Tensions boiled over on the normally cordial Senate floor Monday after an Albuquerque Democrat used a legislative maneuver to stall a bill he opposes.

Sen. Jacob Candelaria said his move prompted the typically mild-mannered majority leader Peter Wirth to drop an F-bomb.

Wirth, a Santa Fe Democrat known for his easygoing demeanor, confronted Candelaria at his chair after the third-term senator asked for “a call of the Senate” — a procedural move that requires every member of the chamber to be physically present in the Roundhouse, Candelaria said.

He said Wirth, who was furious he had forced debate on Senate Bill 71, which would create the Patients’ Debt Collection Protection Act, asked, “Why don’t you just [expletive] off and put an amendment on like the rest of us?”

Candelaria contends that as the bill is written, it wouldn’t provide protections for the poor.

Wirth declined a request for an interview but issued a statement through a spokesman that didn’t refute Candelaria’s version of events.

“This was a conversation between legislators on the floor, and we won’t be commenting on the specifics of the interaction,” wrote Chris Nordstrum, a spokesman for Senate Democrats.

“I’m sort of heartbroken,” said Candelaria, who sat slouched in his chair in tears after the confrontation. “This is a low day for the New Mexico Senate.”

Candelaria said he filed a complaint against Wirth with the Legislative Council Service.

After the incident, Wirth approached Candelaria’s chair again and appeared to ask him to accompany him out of the chamber. Candelaria said Wirth apologized. But Candelaria said the apology didn’t “change things.”

One of the sponsors of SB 71, Sen. Katy Duhigg, also an Albuquerque Democrat, said the bill “protects low-income patients and patients in general in New Mexico by instituting a ban on collections for medical debt” for patients whose income is at 200 percent or less of the federal poverty line.

Duhigg said the bill also institutes “pricing parity.”

This bill also seeks to protect medical providers in New Mexico by decreasing rates of uncompensated care, Duhigg said.

“It does this by instituting a screening provision so that patients are screened for eligibility in both public and private insurance and also any patient assistance programs that the facility might have in place,” she said.

Candelaria objected to the bill, saying it “imposes new levels of bureaucracy but doesn’t actually provide a real solution to the people it’s aiming to protect.”

While Wirth may disagree with the issues he was raising, Candelaria said he didn’t deserve to be cursed at by the Senate leadership.

“Our job is to debate bills and make good policy,” he said.

Candelaria had indicated his opposition to the bill Monday morning on Twitter. He tweeted sponsors had refused any amendments “despite numerous efforts at compromise to ensure indigent persons are actually protected.”

In the same tweet, Candelaria vowed to filibuster the bill on the Senate floor “until changes are made to actually protect the poor.”

After he asked for a call of the Senate, which delayed the floor session momentarily and prompted the chamber doors to be closed and members to be escorted to the restroom, Candelaria asked whether he would have the floor once the call was complete. He was informed he would.

“The filibuster will begin at that point,” Candelaria told the chamber, though the Senate moved on to other bills because members were missing from the chamber.

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.

(22) comments

RJ Laino

Candelaria is fighting for the people, Wirth and Egolf are party hacks that spout progressive talk then vote the other way - like they did with open primaries, marijuana and fracking - and all you losers can do is focus on the fact Jacob was personally offended by the "F-off" comment. I agree with him 100%. Dems like Wirth been running the State for a long time - and look where we are - last.

Richard Reinders

Are we electing snowflakes or men, call the waambulance.

Abe Rivera

Progress, not perfection, Candelaria.

Grace Trujillo

NO to HB 162

Mark Andrew

I'm as democrat as they come, and Senator Candelaria irks me to no end. His political mannerisms come off more as the democratic Ted Cruz - disingenuous and kind of jerk. Also, kind of a jerk move to use a "Call of the Senate" maneuver in the middle of a pandemic, for his sole political purpose. Sheesh this guy!

Juana Lemus

I’ve been told to f... off before and it didn’t leave me slouched over and reduced to tears... seems a bit dramatic, lol

Stefanie Beninato

Candelaria sounds like a home-grown Mitch McConnell. The bill should be debated and voted on--not stopped by one legislator.

John Martinez

The Democratic Party is falling apart!! These politicians are working off of pride and arrogance instead of what is right, for us the people. Wake up people!!

Abe Rivera

Please. The Democratic Party isn’t the one who needs to worry about falling apart.

Heather Nordquist

My takeaway from this is that Jacob is a big baby.

Mike Johnson

Jacob, you should be more careful of the Santa Fe Ring, they are not used to anyone questioning their complete power over government.

Paul White

I too have experienced Senator Wirth's' ire. Underlying his "easygoing demeanor" there is a devious and controlling small minded person who, regardless of the apologies shows his fangs once in awhile. Same for Egolf. These representatives need a bit more time in ethics and anger management therapy.

Earl James

Sounds like lil’ Jacob had a power struggle need!

Kim Griego-Kiel

I like both of these Senators and have met them both. They are good at this job. It is a frustrating job. I too have said this in a professional setting and had to apologize. Grow up and get over it and move on. Quit yer whining you have a job to to do.

Khal Spencer

Gotta laugh. Sometimes our Senators have to take time out from the sausage making to have an honest to god food fight.

John Cook

I'm with you, Kim Griego-Kiel, on both counts. This is the kind of little blow-up that happens in frustrating situations. But to file a complaint over it? Get real. And get on with the job!

Khal Spencer

Same here. I've had to buy someone a beer after losing my cool more than once. Maybe they need a beer tap in the Roundhouse.

Khal Spencer

So if Sen. Wirth had a list, would Sen. Candelaria be on it? [wink]

John Cook

To move Sen. Wirth to that kind of irritation is some feat! Sen. Candalaria might want to re-think his position.

Khal Spencer

I prefer senators who will stand their ground.

oops...is that a threat of violence?

Mike Johnson

OMG Khal! Would that be a threat of violence?

Jim Clark

There are no words.

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