Sitting in his fourth-floor office at the Roundhouse, Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, starts in on a story about a vote he cast in a past legislative session. His voice sounds the way that sliding your feet onto the thin, clear ice of a frozen pond feels.
"I didn't know it until after the fact, but apparently I voted against one of her big bills," Maestas says, sliding a bit further out.
"Oh my gosh!" Vanessa Alarid exclaims. "Yes, you did."
Alarid is a longtime lobbyist at the Capitol. She is also Maestas' wife.
"It was bad public policy," Maestas says half-jokingly.
"No it wasn't!" Alarid jumps in. "It was a sustainable building tax credit and it was good for everybody."
The ice breaks and the cold water of the familiar conflict sloshes over everyone's shoes. Relations soon warm, though, as the couple begins to talk about how they make their love work during each legislative session.
It's no secret that Roundhouse romances blossom each winter. Four couples roaming the halls of the state capitol on Valentine's Day, though, have a unique relationship—one is legislator and the other is a lobbyist. The relationship brings with it both a comfortable familiarity and a set of unique pitfalls.
"You can't hold a grudge," lobbyist Linda Siegle tells SFR. Her wife, Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, sits nearby eating a quick lunch and nods in agreement. Like Alarid and Maestas, the couple has laid out ground rules in which the lobbyist won't ask for the vote of the lawmaker. Most of the time, it's not an issue.
"One of the reasons that we hooked up was really that we have similar values and similar priorities," says Stefanics. She and Siegle met at the Legislature 27 years ago, when they were both lobbying for AIDS-related bills.
Stefanics is newly elected to her District 39 seat, but she’s represented it once before, from 1993 to 1996. Back then, Siegle was crestfallen when her new partner didn’t speak up in favor of hearing a memorial that would have tasked the state Human Rights Commission with collecting data on discrimination based on sexual orientation. Stefanics says then-Senate President Pro Tem Manny Aragon didn’t want the legislation to derail the last days of the session, so she went along with the decision not to force a vote on it.
Now, nearly three decades later, both fully support keeping love and legislation separate.
"I would not ask Liz to carry any of my bills," Siegle says.
"Which is too bad," Stefanics adds, "because of course I'm going to support domestic violence bills and the nurses and nurse midwives. … We're really trying to make sure I'm not carrying her water even if I choose to vote on her bills."
State law doesn't speak specifically on the issue of a lobbyist-legislator relationship. The Governmental Conduct Act does say disclosure of potential conflicts "shall be a guiding principle for determining appropriate conduct. At all times, reasonable efforts shall be made to avoid undue influence and abuse of office in public service." Frankly, for a law that purports to protect the public, that language is a little vague. The power of a harsh spotlight on a conflict of interest is not insignificant, though, and most couples have created their own rules in the hope that it can be avoided.
House Majority Whip Doreen Gallegos, D-Las Cruces, and her husband, longtime lobbyist Scott Scanland, have such an agreement. Scanland was tucked away in a corner of the office eating lunch when SFR caught up with the pair and asked him to explain.
"Our agreement seems to be she kills all my bills," Scanland says with a wince. Gallegos proudly nods.
That's hyperbole, of course. As Stefanics points out, couples are often attracted to each other because of their political ideology, not in spite of it.
Gallegos says she won't disclose anything that goes on in confidential caucus meetings, which Scanland says is fine. "I don't want to know anything I shouldn't. If another lobbyist can't know it, neither should I. ... I want to be able to talk about what I hear."
While couples often keep a budding romance under wraps, disclosure of the intentional kind—the kind suggested by state law—is clearly more palatable than scandal.
"It's tough with a small state to not ever have conflicts with things," says freshman state Sen. Candace Gould, R-Albuquerque, who is married to Leland Gould, governmental affairs chief for Western Refining. Her committee assignments don't suggest a looming conflict, but Gould says she plans to lean on legislative staff should she see potential trouble coming.
Then, there are the more practical aspects of managing legislative love.
For newlyweds Scanland and Gallegos, their first anniversary fell during last year's unexpectedly long special session. As it became clear they wouldn't escape the Capitol in time to celebrate, Gallegos recalls, "He left! I was kind of angry. And he said, 'Oh, I just have to go home for a bit. I'll be back.' And he came back with our cake topper. We ate it with a few close friends in [Senate President Pro Tem] Mary Kay Papen's office."
Score one for the lobbyists.