Espanola mayor weighs run for lieutenant governor

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By Carol A. Clark

Joseph Maestas is strongly considering a run at the state’s second highest office.

The Española mayor is meeting with the best political consultants in the state and reaching out to key political organizations, labor unions, progressive organizations and top political leaders across New Mexico to discuss the upcoming political season, he said.

“I’m considering running for lieutenant governor because I love my native state – my family goes back more than five generations in northern New Mexico and I want to make a difference,” Maestas said during an interview Wednesday. “I have been successful in representing my city, my area and my state in various capacities. I believe my diverse experience and reputation as a reformer could bring a dynamic and fresh perspective to our state government. My skill set and leadership, I believe, are established and I feel again that those qualities and that experience can truly benefit in moving New Mexico forward during some of the most difficult circumstances ever seen in our state.”

Maestas, a Democrat, is seeking advice from those close to him and from those whose political opinions he values, he said. He is looking at potential campaign staff and consultants and doesn’t rule out conducting some preliminary polling prior to making a decision. He also is monitoring and assessing the potential pool of candidates.

Lt. Gov. Diane Denish is running for governor and the word in political circles is that she needs a Hispanic male from the north on her ticket in order to win. She has already been contacted by more than 10 individuals expressing interest in running for lieutenant governor, she said, adding “Joe wasn’t one of them.”

Denish appointed Maestas to serve on her transition team early this year after President Obama tapped Gov. Richardson for Commerce Secretary. Richardson later withdrew from consideration but the team continued its work of advising Denish on a variety of issues. Maestas was the only elected official appointed to the team.

“Joe Maestas is always very professional and he did a nice job as a member of the transition team,” Denish said. “He’s always very professional with my staff and he cares a lot about improving the infrastructure of his community.”

Española is a proving ground for any public servant, Maestas said and described the many challenges he faced when elected mayor in 2006. He inherited a city riddled with conflicts of interest, late audits, no internal controls and a debt of some $17.6 million. Overspending was rampant, cash balances weren’t reconciled, grants were improperly managed and there was no centralized procurement.

In his first year Maestas balanced the budget, restructured the old debt and saved the city $1 million. “I’m an engineer by training and I’m a problem solver in the most direct, effective and efficient manner,” he said. 

As he nears the end of his first term, Maestas touts a long list of accomplishments. He has improved public safety, invested in the city’s infrastructure and boosted tourism and economic development.

Maestas also has forged new partnerships and mended strained relations with Los Alamos.

Los Alamos County Councilor and youth advocate Sharon Stover has worked with Maestas on youth initiatives.

“I first met Joe in Leadership New Mexico when we were the only participants from the north,” Stover said. “He has a long youth advocate track record and has volunteered for years with Big Brothers Big Sisters.”

Maestas assisted Stover and Los Alamos Family YMCA board members in 2007 to transform a vacant Española building into a teen technology center.

“The center has been an overwhelming success,” Stover said.

As county councilor, Stover has additional opportunities to interact with Maestas through the New Mexico Municipal League, New Mexico Association of Counties and other associations. “He is always a willing partner on regional issues,” she said.

It’s not all been rosy for Maestas. Española’s local paper, the Rio Grande Sun recently ran a story questioning whether he is a deadbeat dad to his 13-year-old son who lives with Maestas’ ex-wife in El Paso.

Maestas made available all of the letters and documents he has maintained since divorcing Beatrice Navarette in 1998. In one letter, Navarette praises Maestas for being such a good father in not only supporting their son financially but for always being there for him.

“We keep you in our prayers,” she said. 

“These letters and documents are available to anyone who wishes to see them, I have nothing to hide,” Maestas said. “Dead beat dads are non-responsive and they defy court orders, which is something I’ve never done. I went to child support services to ensure an accurate accounting of the payments I make.”

New Mexico’s child support enforcement division falls under the Human Services Department. Spokesperson Betina McCracken said Friday there were many inaccuracies in the Sun article. Her conversation with the Sun addressed generalities, she said, adding that any comments she made were not in reference to Maestas because his name was never mentioned by her or the Sun.

“There has been absolutely no court enforced intervention in the case of Mr. Maestas,” McCracken said. “Mr. Maestas actually came to us to enlist our services and he is definitely not delinquent in his child support.”

Maestas described his divorce and various situations that have taken place in the ensuing years.

“This is a very painful and personal part of my life that is really not meant for the public domain,” Maestas said. “Frankly, it has no bearing on my mayoral duties. I’ve never, ever presented myself on a high moral ground or in a position to judge others on that basis. I’m just like anybody else - I’ve taken those steps in life to get married and have a child. My son and my wife and my family love me and I love them. They know who I am and how I conduct my life.”

Maestas married Chief Federal Judge Martha Vasquez of the U. S. District Court of New Mexico in 2006.

“My colleagues and others who know me personally, professionally and politically know my ethics as well,” Maestas said. “Because of that, efforts to tarnish my reputation have fallen woefully short. I’m happily married now and my son is well taken care of so what’s the issue? I deal with what life has to offer and I move on.”

Maestas will make a final decision about running for lieutenant governor by this fall, he said.

Maestas holds a Bachelors Degree in Civil Engineering from UNM and a Master of Science Degree in Civil Engineering from Arizona State University. He is a licensed professional engineer in the state of New Mexico. And apart from his work as mayor of Española; he is a partnership specialist with the federal Census Bureau.

Contact Carol A. Clark at lanews@lamonitor.com or (505) 662-4185 ext. 25. Read her blog at