New Mexico auditor candidate shares vision for the statewide office

Leah Romero
Las Cruces Sun-News

NEW MEXICO – On Nov. 8, New Mexico voters will cast their ballots for myriad local, state and national offices, including the state auditor position.

The Office of the State Auditor is responsible for holding state and local departments, agencies and officials accountable for the use of public funds. The independent and nonpartisan oversight agency compiles accessible information for all audits completed under their umbrella.

The current state auditor, Brian S. Colón, will end his term in January after four years in the position.

Candidates for the open position include Joseph Maestas, a current Democratic member of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission, and Robert Vaillancourt, a write-in candidate for the Libertarian Party.

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Joseph Maestas, a Democrat from Santa Fe running for the position of New Mexico State Auditor in the Nov. 8, 2022 general election.

Who is Joseph Maestas?

Maestas is a Santa Fe resident currently representing District 3 of the state Public Regulation Commission, a five-member board tasked with regulating public utilities, transportation, transmission and pipeline and other public companies in the state. He has held a seat on the commission since January 2021.

Prior, Maestas served as mayor of Española, as a Santa Fe city councilor and worked for the federal government for 30 years as a statewide transportation planner.

He explained that his vision for the state auditor's office is “to be proactive in preventing fraud, waste and abuse” by ensuring the nearly 1,000 public entities within the state have the resources they need to accountably manage public finances.

“This will include promoting adequate training and promoting tried and true practices that have worked for other public entities, like internal auditors for bigger agencies and local governments,” Maestas said. “The use of an inspector general, for example, at the City of Albuquerque and within the New Mexico Department of Transportation, have proven to be an effective internal watchdog to prevent fraud, waste and abuse. So really, it's about working with advocacy organizations.”

Since the OSA oversees hundreds of state entities, Maestas said he also wants to see the office’s resources, authority and capacity expand to ensure it can meet its constitutionally mandated role.

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Maestas said he plans for the auditor's office to pay particular focus on preventing predatory adult guardianships, working with state attorney general's office to refer potential cases of criminal activity for litigation and identifying trends in the audits of financially poor performing entities.

He pointed out that the OSA’s recent report compiled from completed audits indicates that a high percentage of those hundreds of audits are clean. However, there is still progress to be made, he said.

Maestas added that mismanagement, if only in few instances, can damage the perceived integrity of the government’s use of public funds. High profile cases lead to taxpayers being skeptical of government agencies managing public money.

“We have seen the influx of unprecedented levels of federal funding — federal pandemic aid, federal infrastructure, now we will be realizing the benefits of the Inflation Reduction Act, the IRA — and so I think the focus should be on where the money is … I think people want to ensure that this money is being spent in an accountable and transparent manner and helping those that are in need,” Maestas said.

A consolidated state agency audit goes hand-in-hand with this, he said, as New Mexico has matched money at stake in many cases when federal dollars are disbursed.

Maestas said he wants to reevaluate a rule that changed in early 2022 to extend the time an independent public accountant can contract with the agency from four years to eight years. Maestas said he thinks the rule should be closer to two years with an option to retain for another two years, allowing for fresh eyes to look on finances. This also reduces the possibility of an independent public account and the agency becoming too “cozy,” he said.

More information on Maestas’ campaign can be found at www.maestas4nm.com. He can also be reached via email at maestas4nm@gmail.com.

Who is Robert Vaillancourt?

Vaillancourt is the write-in Libertarian candidate for this race, meaning his name will not appear on the ballot in November. According to Ballotpedia, Vaillancourt is from Albuquerque and his most recent professional experience involves working in sales and management in the fire protection industry.

He ran for election as a Libertarian in 2020 for New Mexico House District 28. Vaillancourt was defeated by Democrat Melanie Ann Stansbury, who is now a U.S. House member.

Vaillancourt has no reported campaign contributions or expenditures. He did not respond to multiple interview requests from the Sun-News.

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Leah Romero is the trending reporter at the Las Cruces Sun-News and can be reached at 575-418-3442, LRomero@lcsun-news.com or @rromero_leah on Twitter.