State agency says political parties can’t hold raffles

A northern New Mexico county political party last week learned they could not raffle off a long-range rifle during a fundraising dinner this fall. But it’s not because of the gun, according to the state department that oversees gambling events like bingo and raffles. 

Earlier this month, an agent with the New Mexico Gaming Control Board told members of the Los Alamos Republican Party they would have to cancel their scheduled raffle and refund all of the ticket sales. On its surface, it may seem that the raffle was cancelled because of the grand prize, but the Gaming Control Board said it’s simply because political parties don’t qualify under state law to have raffles. 

Not a ‘qualified organization’ 

On August 6, Gaming Control Special Agent Robert Zajac told Los Alamos Republican Party Chairman Bill McKerley in an email that the party did not qualify to hold a raffle. 

“Upon a review of the Los Alamos GOP, it does not fall under the definition of a ‘qualified organization,’” Zajac wrote. 

In an email days later, Zajac’s boss, Commander Terry McGaha responded to concerns from the Los Alamos GOP that they did indeed fall into the “qualified organization” category. “Based on state law as a whole, it does not appear that a political organization or a political committee meets the statutory definition for being qualified as a civic or service organization,” McGaha wrote. “Since the Bingo and Raffle act has not included political organizations as a permissible category of nonprofit organizations that are permitted to conduct games of chance under the Bingo and Raffle Act, we must insist that you immediately cease and desist from further sales or activity with respect to the raffle you are currently conducting.”

New Mexico Republican Party Vice-Chair of the 3rd Congressional District Anise Golden-Morper told NM Political Report that the party is still considering their options, and that they hope the issue is just about the raffle, not the rifle. 

“We hope that this is not an attempt to control the citizens to freely purchase a raffle ticket that involves a rifle,” Golden-Morper said.  

Richard Kottenstette, a spokesman for the Gaming Board, said the county party’s giveaway was shut down simply because they’re not qualified to hold a raffle. 

“The gun’s not the issue,” Kottenstette said.

Trump administration’s latest asylum rule allowed to stand in Texas, New Mexico

“Trump administration’s latest asylum rule allowed to stand in Texas, New Mexico” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. Asylum-seeking migrants who cross into Texas or New Mexico can be barred from receiving asylum protection if they passed through another country before arriving at the U.S. border, a federal court ruled Friday. The ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is a partial victory for the Trump administration, which announced a policy last month that would disqualify most asylum seekers from receiving protection in the United States if they crossed through another country and didn’t first apply for asylum there. A federal district judge in San Francisco initially halted the measure, aimed at blocking asylum claims from Central Americans, but Friday’s decision by the 9th Circuit let the policy stand in Texas and New Mexico while halting it in Arizona and California, which are in the 9th Circuit’s jurisdiction. The ruling could change the fate for thousands of people waiting to apply for asylum in Mexican border cities like Ciudad Juárez, Nuevo Laredo and Matamoros.

Doña Ana County Commissioners retreat on sodium cyanide bomb amendment

Doña Ana County commissioners gave a federal agency the green light to use lethal sodium cyanide bombs to combat livestock predation. County commissioners voted 3-2 Tuesday to approve an amended contract with the federal Wildlife Services agency to continue use of the devices, despite an outpouring of opposition from local environmentalists. “It’s pretty shocking,” said Amanda Munro, communications director for the Southwest Environmental Center and a resident of Las Cruces. “I’m very disappointed in the commissioners who voted to instate this next amendment.”

Southwest Environmental Center and other groups have been fighting the use of sodium cyanide bombs, also called M-44s, in Doña Ana county. Environmentalists have argued that the devices are inhumane and that the use of lethal measures to combat predation are based on outdated science.

El Paso’s strong but wounded heart

Something clicks inside of me every time I land in El Paso. My shoulders make peace with my neck. I get off the plane and look for my cultural North Star: an actual star shape made of giant light bulbs on top of the Franklin mountains — mountains that hug the city like a protective mother nestling her young. Home, is above all things, a welcoming place. Many people say their hometown is hospitable or friendly, but El Paso’s warmth is a fundamental tenet that holds up daily life.

Ben Ray Luján aims to connect with voters across the state

On a quiet Saturday morning, just as an early morning rain had stopped and the clouds drifted away, a pile of inflatable rafts sat piled under a tree at La Llorona Park in Las Cruces. Soon, about a dozen teenagers trickled into the park, ready to float about 3 miles down the river with U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján. 

Luján’s district is about 300 miles north of the public park, named after a folklore character associated with rivers and children, that butts up against the Rio Grande. Luján wasn’t there on official business, but instead to engage with young people from other parts of the state not within his congressional district as part of his campaign for U.S. Senate. 

Luján’s name is likely familiar to those who even casually follow political news. Earlier this year, he was tapped to become the assistant Speaker of the House, the fourth-highest rank in Democratic leadership. His father, Ben Luján, served as the New Mexico Speaker of the House and many have speculated that if Ben Ray Luján stayed the course in Congress he might be in line to succeed U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House.

Confusion reigns in calculating methane emissions

No one knows exactly how much methane is released into the atmosphere each year in New Mexico. And with record production in oil and gas for the state of New Mexico, and a governor that wants to transition to clean energy, that’s a big problem. According to EPA data, methane makes up just 10 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.—but it is a particularly potent greenhouse gas, with eighty times the warming power of carbon dioxide. In 2014, the NOAA documented an alarming methane “hotspot” hovering above the Four Corners area. Subsequent research indicated the methane cloud was in fact due to oil and gas production in the region.

Guv’s office: A special session without a plan ‘is the wrong kind of reactive’

Despite a call by the Speaker of the House for a special session to deal with domestic terrorism, the governor’s office is expressing caution and indicating a special session is not currently in the offing. A statement from Dominic Gabello, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s senior advisor for policy and strategy, outlined legislation that the governor supported in this year’s legislative session, including some that became law. However, Gabello said, “To call for a special session, to lean into the well-founded fears of violence in this state and elsewhere, without a focused plan, without caucus outreach, is the wrong kind of reactive. We can be quick without hurrying.”

Earlier this week, Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, asked the governor to call the legislature into a special session for legislation to combat domestic terrorism. Egolf reacted after the announcement from the governor’s office.

During Trump’s visit, El Paso residents criticized his divisiveness — and lawmakers’ inaction on gun laws

EL PASO — The message here wasn’t subtle. And neither was the anger. Four days after a gunman walked into a Walmart and killed 22 people, hundreds of El Pasoans on Wednesday packed into a southside park just miles from the international border with Mexico to tell President Trump he isn’t welcome in this reeling border community. “We can’t sugar coat it anymore, [things] have gone too far,” Kylie Oliver said as she held up a sign that read ‘F**king do something!’ “We’ve tried to be politically correct but it’s time to stop. For me personally, it’s turned to anger.”

The tensions here underscored residents’ mounting anger and frustration about lawmakers’ seemingly intractable positions on stricter gun laws in a city still dealing with grief from what police suspect may have been a racially motivated massacre.

Groundwater levels on the rebound in Albuquerque

Groundwater levels in Albuquerque are rising at the same time as water sources across much of the West are depleting. New research from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) indicates water levels in the aquifer beneath Albuquerque have reached the highest levels recorded since the USGS began mapping groundwater in the area in 2002. The trend began in 2012, when groundwater levels near Albuquerque began rising compared to historical conditions, and despite below-normal annual precipitation, according to maps produced by USGS. In 2016, USGS maps indicated “relatively high” levels of groundwater. At the same time, USGS noted that groundwater level declines, called drawdown, have reduced significantly.  

According to USGS hydrologists Amy Galanter and Andre Ritchie, that means the aquifer system that Albuquerque has relied on to supply drinking water to residents since the 1950s is rebounding after more than twenty years of efforts to restore it. 

Depleting groundwater across the country

Groundwater levels have dropped significantly across much of the West in recent years, impacting food production and drinking water access.

NM releases settlement info from case against previous administration

A New Mexico department released specifics of legal settlements Tuesday between the Department of Public Safety and some of its former employees. 

The state’s General Services Department released specifics of the settlement agreements for former DPS employees Dianna DeJarnette, Terri Thornberry and former DPS Deputy Secretary Amy Orlando. 

RELATED: State law encourages secret payouts

The records from General Services show DeJarnette and Orlando each received settlements of $300,000, while Thornberry received $400,000. Thom Cole, a spokesman for the General Services, said the release is partially in response to increased interest in a large settlement that was agreed upon by former Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration. Cole said the department has been fielding public records requests for specifics of the settlement. But state law requires any claims settled by Risk Management — which is under General Services — have to remain confidential for 180 days and the law is somewhat ambiguous about when that 180 days starts.  

“Rather than have people continue to file [records requests] one after another, after another, trying to hit the right date, we just decided to go ahead and release them,” Cole said. 

The settlements are part of a lawsuit filed by DeJarnette, Thornberry and Orlando alleging employment discrimination and harrasment, specifically by former State Police Chief Pete Kassetas. 

Kassetas has been outspoken about the case since KRQE-TV first reported on it. He still maintains that the large settlement amount and the original confidentiality period of three years was at least partially to protect Martinez.