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N.M. senator pivots from fugitive to reformer

On Sunday, New Mexico state Sen. Jacob R. Candelaria said he received anonymous threatening telephone messages shortly after publicly criticizing a political demonstration that took place outside the state Capitol, and that he fears for his safety.

SANTA FE – A state senator who fled home because of threatening phone messages after criticizing a protest against coronavirus restrictions said he plans to pursue reforms that make police more responsive to threats against elected officials – including those who may be especially vulnerable to discrimination.

Sen. Jacob Candelaria said he fled his Albuquerque home Sunday with his husband in response to a series of profanity-laced calls that included homophobic slurs and a threat to “get you out one way or another.”

The openly gay legislator says that an adequate security plan is now in place to protect him and his husband with support from members of the Albuquerque and state police departments.

But Candelaria said he remains unsatisfied with the initial response from law enforcement agencies – state police arrived more than 12 hours after threat was called in – given the context of his life and work as an openly gay, Latino legislator who advocates for racial justice and police reforms.

“Who I am as a senator, who I am as a gay man and the political positions I take are all part of that context. As is the increase of threats of violence against Democratic and progressive elected officials by white nationalist groups,” he said. “None of those factors were taken into consideration here.”

He thanked legislative colleagues from across the political spectrum, including Senate President Mary Kay Papen and Democratic majority leader Peter Wirth, for their outspoken support.

Candelaria is vying for re-election to his West Albuquerque district against Republican challenger Manuel Lardizabal, who is running a tough-on-crime campaign that highlights his opposition to abortion and support for government austerity.

Candelaria said he has been able to return to work remotely but that his husband, a resident physician at an Albuquerque hospital, had not as of Tuesday. He declined to say when they would return home on the advice of a security consultant.