State Land Office cancels grazing lease to company owned by Epstein

The State Land Office announced the cancellation of grazing leases to a company owned by  Jeffrey Epstein, the now-deceased disgraced financier who committed suicide before facing trial for sexual misconduct charges. The leases surrounded Zorro Ranch, his 10,000 acre northern New Mexico compound that he owned since 1993. State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard said “this land was no doubt used to protect the privacy of Epstein and his co-conspirators, and today we took steps to take back this public land.”

Garcia Richard cited three reasons to cancel the leases of 1,234 acres of state trust land to a company called Cypress Inc.

“First, the Ranch’s obstruction of my access to inspect state trust land. Second, a written misrepresentation by Cypress that does not comply with State Land Office leasing requirements,” she said. “And finally, the Attorney General has concluded that Cypress may have obtained the leases through illegitimate means for purposes other than ranching or agriculture.”

The notice means the cancellation can become effective in 30 days, or on Oct.

$125 million in NM military projects being diverted to fund border wall

Two projects at military bases will see their funding sent to fund the construction of a border wall between the United States and Mexico. In all, the federal government is diverting the funds from 127 military projects totaling $3.6 billion toward the construction of the wall. The U.S. Department of Defense says the diversion will be temporary. The projects in New Mexico that saw their funding eliminated, at least temporarily, are $85 million for an Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) training facility for  at Holloman Air Force Base and $40 million originally slated for an information systems facility at White Sands Missile Range. U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, who represents the area and sits on the House Armed Services Committee, said she was “appalled at the Administration’s decision to divert military construction funds allocated for projects essential to our national defense to build a fiscally irresponsible border wall.”

Former Chief Justice Daniels dies

Former New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Daniels died. He was 76. Chief Justice Judith K. Nakamura announced Daniels’ passing Sunday morning. “Members of the New Mexico Supreme Court and the entire Judiciary are saddened to learn of the passing of our colleague, Justice Charles W. Daniels,” Nakamura said. “Our state has lost a titan of the law.

Projections show big budget surplus, thanks to volatile oil and gas money

The oil boom continues to roll, and thanks in large part to the funds, the latest projection finds New Mexico will have nearly over $900 million in “new money” next year. That’s what the Legislative Finance Committee was told at a hearing Wednesday. The latest projections show that, buoyed by the oil and gas revenue, the state could see $907 million in excess of what it spent in this year’s budget, the second straight year with massive budget surpluses. 

The increased revenues gives legislators more money to budget for increased spending in areas like education, healthcare and infrastructure and to add to reserves to guard against future economic slowdowns. Slowdowns could come because of the boom and bust nature of the oil and gas industry, which is over 40 percent of the state’s revenue. And there are some fears that the ongoing trade war with China and other international economic activities could lead to a global recession.

State says they paid $1 million to settle claims against DPS

The state of New Mexico released the specifics of another settlement on Monday from the final days of the Susana Martinez administration that showed the state paid $1 million to settle claims related to a discrimination lawsuit filed by former state employess. The state paid $900,000 to settle claims from three former Department of Public Safety employees against State Police chief Pete Kassetas and the state Department of Public Safety. The state also paid $100,000 to settle alleged violations of New Mexico’s Inspections of Public Records Act. The DPS employees, Lt. Julia Armendariz, Deputy Chief Michael Ryan Suggs and Sgt. Monica Martinez-Jones, filed a lawsuit alleging discriminatory and retaliatory behavior from Kassetas after sexual harassment and other behavior. 

Kassetas has denied the allegations.

HSD settles with two more behavioral health providers

The state of New Mexico announced two more settlements in lawsuits filed by behavioral health providers who had their Medicaid funds frozen by the state in 2013. 

The state Human Services Department settled with TeamBuilders Counseling Services, Inc. and Counseling Associates, Inc. Last month, the state settled with three other providers. “These settlements reflect a shared commitment to rebuild what was lost,” HSD Secretary David R. Scrase, M.D. said. “We are continuing to work with other behavioral health provider litigants affected by the 2013 New Mexico Medicaid payment freeze and to reconstruct this essential network of services that so many vulnerable New Mexicans need and rely on.”

“We are grateful for the swift action and efforts of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and HSD Secretary David Scrase to resolve this matter,” TeamBuilders CEO Shannon Freedle said. “We appreciate finally being able to put this to rest and are hopeful for the future of New Mexico’s behavioral health system and the people who depend on those services.”

The settlements do not include any admission of liability or fault on either side. Counseling Associates paid $11,854.16 under the agreement, while the state paid $173,573.84 to Counseling Associates’ attorneys.

Elections Roundup

Note: This is an edition of the NM Political Report Elections Roundup, which comes out twice a month on Tuesdays (and will increase to ever week when elections near) as an email newsletter. Sign up to get the newsletter here. Quick hits

This week, U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján announced he supports impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump. See my story on it.U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland announced her support last week.Speaking of Haaland, after endorsing Elizabeth Warren for president, she has been a fairly active surrogate on behalf of the Massachusetts U.S. Senator, especially on Native issues.Andy wrote about how political parties can’t hold raffle fundraisers according to a state agency.It’s not officially a campaign event, but VP Mike Pence will be in Artesia this week.Any links you think I should include in the next edition? Email matthew [at] nmpoliticalreport [dot] com.

Luján supports an impeachment inquiry

U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján announced Monday that he supports an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. Luján is the longest serving current member of the New Mexico House delegation and is the number four member of House leadership as Assistant Speaker of the House. The Democratic congressman said in a statement that it is “not a position I’ve reached lightly.”Luján’s support of impeachment is notable not only because of his position in House Democratic leadership, but because he is a close ally of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi has opposed impeachment proceedings even as a majority of the House Democratic caucus supports such a push and has instead argued Democrats should continue investigations into Trump. 

Luján cited Trump’s failure to act on reports that the Russian government would target elections systems in the U.S. and findings in the report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller as reasons why he supported moving forward with an impeachment inquiry against the president. “The report detailed sustained and frequent attempts by the Trump campaign to establish ties to the Russian government and an eagerness to benefit from hacked information stolen from our fellow Americans,” Luján said.

Pence headed to NM next week

Vice President Mike Pence will be in New Mexico next week to promote Donald Trump’s North American trade agreement. Pence’s trip to Artesia on Wednesday, Aug. 21 was announced by America First Policies, a non-profit that backs Trump. Pence’s visit will be part of a series of events the group is holding to promote the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, a replacement to NAFTA which was signed by Canada, Mexico and the United States but has not been ratified by Congress. According to the group, the event will feature “guest speakers discussing the [USMCA], and how this new trade deal will hugely benefit the economy and American workers in the Artesia area, the state of New Mexico, and in our great nation as a whole.”

The Trump campaign has maintained they believe he can win New Mexico in 2020, despite losing to Democrat Hillary Clinton by over 8 percentage points in 2016 (Libertarian candidate, former Gov. Gary Johnson, received 9.3 percent of the vote, the highest percentage by a third-party candidate since Independent Ross Perot in 1992).

Haaland asks for House to start impeachment inquiry

U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland announced Wednesday that she supports an impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump. When announcing her support for the impeachment inquiry, the first-term Democratic congresswoman said, “the President is not above the law” and that “there is growing evidence of impeachable offenses.”

Support for beginning the process of impeaching Trump has grown among Democrats in the House; Haaland is the 122nd House Democrat to support such an inquiry according to the Washington Post’s count. Then-Republican congressman Justin Amash of Michigan announced his support for impeachment earlier this year. He has since left the Republican Party. So far, Haaland is the only member of the House from New Mexico to support impeachment.