Long-time incumbent and political newcomer emerge as winners in two ABQ council races

Two divisive Albuquerque city council district races were decided in a runoff election Tuesday night. Incumbent City Councilor Isaac Benton won his race in District 2, which includes the downtown and historic Barelas neighborhoods. Political newcomer Brook Bassan won her race against Ane Romero, who has never held a political office before, but ran for a state House seat in 2016. 

Benton told NM Political Report that his win shows that his constituency knows he’s not in it for the fame or fortune of the city council. “I’ve always just wanted to serve and I think quite a few people recognize that,” Benton said. 

Leading up to the election last month where Benton won the most votes, but failed to get more than 50 percent, accusations of dishonesty came from both sides. But it was a mailer from political group who supported Benton that caused the most controversy and division.

Building blocks: Big investment in early childhood aims to provide foundation for NM kids.

SANTA FE — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham campaigned on a promise to transform early childhood education throughout New Mexico. After a months-long nationwide search, she has found a candidate to lead the effort, which could command a budget of nearly half a billion dollars in the next fiscal year. In November, the governor named Elizabeth Groginsky as secretary-designate of the brand new Early Childhood Education and Care Department, which will coordinate health and education services for the state’s 120,000 children under age 5. Groginsky arrives from Washington, D.C., where she served as assistant superintendent of early learning for the district’s education department, bringing together early childhood services from across numerous agencies — much as she’ll be doing in New Mexico. This story originally appeared at Searchlight New Mexico and is reprinted with permission.

State job opportunities limited for medical cannabis patients

Earlier this year, New Mexico legislators and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham overhauled the state’s medical cannabis statute. Updates to the law ranged from relatively simple definition changes to more significant changes like allowing consumption areas for cannabis patients. 

But the parts of the law that are supposed to protect patients from losing their jobs solely for being a patient in the program may also be hindering the nearly 79,000 cannabis patients in New Mexico from getting a job with the state. That’s because the law also protects employers by giving them enough autonomy to fire or not hire a cannabis patient for safety concerns or if the employer could lose federal funding for hiring a cannabis user. 

Jason Barker is a medical cannabis patient advocate and a patient himself. He said he started looking at job descriptions after the state announced a three-day “rapid hire event”scheduled for next week and aimed at hiring hundreds of new employees. But, Barker said, many of the jobs he’s qualified for are considered safety sensitive, which would require a pre-employment drug test.

Pelosi announces House will move forward with articles of impeachment

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced Thursday that the U.S. House of Representatives would start drafting articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump over his withholding of foreign aid to Ukraine in exchange for investigating the son of a political rival. The announcement came after an investigation by the House, which began in late September. At the end of October, all three of New Mexico’s members of the House, all Democrats, voted to support the impeachment inquiry. The investigations included closed door meetings by House committees and more recently public hearings of the House Intelligence Committee and the House Judiciary Committee. Ben Ray Luján, the Assistant Speaker in the U.S. House of Representatives, supported the announcement.

State settles with five more behavioral health providers over 2013 funding freeze

The state settled with five more behavioral health providers who had sued after the state froze their access to Medicaid funding in 2013. At the time, the state said it had found credible allegations of fraud by the providers. The new settlements totaled $10 million and are the last of the ten lawsuits filed by providers over the funding freeze. These latest settlements were paid to Santa Maria El Mirador, the provider formerly known as Easter Seals El Mirador; Border Area Mental Health Services; Southwest Counseling Center, Inc.; Southern New Mexico Human Development, Inc.; and Families and Youth, Inc.

The state’s Attorney General cleared all providers that the Susana Martinez administration accused of fraud. The suspension caused a behavioral health crisis in New Mexico.

How McKinsey helped the Trump administration detain and deport immigrants

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. Just days after he took office in 2017, President Donald Trump set out to make good on his campaign pledge to halt illegal immigration. In a pair of executive orders, he ordered “all legally available resources” to be shifted to border detention facilities and called for hiring 10,000 new immigration officers. The logistical challenges were daunting, but as luck would have it, Immigration and Customs Enforcement already had a partner on its payroll: McKinsey & Company, an international consulting firm brought on under the Obama administration to help engineer an “organizational transformation” in the ICE division charged with deporting migrants who are in the United States unlawfully.

Characterizing fracking fluids: More details on the state’s plans for produced water

On a chilly evening in October, Santa Fe-area residents packed into the St. Francis Auditorium for the second of what would be five public meetings held by the New Mexico Environment Department on the state’s plans for produced water. It was only a matter of minutes before attendees began interrupting the presentation with accusations of the state poisoning waterways and calls for a moratorium on fracking in the name of climate change. Residents and environmentalists alike are concerned about the state’s plan to research and eventually regulate the recycling and reuse of treated produced water, a byproduct of oil and gas extraction that contains both naturally-occurring minerals, hydrocarbons and rare earth metals, as well as chemical additives and drilling constituents that are used in hydraulic fracking. Every barrel of oil generates four to seven barrels of produced water, according to Bill Brancard, general counsel of the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD).

As government prepares to seize more land for a border wall, some Texas landowners prepare to fight

“As government prepares to seize more land for a border wall, some Texas landowners prepare to fight” 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. EL PASO — When David Acevedo attended a meeting with officials from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers in Webb County last month, he thought he would come away with more information about the Trump administration’s border security plans. But Acevedo, whose family owns 180 acres of land near the Rio Grande in south Laredo, said the meeting only produced more questions about how the administration was going to move forward with plans it had for the swath of land that’s been in his family for generations. “They didn’t tell us that they were doing a physical barrier,” he said. “They said, ‘It may be a wall, it may be that we just need lights, we’re going to put lighting up, it may be we just need a road.’”

The only thing he knew for sure was the administration wanted access to his land to conduct surveys and site samples for border security purposes.

TelAbortion could ease access woes

While abortion access at the national level has come under greater assault in recent years, some nonprofit groups on the front lines for reproductive healthcare are providing what is known as “TelAbortions” to New Mexicans through a study. A TelAbortion has the potential to simplify the process of terminating a pregnancy and some advocates say it could be the way of the future. To qualify, the patient needs to be less than 10 weeks pregnant. Through video conferencing over an electronic device, the patient speaks with the study’s health provider. After establishing that the patient is less than 10 weeks pregnant, the patient receives the two pills necessary – mifepristone and misoprostol – through the mail.

YouTube promised to label state-sponsored videos but doesn’t always do so

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. In a recent episode of “60 Minutes,” a political talk show broadcast on Russian television, the hosts discussed the case against Maria Butina, the Russian gun activist who was recently released from prison in the U.S. after pleading guilty to conspiracy to act as a foreign agent. One of the co-hosts remarked that while the Americans charged Butina with spying, “all of it turned out to be nonsense.” Sympathetic to this interpretation of events, the studio audience erupted in applause. The hourlong show — not to be confused with the venerable CBS program — airs weeknights on the state-owned Russia 1 television network, which boasts the second-largest viewership in the country.