Homeland Insecurity: How ready is New Mexico for when disaster strikes?

David Silver thinks about the bad things: floods, fires, nuclear meltdowns, zombie apocalypses. As the city of Santa Fe’s emergency management director, it’s his job and, though that last one might sound goofy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention a few years ago created a graphic novel about a zombie pandemic moving across the country. Silver chuckles at the campaign. It was a great way to get people thinking about emergency preparedness, he says. Whether preparing for roving bands of the recently reanimated or a natural or human-caused disaster, the steps are the same: have a communication plan, keep an emergency pack on hand and know who to trust.

Relatives of undocumented children caught up in ICE dragnet

This summer, a Kansas City man named Edwin got a call from immigration officials. They had picked up his nephew at the southern border and wanted to release the teen into his care. So Edwin went online and bought a bed. Later that week, he was contacted again, this time by an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detective who knocked at his door. The agent gave Edwin a letter saying he needed to come to headquarters for an interview about three federal crimes: conspiracy, visa fraud and human smuggling.

Young, out-of-state lawyer could be a new federal judge for NM

A federal court of appeals judge from New Mexico, who is expected to step down soon, could be replaced by a lawyer with less than 10 years of legal work under his belt and very loose ties to the state. NM Political Report learned the White House sent a short list of possible replacements for the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Paul Kelly Jr. Names on the list include  prominent judges and lawyers who currently practice in New Mexico—and one is a lawyer from Washington D.C. who previously worked for a Utah senator and whose family owns a cattle ranch in New Mexico. William Levi, a lawyer in his early 30s who graduated law school in 2010, spent a year as a clerk for U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Anthony Scirica and later for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. Levi also spent about two years as a staffer for Utah Senator Mike Lee, a libertarian-leaning member of the Republican Party. NM Political Report left a voice message for Levi at his Washington D.C. office and emailed him, but only received an out of office reply.

Santa Fe Mayor Gonzales won’t run for re-election

Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales announced Wednesday that he will not seek a second four year term in office. Gonzales said the decision not to run “wasn’t easy.”

The mayor announced the news in an email to supporters, highlighting his accomplishments while in office. The one-term mayor said he wishes to spend more time with his two daughters. Gonzales’ decision leaves the city’s mayoral election, six months away, wide-open. While Gonzales didn’t mention his political future, he indicated he will take some time out of public service.

Mayoral candidate calls claims his law firm represents former APD chief ‘propaganda’

An Albuquerque mayoral candidate attempted to distance himself from a former Albuquerque police chief accused of improper and possibly illegal actions involving  a city contract. Last week a Twitter user said former Democratic Party of New Mexico chairman Brian Colόn was “So far the best candidate,” but went on to ask “However is it true your firm represents [former Albuquerque Police Chief] Ray Schultz?”

Colόn, who is an attorney, responded on Twitter Monday afternoon, saying “My firm does not represent Schultz. Propaganda.”

My firm does not represent Schultz. Propaganda. DOJ compliance will be priority for our new chief of police in the Colón Administration.

How Jeff Sessions misrepresented the Trump administration’s expansion of military supplies for police

The Trump administration made false assertions to justify an executive order expanding police forces’ access to military equipment such as tanks and grenade launchers. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Monday that President Trump would make defensive gear available to police again by undoing a policy from the Obama administration. Trump then signed an executive order whose title emphasized that branding: “Restoring State, Tribal, and Local Law Enforcement’s Access to Life-Saving Equipment and Resources.”

“He is rescinding restrictions from the prior administration that limited your agencies’ ability to get equipment through federal programs, including life-saving gear like Kevlar vests and helmets and first-responder and rescue equipment like what they’re using in Texas right now,” Sessions said in the speech. But that’s not what the Obama administration’s restrictions did, according to documentation from a unit inside of Sessions’ own Justice Department, the Bureau of Justice Assistance. Kevlar vests were never subject to any restrictions.

Why the Bundy crew keeps winning in court

Last month a Las Vegas jury acquitted two men — Ricky Lovelien of Montana and Steven Stewart of Idaho — for their parts in the 2014 armed standoff between the federal government and supporters of rancher Cliven Bundy. The jury found co-defendants Eric Parker and Scott Drexler not guilty of most charges but deadlocked on some. When it comes to trying the Bundys and their supporters, federal prosecutors now have a terrible record, winning just two convictions after two trials of six defendants in Nevada this year. Last fall, Bundy’s sons Ryan and Ammon Bundy and five others were acquitted for leading an armed takeover of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in early 2016. The recent acquittals in the Nevada case raise big questions for prosecutors.

Ethics hearing highlights ambiguity in public finance rules

In Albuquerque’s city hall earlier this week, dozens of people watched lawyers argue before an elections and ethics board over whether a city council candidate intentionally defrauded citizens of about $38,000. City Council candidate Javier Benavidez qualified for public financing after his campaign collected almost 400 qualified contributions of $5 along with signatures from each contributor. Prominent Albuquerque attorney Pat Rogers argued Benavidez purposefully allowed his campaign to forge signatures and falsify contributions and called the campaign’s actions a “very serious issue.”

In his opening statement, he accused Benavidez of “cheating.”

Rogers argued that Benavidez did not correctly collect contributions, and therefore defrauded taxpayers by using public money for his campaign. Rogers is a former Republican National Committeeman and former go-to counsel for Gov. Susana Martinez. Benavidez is the former executive director of the SouthWest Organizing Project, a group that works on racial and economic justice issues.

NM still tops in nation for reliance on private prisons

New Mexico incarcerates a higher percentage of inmates in privately run, for-profit prisons than any other state, according to a new analysis from the Sentencing Project. It’s a designation New Mexico has held for many years. More than 42 percent of people imprisoned here were being held in one of the state’s five private prisons at the end of 2015, according to the analysis, which is based on figures from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). Three of those prisons are operated by GEO Group, Inc.; Core Civic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) and Management and Training Corporation each run a prison in New Mexico as well. This story originally appeared in New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission.

State board rejects petition to regulate greenhouse gases

Last week, Samantha Ruscavage-Barz, an attorney with WildEarth Guardians, asked the New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board (EIB) to establish regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state. That board, whose members are appointed by the governor, is responsible for rules related to public health issues like air quality, food safety and hazardous waste. By a four-to-one vote, the EIB denied the petition Ruscavage-Barz brought on behalf of 28 New Mexico children and teens. But she’s hopeful that there’s room for a conversation with the New Mexico Environment Department, the agency that was moving forward with strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address the impacts of climate change just six years ago. Ruscavage-Barz said the board encouraged the group to work with the state agency and other stakeholders and come up with an enforceable plan.