Corruption has long been endemic to New Mexico government. And today, even when people ferret out potential problems or ethical lapses, there’s still a significant gap between the laws meant to protect people and the ability or willingness of state agencies to enforce them. In January, for example, conservation groups wrote to the state purchasing agent and director, asking him to look into a political donation from a company with a lucrative state contract. The company had contributed $1,000 to Gov. Susana Martinez’s political action committee during a time when the state’s Procurement Code prohibits political contributions, when proposals are being evaluated for the awarding of contracts. Months passed, and the activists didn’t hear back from the state purchasing agent or from the agency that had issued the contract, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (ISC).
As promised, State Commissioner of Public Lands Aubrey Dunn filed a defamation lawsuit against land commissioner candidate Garrett VeneKlasen Monday evening. Dunn also filed a request for a temporary restraining order to stop VeneKlasen from running a campaign radio ad. The campaign ad features VeneKlasen raising questions about a ranch owned by Dunn and the commissioner’s involvement in allowing a major electrical transmission line to run through his property. Related story: Land commissioner files ‘cease and desist’ order against contender
Dunn maintains he only learned the line was set to run through his land after he purchased the ranch. Blair Dunn, who is acting as attorney for his father, said his father has not allowed access to his property and may get paid easement royalties.
A poll by a Republican pollster finds that Democratic candidate Michelle Lujan Grisham leads Steve Pearce in a hypothetical matchup—but also that there are still a large number of undecided voters. The poll, conducted by The Tarrance Group in late May, found that when the two U.S. Representatives are matched up against each other, Lujan Grisham leads Pearce 47 percent to 43 percent with 10 percent undecided. The Tarrance Group lists Pearce as a former client on its website, though the polling memo does not indicate who paid for the poll. Notably, the firm polled for the Republican in 2010, when he successfully ran against Harry Teague to retake the 2nd Congressional District seat. Pearce left the seat in 2008 to run for U.S. Senate.
One week after announcing his candidacy for New Mexico State Land Commissioner, Garrett VeneKlasen received a “cease and desist order” from the current commissioner, Republican Aubrey Dunn. The order came from Dunn’s son, Blair, an attorney who ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate as a Republican last fall and helped run Gary Johnson’s last gubernatorial campaign. Blair Dunn sent the order to the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, of which VeneKlasen is the executive director, and eight media outlets including NM Political Report. The order called political statements made by VeneKlasen, a Democrat, untrue and misleading. It references a radio ad from VeneKlasen’s campaign accusing Aubrey Dunn of using the office for personal gain.
National Democrats announced Monday they will target New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District in the 2018 elections. The move comes as part of an expansion of 20 more Republican-held House seats targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Already, Democrats announced 59 other seats are in their electoral crosshairs. With this second round of targets, Democrats are targeting nearly one-third of all seats currently held by Republicans. (Four seats are currently vacant.)
Republicans said earlier this year that both of the New Mexico congressional districts held by Democrats are on their list of targets.
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas announced Tuesday that he will not run for governor next year, ending months of speculation. Balderas, a Democrat, made the announcement in a statement to media where he highlighted work he has done in his first term as attorney general. “It has been an honor to serve New Mexico and I plan on running for re-election next year in order to continue to fight for our state,” he said. In addition to mentioning prosecuting “more than 100 cases of internet crimes against children and human trafficking” and recovering more than $6 million in Medicaid fraud cases in 2016, Balderas noted his more recent efforts against the Trump administration. “Since the November election, my office has a new responsibility—to stand up for New Mexico against President Trump,” Balderas said.
Another New Mexico Democrat announced his run for governor. Peter DeBenedittis issued a press release Monday detailing his campaign platform. One major point DeBenedittis highlighted in his announcement is that he is a political outsider. “Year after year we’ve seen Democrats talk like they really want to help people during the primaries, then they run to the center for the general election,” DeBenedittis said. “And then if they win, many completely forget what they’ve campaigned on.”
Last year, DeBenedittis gained some attention with his campaign to raise state alcohol taxes to increase state revenue.
The son of a former New Mexico governor announced his plans Tuesday to follow in his father’s footsteps. Jeff Apodaca, a former media executive and son of former Gov. Jerry Apodaca, told NM Political Report he wants to “turn New Mexico around” in early childhood development, job creation and health care. “I’m not running because of any legacy,” Apodaca said. If elected, Apodaca, a Democrat, said he would work to diversify New Mexico’s economy so the state is less dependant on oil and gas. Not only could New Mexico use wind and solar power for its own purposes, Apodaca said, but the state could power other states using renewable energy sources.
There’s still more than a year until New Mexicans vote in the primary election and general election for the U.S. Senate, but one local commercial building contractor said he’s already prepared to take on incumbent Democrat Martin Heinrich. Mick Rich, owner of Mick Rich Contractors, said his plans for the Senate don’t go past two terms, or 12 years. “I am not moving to D.C.,” Rich told NM Political Report. “I want to make it clear, two terms and I’m done.”
A registered Republican, Rich speaks highly of former Republican U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici and said the six-term senator’s career is a “great road map” for serving New Mexico. “He made sure that our labs and bases had a mission,” Rich said.
A new poll examining the job approval ratings of every governor and U.S. senator showed Gov. Susana Martinez near the bottom of the rankings and both of the state’s senators at mid-pack. That poll comes from Morning Consult, a website that regularly releases polls, most notably on President Donald Trump’s approval ratings, and is the website’s first approval ratings poll since the 2016 general election. The Morning Consult poll showed 43 percent of New Mexican registered voters approve of Martinez’s job performance while 48 percent disapprove. Martinez ranks 41st in approval ratings among governors. South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster was not included in the rankings because he took over for Nikki Haley, who is the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.