Letters could foreshadow future debates over crime prevention, budgets

The months leading up to legislative sessions are often marked by state agencies presenting progress reports to lawmakers. Crime in the Albuquerque area has been a frequent subject to come up when talking about spending. But those conversations are usually devoted to the road ahead and not to picking apart past budgets. 

But in a letter sent last month, the state’s speaker of the House and a top financial leader in the House asked the Bernalillo County district attorney for an informal audit of millions of dollars appropriated to his office two years ago. In return, the district attorney offered a private meeting with a legislative panel to go over how money is being spent. The written exchanges hint at further budget scrutiny from lawmakers, and also a potential rift between some House and Senate Democrats. 

Progress report

On October 17, New Mexico Speaker of the House Brian Egolf and House Appropriations Chair and Legislative Finance Co-chair Patricia Lundstrom, both Democrats, co-authored a letter to 2nd Judicial District Attorney Raul Torrez about an upcoming interim meeting with the Legislative Finance Committee.

Low pay: A stumbling block for quality childcare

Michelle Masiwemai — like many early childhood workers — is a mom. But her job at a Las Cruces home-based child care center didn’t pay enough to support her 8-year-old daughter, who lives with her parents in Guam while she and her fiancé try to get on firmer financial footing. The daughter of two educators, including a kindergarten teacher who now teaches early childhood education at the college level, Masiwemai was raised in a family of 10 children. 

“My whole life I’ve been around children. I was a babysitter. I was the little girl who took care of all the little kids at the parties and planned all the activities.

‘Everyone is watching New Mexico’: Update shows no progress on PFAS clean up

Sitting before the state legislature’s interim committee on radioactive and hazardous materials, Walter Bradley told lawmakers to look at a red dot on a colored map provided to each member. 

“That red dot is a $20 million dairy facility that is now worth zero,” Bradley, who handles government and business affairs for Dairy Farmers of America, told committee members. “There’s no money, [the farmer] can’t sell his milk, he can’t sell his cows, he’s completely bankrupt. That dot is right next to the Cannon Air Force Base fire training facility.”

Bradley, who was Lieutenant Governor under Gary Johnson, spoke alongside Stephanie Stringer, director of New Mexico Environment Department’s (NMED) resource protection division, to give the interim committee an update on the PFAS contamination issues in the state before the next legislative session. 

PFAS, or per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, are toxic, human-manufactured chemicals that can move through groundwater and biological systems. Human exposure to PFAS increases the risk of testicular, kidney and thyroid cancers as well as other severe illnesses. The chemicals were used in firefighting foam in military bases across the country, including at Cannon and Holloman Air Force Bases, until 2016. The Air Force began investigating PFAS discharges across its installations in 2015, and the chemicals were detected in 2018 in groundwater at Cannon Air Force Base, located west of Clovis and at Holloman Air Force Base, located west of Alamogordo.

Two ABQ council races likely headed for a runoff election

Voters in several municipalities across New Mexico voted Tuesday, marking the first consolidation of elections under a new state law. 

Albuquerque voters picked city council candidates, school board members and voted on a long list of municipal bonds. Albuquerque voters also weighed-in on two campaign finance propositions — one was for a voucher program for publicly financed candidates and the other was a proposal to increase funds for publicly financed candidates. 

But one of the closely watched races in Albuquerque was in the city’s District 2, where incumbent Isaac Benton ran against five other challengers. Benton failed to clear 50 percent, and will face Zack Quintero in a run-off election next month. 

The contention between the two seemed to overshadow the rest of the candidates as a measure finance committee—the city’s version of a political action committee—which supported  Benton ran a series of mailers accusing Quintero of misrepresenting his work history. One of those mailers had a picture of Quintero superimposed on the body of a cook, with the words, “ZACK QUINTERO DIDN’T INVENT CHRISTMAS ENCHILADAS.” The mailer was one of a series that accused Quintero of inflating his job responsibilities while working for the City of Santa Fe. The series of mailers also included one with Quintero’s face superimposed on the body of an astronaut. 

The unofficial results on Tuesday night showed Quintero with about 20 percent of the vote and Benton with about 42 percent.

‘Democracy Dollars’ voted down, but other public financing improvements, bonds pass

A high-profile ballot question in Albuquerque endorsed by three Democratic presidential candidates failed on Tuesday in a high-turnout election. With all precincts reporting, the unofficial results showed “No” winning with 51.25 percent of the vote in unofficial results. 

The Democracy Dollars ballot initiative would have shored up the city’s public financing program and allowed city residents to direct vouchers of $25 for qualified candidates. 

Related: Two ABQ council races likely headed for a runoff election

Democratic presidential candidates Julian Castro, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren each lent their support to the proposal, with the latter two doing so on Election Day. And Castro endorsed it on Oct. 29, as early voting was about to end. By Election Day, nearly 44,000 voters had cast ballots on the question, either through early or absentee voting—more than cast ballots on Election Day.