Our favorite stories of 2018

Note: This is part of our year-end series. See our top ten stories of the year. Matt’s favorite stories

NM Political Report is ending its fourth year (can you believe we’ve been around that long?) and looking back, I can see some stories that I’m very glad I was able to write. Some got a lot of attention—like taking an early look at what legislative races would be those to watch on election night. Interestingly enough, Democrats won five of the six races I had deemed “longshots” based on previous election results. I also looked at if 2018 would be a “year of the woman” in New Mexico.

2018 Top Stories #1: Lujan Grisham wins election

Governor-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham announced she would not seek reelection to Congress and instead run for governor well before 2018. Lujan Grisham defeated her Republican opponent Steve Pearce with a healthy ten point lead in November after beating her primary opponent Jeff Apodaca in the Democratic primary election by 60 points. Not surprisingly, much of the state’s political news focused on the gubernatorial race, which often became contentious both in the primary and general election. That contention was ever-present at the Democratic Party of New Mexico’s pre-primary convention, when one of Lujan Grisham’s former congressional staffers interrupted the congresswoman’s stump speech and was subsequently arrested. Despite winning by a large margin at that convention, Lujan Grisham’s opponents refused to drop out and accused her of cheating during her campaign.

2018 Top Stories #2: Haaland makes history

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.

2018 Top Stories #3: Supreme Court Showdown between TX and NM

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 New Mexico loses in the U.S. Supreme Court showdown against Texas over the waters of the Rio Grande, the state could owe a billion dollars or more and also be required to halt or restrict groundwater pumping. In the meantime, New Mexico has been spending millions of dollars fighting the lawsuit. Now approaching its seventh year, No. 141, Original: Texas v. New Mexico and Colorado, blew up out of a deal two irrigation districts signed with the federal government during the drought of the 2000s.

2018 Top Stories #4: Rio Grande runs dry, Elephant Butte Reservoir drops below 4% capacity

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! Throughout the different seasons, I visit various spots in the bosque along the Rio Grande in Albuquerque. In the winter I like looking for bald eagles and porcupines, and in the spring, it’s fun to see where spring snowmelt is saturating restoration projects or creating backwaters for fish habitat. Early in April 2018, when I visited one of my springtime spots on the west side of the river, the new grove of cottonwood saplings was completely dry and the river on one side of the island was little more than a trickle. The winter had been dry, the mountains low on snow.

2018 Top Stories #5: Torres Small wins 2nd CD race

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! New Mexico was the site of one of the closest and most hard-fought congressional races in the nation. Ultimately, Democrat Xochitl Torres Small pulled the upset and won the race for the state’s most conservative congressional district by just 3,722 votes. Outside political groups, such as PACs and Super PACs, on both sides poured millions of dollars into the southern-New Mexico race. And neither Torres Small nor Republican candidate Yvette Herrell had a free ride in the primary.

Q&A with NM’s incoming energy secretary

Last week, Gov.-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham started announcing appointments to top spots in state government. Among the positions she announced was her choice for secretary of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD), Sarah Cottrell Propst. Most recently, Propst worked as executive director of Interwest Energy Alliance, a nonprofit trade association of renewable energy companies in six western states, including New Mexico. During the administration of Gov. Bill Richardson, Propst served as his energy and environment advisor, and then as deputy secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED). She came to New Mexico after earning a master’s degree from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Oil leases bring jobs, strains to southeast NM

LOVINGTON—The 61-mile drive on US 82 from Artesia to this southeast New Mexico town crosses the heart of the Permian Basin oil field’s extension into the state. Pump rigs bob like great iron dinosaurs come to life, and the smell of petroleum fills the air. Flare pipes burn off natural gas and methane like fire-breathing dragons. It’s the scent of economic opportunity for some, the stench of impending danger to others. Industry experts and environmentalists agree on one thing: the September 2018 sale of nearly $1 billion in federal leases has set off one of the greatest oil booms in American history and has overwhelmed everything from the region’s highway to its housing supply.

Ryan Zinke to step down as Interior secretary

Ryan Zinke will step down from his post as Interior secretary, President Donald Trump announced Saturday. “Secretary of the Interior @RyanZinke will be leaving the Administration at the end of the year after having served for a period of almost two years,” Trump wrote in a tweet. In a second tweet, Trump said he plans to announce a replacement in the coming days. In a resignation letter obtained by the Associated Press, Zinke attributed his departure to “vicious and politically motivated attacks.”

Zinke, a former Montana congressman and Navy SEAL, oversaw much of the Trump administration’s energy dominance agenda, including the ramp up of public lands oil and gas leasing and the rollback of environmental protections. The Interior Department includes the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service, which together manage 330 million acres of public lands, mostly in the West. Under Zinke, the Interior Department opened up large swaths of the West to oil and gas drilling, rolled back a suite of climate change policies, and abandoned a number of collaborative land management agreements spearheaded by the department under former President Barack Obama. Zinke announced his intention to rewrite one such plan, on sage grouse protections, early in his tenure.

Legislators pre-file bill to repeal pre-Roe law criminalizing abortion

Lawmakers could first pre-file legislation for next month’s upcoming legislative session on Monday and some got a jump on what’s expected to be a busy 60-day session starting in January. Rep. Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces, announced the pre-filing of HB 51, a bill that would remove the pre-Roe v. Wade state statute criminalizing abortion except in cases of rape or incest. New Mexico is currently one of nine states with a statute criminalizing abortion. After the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, the landmark federal case that legalized the practice, state law was suspended. If the decision is overturned, abortion would be a fourth-degree felony in New Mexico.