Dems choose Garcia Richard in close Land Commissioner race; Colón, Morales clinch State Auditor and Lt. Gov nominations

“It’s going to be a nail-biter,” Garrett VeneKlasen said, early in the night as he and fellow Democrat Stephanie Garcia Richard were neck-and-neck in the race for New Mexico State Land Commissioner. And indeed it was, as the two traded the lead throughout the night, with Garcia Richard, a state representative, pulling ahead as the final results from Bernalillo County came in late Tuesday night, giving her a two percentage point lead over VeneKlasen. Despite a last-minute ad campaign, state Sen. George Muñoz finished almost 15 percentage points behind the two front-runners. “I feel very gratified the voters responded to my cause,” Garcia Richard said. “I was outspent, I didn’t have the institutional support my opponents had and I didn’t have the endorsements they had.”

In November’s general election, she will face Republican Pat Lyons, who previously held the office for two terms, from 2003 until 2010. A rancher, Lyons currently represents District 2 on the Public Regulation Commission.

Voters to choose nominees for guv, other races

After four weeks of early voting, the last of New Mexico’s voters will cast their ballots today. Already, over 110,000 New Mexicans have voted through either early in-person or absentee voting. More than 75 percent of those have been Democrats. Democrats have cast 76,839 votes, Republicans 34,674 votes and Libertarians, in their first cycle as a major party, 265 votes. More Democrats are casting ballots because they have a competitive race at the top of the ballot.

National parks endure rising visitation and less staff

National parks have been a centerpiece of America’s tourism culture since the late 19th century, after the colonialization and displacement of many of the Indigenous people of the West. But recently what’s been called “America’s best idea” has a new label: “loved to death.”

Last year, about 330 million people visited the parks. That’s roughly 5 million more visits than the total U.S. population and almost 50 million more visits than in 2012. While visitation has increased, staffing levels have declined and the costs of overdue park infrastructure projects have ballooned to around $12 billion. As the national parks’ summer high season begins and the understaffed Park Service works to keep them clean and safe for the crowds, politicians are fighting over how to pay for the parks.

Dem gubernatorial candidates spend big as election day nears

As last-minute attacks swirl and campaigns shift efforts to get voters to the polls, candidates filed their final campaign finance reports before the Tuesday primary election. U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham once again led the way in fundraising, and she also spent the most money out of all four gubernatorial candidates in the most recent campaign finance period, which spanned from May 8 to May 29. She raised over $215,000, more than twice her two Democratic opponents combined, and spent nearly $710,000. She finished May with nearly $1.1 million cash on hand. State Sen. Joe Cervantes spent nearly $575,000, and finished with nearly as much campaign cash in his coffers as Lujan Grisham.

Lessons governor candidates can take from education reform

When Gov. Susana Martinez was sworn into office nearly eight years ago, she had this to say about educating children in New Mexico: “Nothing we do is more indispensable to our future well-being or will receive more attention from my administration than guaranteeing our children a quality education.”
New Mexico had received an “F” for K-12 achievement on a national education grading report. Fast forward eight years. As she winds down the final year of her second term, New Mexico earned a “D-” for K-12 achievement from Education Week’s Quality Counts report — and our overall grade actually sunk from a C to a D, dropping from 32nd to 50th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. There’s more to learn about that progress — or lack thereof — in trying to improve education in New Mexico, other than “it’s hard.” Turning around a system as large as public education is like turning an aircraft carrier. It’s going to take a lot of pushing and it won’t turn on a dime.

A border town without playgrounds: Grappling with poverty, job loss and no place to play

ANTHONY, N.M. — Halfway between El Paso and Las Cruces is the place where Texas and New Mexico meet: four square miles of bucolic small-town America, surrounded by sprawling pecan orchards, farmland and dairies stocked with thousands of milk cows. It has all the blessings and all the curses of a small town — with a borderland twist. This close-knit, largely Spanish-speaking community is a place where many families have deep roots, and newcomers — mostly Mexican immigrants — are bienvenidos. The schools are good. The streets are generally safe, especially since the city incorporated in 2010 and got its own small police force.

Tribal nations hold some of the best water rights in the West

Tens of thousands of people on the Navajo Nation lack running water in their homes. But that could change in the coming years, as the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project goes into effect. It’s expected to deliver water to the reservation and nearby areas by 2024, as part of a Navajo Nation water rights settlement with New Mexico, confirmed by Congress in 2009. This story originally appeared at High Country News and is reprinted with permission. Three other Native water settlements currently await congressional approval.

Independents look to buck history, win legislative seats

Outside the New Mexico State Capitol on Thursday morning a small group of men and women gathered to spread the word that candidates should not need an R, D or L after their names to win a race. The group also hoped to reach the almost quarter of New Mexico voters not registered with a particular party and show them not everyone has to choose from established major-party candidates. “Buenos días de Dios. I’m Tweeti Blancett,” one of the candidates called to about a dozen people outside the Roundhouse, “I’m running for state representative for District 40 and I’m an independent.”

Blancett is a rancher from northern New Mexico and a former Republican legislator. Blancett’s campaign announcement also helped launch Unite New Mexico, a local partner of Unite America.

Analysis: Pardons have plummeted in New Mexico under Gov. Martinez

Brenna Ellis thinks the Trump stuff on social media played a part. She pushed for the New York reality TV star’s rogue candidacy on Facebook during the 2016 election season. Meanwhile, she was making a big ask of New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, who had publicly feuded with Trump over his comments about immigrants and Martinez’ running of the state. Ellis, 51, wanted the governor to issue a pardon for her 2001 felony conviction on conspiracy to commit arson. An act of mercy from Martinez would give Ellis, who served six months in jail and has been free for more than 15 years, a clean record and enable her plumbing company to secure government contracts.

When colleges let down Indigenous students

Indian Country News is a weekly note from High Country News, as we continue to broaden our coverage of tribal affairs across the West. In April, police removed two Mohawk teenagers from a campus tour at Colorado State University. By now the video of officers removing Lloyd Skanahwati and Thomas Kanewakeron Gray after a mother on the tour called 911 has made its way around the internet. She said the brothers acted “odd,” wore strange clothing (they were wearing metal band t-shirts) and were too quiet when she began asking them why they were on the tour. “They just really stand out,” the unidentified woman said in the 911 call.