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.

The country’s busiest oil and gas office has a plan for more drilling

If there is one swath of land that holds the most promise for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s vision for energy dominance, it might be southeast New Mexico. The 6-million acre region includes part of the Permian Basin, which stretches into west Texas and is expected to produce more than any other nation except Saudi Arabia by 2023. In August, the Bureau of Land Management released a 1,500-page draft of a new management plan for the New Mexico side of the basin that will determine how its resources will be used for the next 20 years and beyond. The BLM’s Carlsbad field office, which oversees this three-county region, is the busiest in the nation for oil and gas drilling. It’s also a landscape of deserts, grasslands, small mountain ranges and spectacular underground caves.

Land commissioner candidates offer differing visions for renewable power

Inside the New Mexico State Land Office, current Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn sits at a dark wood desk ringed with a painting of the Rio Grande Gorge, a saddle, and a pair of leather chaps pinned on the wall, homages to a lifetime spent on cattle ranches. But it’s the decor outside that tends to draw more attention: Dunn installed a model pump jack in front of the State Land Office building on Old Santa Fe Trail. Its bobbing head —powered by a solar panel — is a familiar sight in oil country. From that desk, he manages the state’s land trust: 9 million acres of surface land, and 13 million acres of mineral estate. It’s his job to maximize revenue from those acres through leases for businesses, grazing and rights-of-way, royalties from mining potash, coal, salt and caliche, and above all, fossil fuels, which accounts for 92.7 percent of the revenue generated the office.

Weary of court drama, gerrymandering opponents shift their strategy

Discouraged by seemingly endless court battles, gerrymandering opponents in some states are shifting their strategy two years before the 2020 census sparks another round of redistricting for legislative seats. Voters in Colorado, Michigan, Missouri and Utah will decide in November whether to have independent commissioners, rather than state lawmakers, draw congressional maps and the lines for state legislative seats. Except for Colorado, where lawmakers added the ballot measure, activists got these initiatives on the ballot by gathering signatures. And earlier this year, Ohio voters overwhelmingly approved a measure that requires bipartisan support for new lines, though the power to draw them returns to the majority party if several redistricting attempts fail. The new system goes into effect in 2021.

More than 400 kids remain separated from their parents. Here’s one lawyer’s long-shot plan to reunite a family

Despite a legal team that includes celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti, an eight-year-old Guatemalan boy separated from his father under Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy remains in a shelter in Baytown with no end in sight. Byron Xol Bol, who was detained with his father after crossing the Rio Grande into Texas in May, is one of 416 separated children who have yet to be reunited with their parents, as attorneys scramble to untangle the details of the cases and the government fails to meet court-ordered deadlines to reunify the children with their families. The Trump administration launched a zero-tolerance policy earlier this year that led to more than 2,500 children being separated from their families, including the Xols. President Trump walked back the policy in June after public outcry, and signed an executive order on June 20 that essentially reverted to the prior “catch and release” policy that the president had criticized. Byron Xol is among more than 300 children whose parents have been deported, making reunification even more challenging.

States see energy boom along with economic expansion

An oil and gas bonanza in Southwestern states may be helping to drive the continuing national economic boom. The nation’s 4.2 percent growth in GDP, estimated last month by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, is the highest quarterly growth since 2014. State estimates aren’t due until mid-November, but many experts see oil and natural gas drilling, driven by higher prices, as a leading reason. “The states that contribute most might be the ones with strong increases in energy production,” including Texas, New Mexico and Colorado, said Mark Perry, an economist at the University of Michigan and an economic analyst for the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute. GDP measures gross domestic product, or the value of all goods and services produced in a given period of time.

NM Supreme Court strikes down straight-party voting

The New Mexico Supreme Court unanimously struck down a controversial proposal to add a straight-party option to November’s ballot. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver announced last month that she would reinstate an option on November’s ballot to allow people to vote for all candidates of a given party with one mark on the ballot. That decision was challenged by the Libertarian and Republican parties of New Mexico, along with a Utah-based political action committee, a non-profit advocate group for independent candidates and one Democratic write-in candidate. On Wednesday, Chief Justice Judith Nakamura called it a tough decision, but said only state lawmakers can add add straight-party voting to the ballot. “Until the legislature makes a decision one way or the other, the Secretary of State cannot,” Nakamura said.

On the (hiking) trail with Heinrich

Last weekend, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich and his wife Julie pulled up to an Albuquerque trailhead and were greeted by a group of eager supporters with hiking poles and hydration packs at the ready. Almost immediately, Heinrich became an impromptu trail guide, educating his constituents on the different native plants along the trail and which animals use them as food sources. At least twice, unsuspecting hikers recognized the affable sportsman who has worked in Washington, D.C. since 2009. One family hiking towards the top of the trail passed the Heinrich entourage on its way back to the trail head. As the two groups converged, one woman looked at Heinrich and asked, “Is it really you?

The first campaign finance reports of general election are in for governor, other races

Campaign finance reports filed Monday showed positives for both gubernatorial candidates, with the Republican showing a lead with money left, but the Democrat raised, and spent, more money. Republican nominee Steve Pearce finished the campaign finance period—which lasted from July 1 to Sept. 3—with nearly $1.9 million cash-on-hand for the final two months of the race. This was well ahead of the $1.2 million cash-on-hand for his opponent, Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham. Lujan Grisham, however, raised $1.9 million in the period and spent almost $1.5 million.

UNM fees for public records violate law

The University of New Mexico violated state law when it didn’t properly fulfill records requests from NM Political Report, according to the New Mexico Attorney General’s office. A determination letter from Assistant Attorney General John Kreienkamp, in response to a complaint filed by NM Political Report, cited two violations of the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA). In one instance, the university failed to provide records in the statutorily required amount of time. In another instance, the AG’s office determined that UNM violated state law by charging $0.38 per page to transfer more than 1,600 pages in a single electronic file. “Based on our review of the evidence and applicable laws, we conclude that the University’s proposed fees violated IPRA,” Kreienkamp wrote.