State Sen. Jacob Candelaria, a Democrat representing Albuquerque, announced Friday that he will not seek re-election in 2024 because he plans to start a family with his husband, Kory Tillery, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported. A licensed attorney who has served in the state Senate since 2013, Candelaria is known for challenging members of his own party, including Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
"It’s been a beautiful chapter — it’s been incredibly rewarding — but it’s also incredibly demanding," Candelaria said, explaining his decision to retire from state government. "At this point, I’m happy to say that my husband and my future children require my full measure of attention. They need to come first, and I just can no longer give what it requires to do the job, honestly, and it’s time for someone else to step in and do that."
"We need more people challenging the status quo in this state because we should be demanding more of our state government and its institutions," he said. "We should demand more from people in elected office, and I think as a private citizen, all of those folks can look forward to me being even blunter about my views."
Candelaria drew controversy in March for forcing debate on Senate Bill 71, which would create the Patients’ Debt Collection Protection Act. Supporters of the proposed legislation said it would protect low income patients by banning collections on medical debt for those whose income is at 200 percent or less of the federal poverty line – but Candelaria contended it did not have enough protections for the poor.
"Why don’t you just f*** off and put an amendment on like the rest of us?" Democrat Majority Leader Peter Wirth reportedly shouted at Candelaria for calling a procedural move that would summon every member into the chamber to debate the legislation before it could come to a vote.
"I’m sort of heartbroken," Candelaria told the Santa Fe New Mexican at the time, reportedly in tears after the heated exchange. "This is a low day for the New Mexico Senate."
In June 2020, Candelaria reportedly livestreamed himself without a mask participating in Black Lives Matter demonstrations which swept across Albuquerque following George Floyd’s death. He offered free legal services to anyone who was detained or arrested during the riots, KOB reported.
Months later in October, 2020, Candelaria lambasted hundreds of protesters, many of whom were seen waving flags that supported President Donald Trump, for gathering near the Statehouse. The protest was meant to denounce the governor’s continuing pandemic-era restrictions and demand the reopening of the economy. At the time, New Mexico health officials had banned gatherings of more than five people and mandated masks in public, with a variety of restrictions on businesses.
After criticizing the protest during a TV appearance, Candelaria claimed he received a series of telephone messages laced with profanity and homophobic slurs. One male caller accused the state senator of not knowing what it means to be an American and said "we’re going to get you out one way or another."
Candelaria claimed he waited 13 hours for the New Mexico State Police to respond to his call reporting the purported death threats.
The state Republican Party later released video from one of the investigating officer’s lapel cameras showing the state lawmaker of being an "elitist" and "insulting and berating police," The Albuquerque Journal reported. It shows Candelaria inside his apartment asking the officers to escort him and his husband to their car so they can flee the city. Candelaria grows frustrated and eventually orders all the officers out.
"You don’t have a warrant, you don’t have the authority to be here. Get out," Candelaria said, closing the door.
Candelaria said he privately apologized for his treatment of the officers but condemned the release of the video, saying "politicizing the terror that happened to my family is the lowest of the low," KOB reported.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.