Senator Jacob Candelaria, Albuquerque, D, gestures as he debates a bill to revise New Mexico’s energy portfolio in this March 2019 file photo. Candelaria announced Monday that he had changed his party affiliation from Democrats to Independents. (Eddie Moore / Journal)
SANTA FE – A special session in New Mexico that focused on redistribution started with a bang on Monday when Senator Jacob Candelaria of Albuquerque announced in the Senate that he had changed his party affiliation from Democrat to independent.
In his remarks, Candelaria, a three-term senator who said last month he did not plan for re-election in 2024, cited his disillusionment with a political system dominated by two political parties that he believes puts party loyalty above the public good .
“This partisan virus is starting to affect our country,” said Candelaria.
The move did not come as a complete shock, however, as Candelaria has clashed with Senate Democratic leadership and the office of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham in recent months.
He stopped attending caucus meetings with fellow Democrats that summer and unilaterally submitted a Supreme Court petition to the Senate GOP Chairman Greg Baca of Belen in October, challenging Lujan Grisham’s authority to decide the use of federal funds.
The legal challenge was successful, with the state’s highest court ruling last month, the Democratic governor unable to allocate unspent federal bailout money without legislative approval.
Candelaria told the Journal that he called Foreign Secretary Maggie Toulouse Oliver’s office to change his party affiliation to an independent party technically called “Declined to State” ahead of the Senate meeting on Monday.
His decision means the Democrats in the 42-member chamber now outperform Republicans by a margin of 26 to 15, with Candelaria being the only independent one.
There’s also an Independent in the House of Representatives, Roswell Rep. Phelps Anderson, who changed his party affiliation from Republican earlier this year after voting for a Democrat-backed bill to lift a long-inactive abortion ban in New Mexico.
Albuquerque MP Brittney Barreras was elected independent to the House of Representatives in 2020, but changed her membership to Democrats shortly after taking office.