Climate rally in ABQ includes calls for action

Thousands of students walked out of school and adults left work across New Mexico as part of massive international climate protests. In Albuquerque a large crowd took part in large a rally downtown  on Friday with hundreds, likely over 1,000, people. The rally included local artists, politicians and students speaking about the impact of climate change and the need to immediately address it. Most of the speakers were local youth. Alyssa Ruiz, the founder of the Sandia High School Climate Club, spoke to the crowd and called on zero emissions by 2050.

Trump administration transfers land to Army to build border wall

The Trump administration announced Thursday it transferred  560 acres of land administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior to the U.S. Army to pave the way for the construction of a border wall between the United States and Mexico—including some land in New Mexico. The land in New Mexico includes a 170 acre parcel that includes parts of Luna and Hidalgo counties for “replacement of existing vehicle barrier with pedestrian barrier.” An additional 43 acres in Hidalgo County is slated for “construction of new primary and secondary pedestrian barriers.”

The announcement by U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said the transfer would allow the construction of about 70 miles of border barriers. 

The move comes after the Trump administration diverted $3.6 billion in funding for military projects to fund the controversial border wall. “Absent this action, national security and natural resource values will be lost,” Bernhardt said. “The impacts of this crisis are vast and must be aggressively addressed with extraordinary measures.”

Of the $3.6 billion in diverted military funds, $125 million comes from projects slated for New Mexico, at Holloman Air Force Base and White Sands Missile Range. Thursday’s move drew immediate condemnation from members of New Mexico’s federal delegation.

State Sen. Carlos Cisneros dies

Long-time State Sen. Carlos Cisneros passed away on Tuesday. He was 71. The Senate Democratic caucus said the cause of death was a heart attack. State Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, announced the news on Twitter Tuesday. “Very sad to report that my colleague, Senator Carlos Cisneros, passed away earlier today,” Padilla wrote.

As Trump speaks, Democrats rally miles away

While the city of Rio Rancho prepared for President Donald Trump’s appearance in Rio Rancho, Democrats held a unity rally in Old Town Albuquerque at Tiguex Park. Hundreds of supporters listened to Democratic elected officials and others slam Trump and his agenda. They also rejected the idea that Trump could win New mexico and be the first Republican presidential candidate to win the state since George W. Bush in 2004. Related: Trump rallies in Rio Rancho, vows to flip NM in 2020

Supporters held signs calling for Trump to be impeached, calling for action on gun violence and to protect abortion access. Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller kicked off the event.

Alt-right groups rally, outnumbered by counterprotesters

At a rally organized by a far-right, pro-Trump organization, the ralliers were outnumbered five-to-one from counterprotesters. The rally largely went off without any incident beyond the two groups shouting and chanting at each other. 

The protest was organized as a “Freedom First Flag Wave” by Bradley Burris, a New Mexico resident who hosted a Proud Boys podcast earlier this year. About 20 people at its peak showed up for that rally, some wearing helmets and other protective gear, while about 100 showed up at the counterprotest. The Proud Boys were joined by members of the Hiwaymen, a neo-confederate group. One person was detained afterward two blocks west of the rally.

Toulouse Oliver releases gun safety plan

A Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful released a gun plan Friday that includes support for an assault weapons ban and universal and expanded background checks. New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said she also supports enacting red flag laws and raising the minimum age to purchase a rifle to 21. 

“This epidemic has claimed the lives of too many innocent Americans–far too many of them children–and it is well beyond time for Congress to act to protect Americans from the scourge of gun violence,” Toulouse Oliver said in her gun safety plan. “In the U.S. Senate, I will fight for common-sense gun-safety legislation as if my own children’s lives depended on it–because they do.”

Toulouse Oliver cites the rise in mass shootings, including the shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio that left more than 30 people dead and dozens more injured, as reasons why to reimplement a ban on assault weapons—and to expand the definition of assault weapons to include AR-15-style guns. When it comes to background checks, Toulouse Oliver says they should extend to all gun purchases—and that such background checks should include information on the online history of the person seeking a background check and extending background checks to close relatives and other members of the household. Toulouse Oliver also calls for restoring funding for researching the effects of gun violence. 

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich has sought to repeal the Dickey Amendment, which bars the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from researching gun violence and its impact on public health.

NM Senators welcome investigation into admin’s use of eminent domain for border wall

New Mexico’s U.S. Senators said an internal government watchdog will provide answers about how the Trump administration seized land to build a border wall between the United States and Mexico. Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee blocked an amendment one of those Senators, Tom Udall, introduced to the defense funding bill that would bar Trump from diverting money from military projects to fund the wall. In August, Udall and New Mexico’s other Senator, Martin Heinrich, signed onto a letter to the U.S. Government Accountability Office with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Dick Durbin of Illinois asking for an investigation into the use of eminent domain to take land for the border wall. All four senators are Democrats. GAO wrote to the four Senators last week saying they would begin the review the Trump administration’s eminent domain efforts. 

“At the current time we anticipate that staff with the required skills will be available to initiate an engagement in about three months,” the GAO official wrote.

City of Rio Rancho offices, city’s schools shutting down on day of Trump rally

The City of Rio Rancho and Rio Rancho Public Schools will shut down Monday in anticipation of President Donald Trump’s campaign rally in the Albuquerque suburb. City officials announced Monday that while all public safety services will remain available, City of Rio Rancho offices, which are near the Santa Ana Star Center where Trump will appear, will be closed. The city says the rally “could attract several thousand people” to the area in northwest Rio Rancho. And the city’s schools will also be closed that day. Rio Rancho Public Schools Superintendent Sue V. Cleveland said the decision was not taken lightly.

AG files suit against Sackler family over opioids

As opioid manufacturers face increasing pressure over their role in the widening opioid epidemic across the United States, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas announced a lawsuit against eight members of the Sackler family, who own and operate Purdue Pharma. 

Balderas called the family “perhaps the most deadly drug dealers in the world” and said the company used deceitful and illegal practices to market and sell opioids in the state. “Because of their illegal actions, New Mexico faces some of the highest opioid related death numbers in the nation, and we have whole communities here in New Mexico which will never be the same again,” Balderas said. “Today I am seeking to hold them accountable and to help end New Mexico’s crisis and avoid more lives being lost.” The Sacklers agreed to give up “the entire value” of Purdue Pharma to settle lawsuits against the company according to a statement provided to NPR this week. The company is facing a reported 2,000 lawsuits and billions of dollars worth of damages related to their marketing and sales of opioids.

Uninsured rate rises in NM, nationwide

For the first time since the Affordable Care Act went into effect, the rate of those insured increased in both New Mexico and the United States overall. This is according to the U.S. Census Bureau numbers for 2018 released on Tuesday. According to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the number of uninsured in New Mexico rose from 9.1 percent in 2017 to 9.5 percent in 2018. 

Nationwide the uninsured rate of the total population rose from 8 percent in 2017 to 8.5 percent in 2018. The number of those insured on public plans fell by 0.4 percentage points among those with each of private and public plans. “Of course any increase in the uninsured population is troubling – though it’s worth pointing out New Mexico’s increase was within the margin of error,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said in a statement.