Lawmakers point state to new educational future

It was a good year for education. Whether it was great depended on who you asked. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and legislative leaders, both Democratic and Republican, extoled investments New Mexico made in education Saturday as the 60-day session came to a close. 

“This is a Legislature that delivered a moonshot,” the governor nearly shouted during a post-session press conference in her Cabinet Room on the fourth floor of the Roundhouse. 

State lawmakers pumped an additional $500 million into the public schools budget and created a new early education department. Teachers and school administrators received a salary increase. And money for early childhood programs got a boost. 

But bills that emphasized multicultural, bilingual education and strengthened the community school model – ideas that some lawmakers and education advocates consider transformational – seemed destined to die, stuck in legislative committees. 

Then in the final hours of the 2019 legislative session, two of them were pulled from certain death and placed on the Senate floor Saturday morning. 

The Multicultural Education Framework, a centerpiece of the Transform Education NM coalition of Yazzie Martinez education lawsuit plaintiffs and community advocates, was defeated, going down on  on a 14-22 vote, with seven Democrats voting against the bill. 

In contrast, a bill that strengthens the community school model, cleared the Senate after contentious debate on a bipartisan vote of 24-15 and and is headed to Lujan Grisham’s desk. A priority of the governor, the community school model provides social supports for struggling students and makes schools a community hub. 

Sen. Mimi Stewart, a retired teacher who chairs the Legislative Education Study Committee, put up a spirited defense of the legislation. 

The community schools idea had been long studied by the LESC, she said.

New direction, and infusion of money, seen for criminal justice system

Lawmakers are hopeful that 2019 brings an opportunity to significantly overhaul major parts of the New Mexico criminal justice system, after what one key state senator called a “lost decade” that saw myriad ideas but scant action. Bills are expected to address chronically high crime rates across the state, with a focus on speedier justice in cases involving violence and more lifeboats for people whose lesser crimes have saddled them with the stigma of a criminal record. Related: Lawmaker confident about criminal justice reform’s chances of passage

There’s talk of a massive “omnibus” bill that would feature changes to New Mexico’s probation and parole systems, reparations for crime victims, the way law enforcement uses eyewitness testimony to seek convictions and several other laws. Then there are the reforms that, in years past, have found support from both political parties but ultimately met the veto pen of Gov. Susana Martinez, a former prosecutor who for eight years stuck to her belief that New Mexico needed tougher penalties for lawbreakers, but largely stiff-armed proposals to address systemic injustices. Those shifts — likely to be proposed in individual bills — would include limiting the use of solitary confinement in the state’s prisons and jails, creating a pathway for some offenders to have their criminal records wiped clean after a period of time and prohibiting private-sector employers from inquiring about job applicants’ past convictions in most instances.

Proposed NM rule change would allow immigrants to work as lawyers regardless of federal status

Interpretation and enforcement of immigration laws seemingly change as fast as finicky weather patterns under President Donald Trump and his advisers, mostly a group self-styled “immigration hardliners.”
In some cases, the courts have thwarted the administration’s attempts at unilaterally limiting who can enter the United States. Contrarily, Trump, without evidence, continues to tout progress on “The Wall” along the nation’s southern border and, most recently, deployed US military forces to stop what he sees as an “invasion” of migrants from the south. The uncertainty leads to big, philosophical questions on governance such as: How far does presidential power go when it comes to immigration policy? In New Mexico, the charged debate over immigration has raised a narrower question for the state’s legal community. Should people in the United States illegally—regardless of whether they are eligible to hold jobs—be allowed to practice law here as long as they’ve passed the state bar exam?

Small donors make a showing for Lujan Grisham

One of the stories that’s emerged during the 2018 election is a surge of online small donors crossing state lines to power insurgent Democratic candidates who the party hopes will lead to a takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives. One of those campaigns is in southern New Mexico’s 2nd congressional district. Democratic candidate Xochitl Torres Small has built a war chest that includes significant small donor support in a race against Republican Yvette Herrell that the Cook Political Report has rated a “toss-up.”

But Torres Small and other Democratic congressional candidates aren’t the only ones benefiting. New Mexico gubernatorial candidate Michelle Lujan Grisham’s small donor contributions reported with a month left in the campaign have notably outpaced not just her rival, Republican Steve Pearce,  but also candidates in the last two gubernatorial campaigns. And a much larger share of her small donations, those that are $200 or less, come from outside New Mexico.

ABQ Mayor’s hire of controversial ex-prosecutor riles community

Leonard Waites was surprised. The executive director of the state Martin Luther King Jr. Commission had just learned from a reporter that Mayor Tim Keller had hired former U.S. Attorney and defeated congressional candidate Damon Martinez as a senior policy adviser for the Albuquerque Police Department. Waites, who is black and also serves as chairman of the Albuquerque Police Oversight Board, was outraged last year by the results of a large-scale federal law enforcement operation. Overseen by Martinez, agents had arrested a grossly disproportionate number of black people for relatively minor crimes in 2016. “I have very, very serious concerns about this,” Waites said Monday of Martinez’s hire, adding that he had heard nothing about it from the Keller administration.

Pressure on the Campaign Trail: Battle for CD2 no sweat for Herrell and Torres Small

It’s just over two weeks before Election Day in one of the hottest races in the country — the Second Congressional District covering the southern half of New Mexico. Attack TV ads and nasty mailers have bombarded the air waves and stuffed mailboxes — and in the age of social media, clogged the news feeds of fired-up voters – all paid for by millions in  campaign cash, national Democratic and Republican party support and spending from dark money groups. And nothing points to the onslaught easing before Election Day. This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission. A 2nd Congressional District election is usually a quiet affair ending in a forgone conclusion.

NM Guv candidates differ on plans for state’s troubled criminal justice system

Attack ads, political bottle tossing and recriminations have marked this year’s race to replace outgoing Gov. Susana Martinez, who is leaving office due to term limits. The campaign’s increasingly dark tone illustrates the state of play in politics here in New Mexico and across the nation. But under the tribalism lies something else: A set of stark differences in visions held by the two candidates, Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham and Republican Steve Pearce, who have both abandoned seats in the U.S. House of Representatives for a shot at the Governor’s Mansion. During three televised debates, Pearce and Lujan Grisham have hurled broadsides and frontal attacks at one another on a host of issues bedeviling the state — from education to immigration, economic development to marijuana legalization, energy to water conservation. Clashes over how to address New Mexico’s persistently high crime rates, particularly in Albuquerque, have torched some of the race’s oxygen, too.

Patrick Lyons fundraising for Land Commissioner campaign raises legal and ethical questions

A campaign fundraising letter that public land commissioner candidate Patrick Lyons sent ranchers who lease land from the State Land Office is raising legal and ethical questions a month before voters decide whether to return him to the job he held for eight years. Should Lyons win the seat this November, he will be in charge of renegotiating leases with companies seeking to renew those agreements. About 30 percent of the money Lyons has raised so far in his run has come from lessees, according to a review of campaign finance records. This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission. A copy of the letter was shared with New Mexico In Depth and is addressed “dear agricultural lessee.” It goes on to describe Lyons’ record as a rancher and farmer, and as previous land commissioner.

Lawmakers get started on ethics commission enabling legislation

For a window into how legislation is made, few moments were more educational than a sparsely attended meeting Tuesday afternoon in a cavernous, mostly empty room on the University of New Mexico campus. On the surface, the meeting was congenial as two state lawmakers, legislative staff, attorneys and representatives of civic organizations hammered out the beginnings of draft legislation that would fill out the details of the state’s first independent ethics commission if voters give the go ahead in November. But beneath the amicable discussions there was a rematch of sorts, perhaps noticeable only to those aware of the contentious history surrounding the idea of an independent ethics commission. For almost 15 years, lawmakers offended by the notion that they needed anyone to watch over them squared off against other legislators who touted independent oversight as a way to restore public trust in government. Legislative opposition knew no political party, with both Democrats and Republicans chafing at the idea of an independent oversight body.

A win by two or more challengers would give women first-ever majority on New Mexico Court of Appeals

The notion struck Megan Duffy at an event she attended with several other women—and it struck her hard. It was Aug. 18. The gathering marked the anniversary of a seismic change to the US Constitution: Passage of the 19th Amendment, more commonly known as women’s suffrage. “Women have only been able to vote in this country for 98 years,” Duffy says in a recent interview with New Mexico In Depth and SFR.