New Mexico’s fire season roars to an early start

New Mexico’s wildfire season typically begins in May or June. But it’s only March, and New Mexicans are already dealing with wildfires. Earlier this month, a fire ignited on Kirtland Air Force Base, burning about 200 acres. The fire’s cause is still under investigation, according to base officials. But a lack of coordination between the base and local fire departments has worried some East Mountain residents.

The Trump administration’s campaign to weaken civil service ramps up at the VA

Last June, President Donald Trump fulfilled a campaign promise by signing a bipartisan bill to make it easier to fire employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs. The law, a rare rollback of the federal government’s strict civil-service job protections, was intended as a much-needed fix for an organization widely perceived as broken. “VA accountability is essential to making sure that our veterans are treated with the respect they have so richly earned through their blood, sweat and tears,” Trump said that day. “Those entrusted with the sacred duty of serving our veterans will be held accountable for the care they provide.”

At the time, proponents of the bill repeatedly emphasized that it would hold everyone — especially top officials — accountable: “senior executives,” stressed Senate Veterans Committee chair Johnny Isakson; “medical directors,” specified Trump; anyone who “undermined trust” in the VA, according to Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. Shulkin advocated for the measure, called the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, by highlighting a case in which the agency had to wait 30 days to fire a worker caught watching porn with a patient.

Harassment pervades the Bureau of Indian Affairs

Sue Parton first began working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1976, as a teacher at the Albuquerque Indian School, one of the few remaining BIA boarding schools at that time. Parton, a member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma, had been around the agency most of her life; her father was a lifelong employee. But she gained a new perspective in 2008, as she got more involved with the Federation of Indian Service Employees, the union that represents employees of the four Interior Department agencies that serve Native Americans. This story originally appeared at High Country News and is reprinted with permission. “One of the things that shocked me was the intimidation factor,” says Parton, now president of the union.

House GOP leader retirement shock on legislative filing day

The field is set for the 2018 state House primaries, with eight incumbents not filing for reelection and several others facing potentially competitive challenges either in the primary or the general election. Still, there are 26 candidates, all incumbents, who face no opposition in either the primary or general election. Independent and third party candidates can still enter, but it is much more difficult to make the ballot and win, due to higher signature requirements and a lack of party structure. Meanwhile, just two Libertarian Party candidates took advantage of the party’s new major party status to seek state legislative office. Here is a look at some of the 70 legislative races and dozens of candidates to watch.

State Dem chair resigns after questioning sexual harassment claim

The chairman of the Democratic Party of New Mexico resigned Tuesday amid criticism of his handling of recent claims of sexual harassment against a Doña Ana County Commissioner and a former New Mexico Federation of Labor president Jon Hendry. The labor organization is a key ally of Democrats in the state. Ellenberg announced his resignation with a letter to the party’s state central committee. “I regret the way in which I have managed complaints of survivors who have come forward about sexual harassment, and take full responsibility to continue to learn and grow so that I can be an advocate and ally in the future,” Ellenberg wrote. Last month, the state party’s vice chairwoman wrote a pointed letter to Ellenberg about how he dealt with her accusations of sexual harassment against former Doña Ana County Commissioner John Vasquez.