Note: All week we will be counting down the top ten stories of 2018, as voted on by NM Political Report staffers. See them all here as they come in! If there was a competition for the New Mexican with the most mentions in national news stories, Debra Haaland would be a top contender. Haaland’s win received a lot of attention as she is the first Native American woman to represent New Mexico in Congress and one of the first two in the U.S.
Haaland came into the race as no stranger to New Mexico politics. A former candidate for lieutenant governor, Haaland was elected to by the Democratic Party of New Mexico to serve as the party’s chairwoman in 2015. Her competition that year was Richard Ellenberg, who succeeded her in that position, but was later ousted after his handling of accusations of sexual harassment within the party.
Three Bernalillo County detention officers, one former officer and a local public sector labor union filed suit against the county, half a dozen jail supervisors, the Bernalillo County Sheriff and two other county law enforcement officers.
The suit alleges top officials at the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) along with the county Sheriff’s office and upper county administrators actively prevented union members from associating with the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), New Mexico Council 18, Local 2499. According to the lawsuit, in 2015 county officials were “caught red-handed” trying to “engage in an actual conspiracy” to hire staff who would work against union leaders. Then, the lawsuit says, county jail leaders continued to retaliate against vocal union leaders like Eric Allen, a corrections officer who was fired from MDC for two instances of use of force, and Stephen Perkins, an MDC corrections officer who is currently on administrative leave and is currently facing false imprisonment charges. Both Allen and Perkins were already in the news this year.
If an interim legislative committee meeting on Thursday is any indication, 2019 could be a year when New Mexico lawmakers pass a slate of criminal justice reform efforts that were previously blocked by Gov. Susana Martinez. The Courts, Corrections and Justice interim committee met to hear recommendations from a subcommittee tasked with reviewing and crafting possible legislation, some of which addresses probation and parole standards and changing punishments for non-violent crimes. Most of the bills the interim committee discussed previously passed the Legislature with bipartisan support before they were vetoed by Martinez. A bill to “ban the box,” or prohibit private employers from asking about criminal convictions on employment applications, for example, was cosponsored by a Republican and Democrat in 2017 and made it to Martinez’s desk with significant Republican support. Still, Martinez vetoed it, saying it limited employers’ ability to properly vet potential employees.
Democrats are set to control an even larger majority of the state Legislature in addition to control of the governor’s office, so Republican-backed efforts are not likely to become law next year. But right-to-work legislation on the local level has not lost steam and at least one group is focusing on Spanish speakers in southern New Mexico. The Libre Initiative, a non-profit group that proclaims advocacy for the “U.S. Hispanic community” and “limited government, property rights, rule of law, sound money supply and free enterprise,” started running an ad Thursday on a Spanish-speaking radio station in Las Cruces. The ad asks listeners to call on Doña Ana County commissioners to pass a local right-to-work law. “Hola, soy Carlos con La Iniciativa LIBRE,” the ad begins.
All eyes are on Governor-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham. With about two months until the legislative session starts and just weeks until she takes office, speculation and rumors about how she’ll run the state are growing. Lujan Grisham will appoint new department heads for the state agencies, but she has another list of important appointments to make shortly after taking office. Lujan Grisham will also have to fill state judicial vacancies and a New Mexico Senate seat in southern New Mexico as she takes office in January. During her campaign, Lujan Grisham also said she would like to see all new members of the University of New Mexico Board of Regents.
Governor-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham and Gov. Susana Martinez made their first joint-public appearance since Election Day on Friday to announce that the two are in the midst of a smooth transition. Both Lujan Grisham and Martinez highlighted the significance of Martinez, the nation’s first Latina governor, handing the reins of state government over to another Latina. Lujan Grisham will be sworn in on Jan. 1. The outgoing governor also took a moment to take credit for handing over a healthy state government to Lujan Grisham.
U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich will serve a second term in Washington D.C. after a significant win against Republican Mick Rich and Libertarian Gary Johnson. Heinrich gave his acceptance speech to a crowd of supporters and alongside his wife and two sons. “In the face of a president who defies so much of what we stand for as Americans, I will continue to stand with you,” he told the crowd. He said he will continue to oppose a border wall between the United States and Mexico that “our border communities do not want and do not need.”
A Senate race that was largely assumed to go to Heinrich, saw a twist when one of the rounds of musical chairs in the Libertarian Party of New Mexico included a swap-out from New Mexico Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn to Johnson, a former New Mexico governor. Dunn had been polling mostly in single digits with Rich and Heinrich splitting most of the votes.
U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham will take on a new title in January when she becomes New Mexico’s next governor. Ending the nearly two-year-long campaign for governor, Lujan Grisham and her opponent Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce each addressed their respective supporters Tuesday night. Calling out to the crowd in Albuquerque, Governor-Elect Lujan Grisham pointed out that the state has more opportunities than challenges. “This state is so ready to lead,” she said. “We will lead from today, and on renewable, clean energy we will be known as the clean energy state of America.”
At the Republican Party of New Mexico watch party, Pearce had similar thoughts about the state’s ability to succeed.
That was Gov. Susana Martinez talking to a police dispatcher in December 2015 after hotel employees called in a noise complaint. Many of her critics focused on her slurred speech that night. But Martinez’s demand for what she deemed a public record grabbed the attention of journalists and open records advocates because of her administration’s history of delaying or outright denying public records. When she first ran for governor in 2010, Martinez vowed to be more transparent than her predecessor, Bill Richardson.
ROSWELL— Former Donald Trump strategist Steve Bannon spoke to a crowd of about 150 people in Roswell Thursday night about his new film Trump@War. He also took the opportunity to praise Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mick Rich, calling him a “real populist.”
Bannon said his film was not intended to change minds about Trump, but instead to rally Trump supporters ahead of November’s midterm election. “This is not a midterm,” Bannon told the crowd. “This is Trump’s first reelect.”
Rich praised Trump and the controversial strategist. “When I looked at this race, I looked at President Trump,” Rich said.