, including one Ward chair,  confirmed Progressive Democrat Adriann Barboa recruited Progressive Democrat Cristina S. Parajón to apply for  the  House District 25 vacancy. One confidential source also said Barboa initially wanted Parajón to run for City Council District 6.  Commission Eric Olivas, despite public assurances to the contrary that he had not made up his mind who he would vote for, disclosed to confidential sources he had every intention to vote for whoever Commissioner Barboa wanted which was Cristine S. Parajón who Barboa recruited to run.


On February 18, 2023 as a direct result of the controversy that emerged with the selection of Senator Moe Maestas,  the Bernalillo County Commission voted to overhaul the selection process used to fill legislative vacancies. The County Commission approved a policy that requires that the county advertise when a legislative vacancy occurs and to accept applications from applicants for at least 15 days.  The commission must make public the names and resumes of all applicants at least 5 business days prior to the commission’s appointment vote.  The new policy allows for an accelerated process when the seat empties immediately before or during a legislative session. Previous appointments occurred after shorter application windows and without any formal pre-meeting release of applicant names.

It was newly elected County Commissioner Eric Olivas who sponsored the changes.  Olivas at the time described feeling disheartened by how the county commission had handled the appointment to House District 16. He said the public did not even know who was up for the position, saying he was fielding questions on the eve of the vote from citizens simply trying to find out who was being considered. Olivas said the public deserved more notice than it had been getting during the county’s process.  Olivas said this:

“When we make a legislative appointment, we are making an appointment in lieu of an election …  [It’s] five of us selecting someone to represent, in some cases, tens of thousands of voters who have not had an opportunity to choose their representation.”

The Olivas  legislation rescinded and replaced a policy Democrat Bernalillo Couunty Commissioner Steven Michael Quezada sponsored in 2022. Quezada’s policy aimed to expedite the selection process, requiring the commission to make appointments within 10 business days of a legislative vacancy. Quezada argued against Olivas’ updated policy contending that the public suffers more with a longer selection process because a legislative district should never go un-represented, even in the 10-11 months of the year when it is out of session. Quezada also argued that repealing his 10-day deadline for appointments could allow time for “special interest groups” to start lobbying for candidates. Quezada  said this at the time:

“I am the one who changed the policy [last year] to really take politics out of our appointment. … Our job is to appoint somebody instantly.”

Other commissioners disagreed, saying the new policy brought more transparency. Progressive Democrats Barbara Baca, Adriann Barboa and Eric Olivas and Republican Walt Benson voted for the change while Democrat Steven Michael Quezada voted no. Republican Commissioner Walt Benson convinced Olivas the policy should include a deadline and Olivas added language requiring the commission to make appointments within 45 days of the vacancy.

The link to quoted news source is here:


The process for filling legislative  vacancies varies among the state legislatures. Some states allow the governor, a political party, a legislative chamber, or county board to appoint a replacement, while some states require a special election.

Twenty-five states fill vacancies in the state legislature through special elections. Twenty-one states fill vacancies through appointments, and four states fill vacancies through a hybrid system that uses both appointments and special elections.

From 2011-2022, the average number of special elections held per year was 73. The average number of special elections per odd year between 2011 and 2021 was 85. The average per even year between 2011 and 2022 was 61.

If there is a vacancy in the New Mexico State Legislature, the board of county commissioners is responsible for filling the vacancy. There are no deadlines set by Article IV, Section 4 of the New Mexico Constitution, which governs legislative vacancies. If the legislative district spans more than one county, the boards of county commissioners each submit one name to the governor, who appoints a candidate from the list. The appointed replacement serves for the remainder of the unfilled term

The link to the quoted research source is here:


It’s downright laughable that Progressive Democrat Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa said she likes the idea of developing “a more democratic process” to address legislative vacancies given the underhanded tactics she has been involved with and used in the Maestas appointment and the Parajón appointment.  Barboa is interested in a “more democratic process” so long as her preferred progressive  candidate is appointed and she is allowed to do her very own behind the scenes political movidas.

There is little doubt that freshman County Commissioner Eric Olivas takes great pride in his sponsorship of the legislation that requires a formal application process for legislative vacancies and that commissioners are given upwards of 45 days to appoint.  Olivas does not realize the process he sponsored is defective in that it only expands the time for applications. Absent are any provisions mandating a public, open interview process by the country commission and public to ask questions of applicants and prohibitions preventing commissioners from soliciting and recruiting applicants, even those who do not live in the district such as what happened with the Parajón appointment.


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 vacant legislative 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.

Appointments to legislative vacancies can be very messy because of political rifts amongst the politcal party that has the majority on the commission. There currently exists a politcal rift between the 3 Progressive Democrats of Barbara Baca, Adriann Barboa and Eric Olivas who have the majority over Moderate Democrat Stephen Michael Quesada and Conservative Republican Walt Benson. The current political rift is a carryover from the previous Bernalillo County Commission where Progressive Commissioners Adriann Baroba and then Commissioner Debbie O’Malley had a very personal distain, some would say vendetta, for Senator Moe Maestas. The Parajón appointment had an element of politcal vindictiveness carried out by Progressive County Commissioners Adriann Barboa, Eric Olivas and Barbara Baca against Democrat County Commissioner Steven Michael Quezada.

With the appointment of Cristine S. Parajón  you had a County Commissioner go out of her way to recruit her own progressive candidate and act like a king maker giving no consideration to what residents in the House  District wanted and needed.  You had a number of even more qualified people who actually lived in the district much longer and who know its problems and who jumped through the hoops, apply and even participate in good faith in a forum, not realizing that the fix was in thanks to 3 county commissioners.

Given what Senator Moe Maestas went through, it’s understandable that he feels so strongly about a constitutional amendment calling for a special election to fill legislative vacancies. It is something that is indeed long overdue.  However, the problem is that the length of time to achieve a constitutional amendment mandating special elections to fill legislative vacancies is considerable and highly questionable.  First is the matter that the upcoming  2024 legislative session is a 30 short session and legislation is confined to budget matters and the call of the Governor meaning only what the Governor wants will be allowed. Then there is no guarantee the constitutional amendment will pass both chambers of the legislature. Then if it does passes the legislature it will have to  be placed on next year’s November general election ballot  and there is no guarantee it will  pass.

What would be much simpler is to elect Bernalillo County Commissioners  who do not abuse their power and authority such as Progressive County Commissioners Adriann Barboa, Eric Olivas and Barbara Baca.  All 3 put their own personal interests and desires above the best interests of House District 25 voters and only voters can hold them accountable.

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Pete Dinelli was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is of Italian and Hispanic descent. He is a 1970 graduate of Del Norte High School, a 1974 graduate of Eastern New Mexico University with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and a 1977 graduate of St. Mary's School of Law, San Antonio, Texas. Pete has a 40 year history of community involvement and service as an elected and appointed official and as a practicing attorney in Albuquerque. Pete and his wife Betty Case Dinelli have been married since 1984 and they have two adult sons, Mark, who is an attorney and George, who is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Pete has been a licensed New Mexico attorney since 1978. Pete has over 27 years of municipal and state government service. Pete’s service to Albuquerque has been extensive. He has been an elected Albuquerque City Councilor, serving as Vice President. He has served as a Worker’s Compensation Judge with Statewide jurisdiction. Pete has been a prosecutor for 15 years and has served as a Bernalillo County Chief Deputy District Attorney, as an Assistant Attorney General and Assistant District Attorney and as a Deputy City Attorney. For eight years, Pete was employed with the City of Albuquerque both as a Deputy City Attorney and Chief Public Safety Officer overseeing the city departments of police, fire, 911 emergency call center and the emergency operations center. While with the City of Albuquerque Legal Department, Pete served as Director of the Safe City Strike Force and Interim Director of the 911 Emergency Operations Center. Pete’s community involvement includes being a past President of the Albuquerque Kiwanis Club, past President of the Our Lady of Fatima School Board, and Board of Directors of the Albuquerque Museum Foundation.