A New Mexico state Senator and the most vocal critic, from within the party, of Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, announced Monday morning that he had left the Democratic Party.
“I announce today that I’ve submitted to the Secretary of State a reregistration, changing my registration,” Candelaria said during the start of a special legislative session aimed largely at redistricting. “I am now decline to state.”
In New Mexico’s election code, decline to state is the designation for voters who do not wish to align themselves with any political party. Candelaria’s reregistration now makes him the sole independent member of the state Senate.
His announcement comes on the heels of a New Mexico Supreme Court case where he and a Republican senator successfully petitioned the high court to compel Lujan Grisham to hand over spending control of federal relief money to the Legislature. Days after the court’s ruling, Candelaria announced that he was going back to the court to ask that justices censure the governor for allegedly spending a portion of the federal funds after the court’s decision. Lujan Grisham’s office maintained that the money was owed for services that were completed prior to the ruling.
Candelaria’s announcement also came just as the Legislature convened to decide on how the federal relief money should be spent, in addition to approving new legislative, congressional and Public Education Commission maps. In his announcement, Candelaria called partisanship a “virus” and criticized both the Republican and Democratic parties, but set his sights largely on Democrats, namely the governor.
“I don’t think anyone can look at the events of January 6, 2021, or many of the unconstitutional acts of this governor, and not conclude that this partisan virus is starting to affect who we are as a country,” he said.
Candelaria was presumably referencing the January 6 federal Capitol insurrection and Lujan Grisham’s reluctance to allow the Legislature to appropriate federal money from the American Relief Plan Act (ARPA).
Candelaria went on to accuse state Democrats of pushing aside legislation from Republicans and not voting on Democrat sponsored bills because the sponsor is “not progressive enough” or because a sponsor hadn’t “signed on the dotted line where you gave up your integrity, and your common sense to a political party.”
“If the Republicans were in the majority it would be absolutely the reverse,” Candelaria added.
Candelaria also said “the Democratic Party has been asleep at the wheel for decades, on issues that we claim matter most to communities of color, and the poor.”
Candelaria ended his speech with an accusation that the Democrats are “deliberately” gerrymandering state Senate districts in proposed maps.
“You would strip representation from people that I represent, many of whom are Hispanic, simply because it benefits you at the ballot box,” he said.
The only proposed maps publicly available are from the newly formed citizen committee tasked with coming up with recommendations for the Legislature, but political makeups were reportedly not considered by that committee.
In a statement to NM Political Report, Candelaria again referred to partisanship as a “virus.”
“Partisanship is a virus that’s ripping our country apart,” Candelaria said. “I’ll no longer be a part of it.”
Candelaria now joins Rep. Phelps Anderson of Roswell, who left the Republican Party earlier this year after his vote in favor of repealing a state law that outlawed abortion that ultimatley resulted in blowback from his former party.
Anderson could face an uphill battle to get reelected as an independent representative, but Candelaria announced earlier this year that he does not plan on running for reelection.