Don’t advance a legislator married to a lobbyist

Oct. 21 – State Representative Moe Maestas wants what amounts to a promotion – a Senate nomination. He shouldn’t get his way.

Maestas, D-Albuquerque, is married to high-profile lobbyist Vanessa Alarid. Their relationship can and has created conflicts of interest. Maestas chooses to ignore them by voting on bills that Alarid is paid to promote.

For example, Alarid lobbied for a bill coveted by the New Mexico Lottery. Maestas voted for the measure.

The representative initially did not disclose his wife’s involvement in the bill. It was only after I asked him about it that Maesas started mentioning publicly that Alarid was a lobbyist for a lottery vendor supporting the bill.

The proposal would have reduced the guaranteed amount of money for college scholarships funded by lottery proceeds. Instead, lottery staff would spend more on prizes and advertising.

Lottery vendors could take advantage of this arrangement. College students were sure to lose.

According to lottery administrators and many state legislators, raising lottery prizes could eventually benefit the scholarship program. They hoped to attract more players through bigger jackpots. Based on this premise, Maestas, Alarid and other supporters of the bill said lottery revenue could eventually grow and fund even more scholarships.

Their pitch was a form of trickle-down economics, the system that never works for the little guy. Maestas wanted students to take less now in hopes that an explosion in lottery ticket sales would one day occur.

Lawmakers created the state lottery in 1995. By law, it exists for one reason only: to fund college scholarships. In times of rampant debt for loan-dependent students, New Mexico has provided at least partial relief.

But the lottery’s administrators wanted a change, proposing to eliminate the requirement that 30% of gross revenue should be set aside for scholarships. If they could reduce that amount and spend more on prizes, they could attract more players.

They ignored the fact that the state’s population has been stable for over a decade. Many residents also refuse to play the lottery for the most basic reason: it’s a bad bet.

Lottery executives never doubted the power of Alarid and other lobbyists. They tried in five legislative sessions to reduce the amount of scholarships. All efforts failed, but not without a fight.

Alarid’s work as a lobbyist is extensive. Her campaign finance report for the 2022 election cycle shows that she made $242,000 in political contributions on behalf of her company or various clients. Many state legislators were among the recipients.

Additionally, Alarid listed $29,700 in expenses. A total of $24,700 was spent on meals and beverages. Lobbying often extends from government buildings to nightclubs.

Its list of employers is deep and diverse. It includes AT&T, the office of state treasurer Tim Eichenberg, the New Mexico Independent Automobile Dealers Association, Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund and Hilcorp San Juan, a Texas-based oil and gas company.

Maestas, a state representative for 16 years, isn’t the only lawmaker married to a lobbyist.

Rep. Doreen Gallegos, the Democratic whip for Las Cruces, is married to Scott Scanland, who has a higher profile than many lawmakers. Scanland has been a lobbyist since 1987.

Last year, Gallegos received the prestigious title of acting majority leader of the House. His rise came when Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton resigned after being the target of a public corruption inquiry.

I opposed any attempt to elevate Gallegos to Majority Leader permanently, writing, “Customer money paid to Scanland benefits Gallegos. New Mexico is a community-owned state.”

The same goes for Maestas and Senator Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos. Stefanics is married to lobbyist Linda Siegle.

Stefanics in 2020 wrote a letter soliciting campaign contributions from any other lobbyists she could locate. Lobbyists already have more access to lawmakers than ordinary New Mexico residents. Stefanics made sure they received additional opportunities to meet her.

As for Maestas, he refused to disqualify himself from voting on the lottery bill. He told me it would only have encouraged other companies to hire his wife so they could overrule his vote. He said his position had been endorsed by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Even if this organization took such a position, so what? The National Conference of State Legislatures is an organization of politicians. It does not represent the interests of New Mexico residents.

Maestas did not respond to requests for comment for this column. He lined up to receive the Senate nomination. Everyone knew Senator Jacob Candelaria would step down from his District 26 seat before the winter break. The nomination is in the hands of Bernalillo County commissioners and Maestas has ties to the group.

The job could be wired for him. It shouldn’t be. A member of the House with a conflict does not deserve a better place in the Senate.

I say that the Senate had better not do it because it works harder or smarter than the House. The advantage is that terms in the Senate are four years. Members of the Chamber are elected every two years. It is also easier to ascend to the Senate of 42 members than to the Chamber, a chamber of 70.

Maestas, a lawyer, calls his practice Moe Justice Law. As far as this date goes, No Moe will do.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and current affairs. Contact Milan Simonich at [email protected] or 505-986-3080.

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