Goodbye, Christopher Columbus. New Mexico may observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead. The Senate voted 22-15 Friday to send Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham a bill that would rename the holiday commemorating the Italian explorer. The legislation comes as the holiday that took off in the late 19th century as a celebration of Italian-American heritage has in recent decades spurred debate over the real legacy of a man who represents the beginning of European colonialism in the Americas and how best to tell a fuller story of the continent’s history. “I see this as a reconciliation process, not only as New Mexicans but as Americans,” said Sen. Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Pueblo.
When you’re driving at night through Counselor, N.M., on U.S. 550 the horizon takes on a dusky illumination, almost like daylight, Samuel Sage said during a Monday news conference in Santa Fe. Bright light flares from natural gas being burned off as part of oil and gas production, which has become increasingly common in that area of Northwestern New Mexico, particularly since 2013, said Sage, a member of the Navajo Nation’s Counselor Chapter House. Sage was among several environmental advocates who gathered at the state Capitol in support of a bill that, if passed, would create a four-year moratorium on any new state permits for hydraulic fracturing — a type of deep horizontal drilling that injects high-pressured fluid below ground. The bill also outlines extensive reporting requirements for several state agencies related to the impacts of fracking. “All we want is clean air and clean water,” Sage said.
The state Senate on Wednesday night defeated a bill that would have legalized assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. In a 22-20 vote, seven Democrats joined 15 Republicans to stop the measure. Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, sponsored Senate Bill 252 to allow people expected to die within six months to obtain a prescription for drugs meant to end their own lives. In addition, a patient would have to be deemed mentally competent by two doctors. The bill called for a mandatory 48-hour waiting period between the time the prescription was written and filled.
Some New Mexico Democrats gathered Monday to express support for regulations to limit methane emissions from natural gas flaring and leaks, even as congressional Republicans are planning to repeal the rule on a federal level. Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, called such a proposal a “triple win,” saying it would help businesses waste less methane that they could instead sell, cut pollution and benefit the state budget. The Santa Fe Democrat said that other states, like Colorado and Wyoming were already seeing benefits from methane capture rules. Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, noted that under questioning by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, “the American Petroleum Institute was unable to provide senators with a single shred of data that found smart methane regulations had any negative impacts on oil and gas jobs.”
State Sen. Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Pueblo, echoed the two Representatives and brought up health impacts of natural gas leaks. “When I go visit my constituents at the various chapters of the Navajo communities, what they have to live with, not only the flaring, but the smell and the things you can’t see that impact their lives and that’s important for us to realize and understand the environment,” Shendo said.
Members of New Mexico’s citizen Legislature only receive $164 per day for expenses, plus mileage, during the session. But there are other perks to the job. For instance, the industry group called Ski New Mexico last week handed out VIP membership cards to 110 of the 112 state lawmakers, entitling them to two free days of skiing at any of eight ski areas in the state. The total value of the cards was $27,500, according to a lobbyist expense report filed this week by George Brooks, executive director of Ski New Mexico. That expense represented a large portion of the $85,000-plus that lobbyists and the organizations that hire them have reported spending on meals, parties, receptions and gifts for legislators and others so far in the session, which began just over two weeks ago.
While Democrats and Republicans in New Mexico began casting ballots weeks ago with early and absentee voting, today is election day where tens of thousands more are expected to cast their ballots. While much of the attention will be focused on Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders duking it out in the presidential primary, there will be a number of down-ballot races with big implications going forward. We took a look at the thirteen races you need to watch tonight when polls close at 7:00 p.m.
Senate District 17
Democratic incumbent Sen. Mimi Stewart’s runs to retain the senate seat in SD17. In 2014, the Bernalillo County Commission appointed her to fill the vacancy left by Tim Keller when he became State Auditor. Former State Senator Shannon Robinson, who held the SD17 spot for 20 years before losing to Keller in 2008, will face Stewart and try to reclaim his old Senate seat.
A new progressive group is stepping into two legislative races in districts with large Native American populations. The Working Families Party announced support for two incumbents: Representative Wonda Johnson and Senator Benny Shendo. Both Democrats are facing a challenge in Tuesday’s primary against more conservative opponents. The organization is airing radio ads supporting the candidates. Former State Rep. Stephanie Maez told NM Political Report the Working Families Party chose to support Johnson and Shendo because of their past support for “progressive policy positions.”
She also said that the organization would add more endorsements for the general election.
While former state Rep. Sandra Jeff avoided ballot disqualification after a recent scuffle with the Secretary of State, several questions remain about possible discrepancies in previous campaign reports. The biggest question is the sudden disappearance of more than $27,000 in debt from her failed 2014 campaign for reelection to the state House of Representatives. In July 2014, Jeff reported a loan contribution of $26,720.82 from Gallagher & Kennedy, a law firm with offices in Santa Fe and Phoenix. A note next to the contribution reads, “Campaign Debt for legal fees incurred.”
Jeff continued to report this debt, plus an extra $1,200 that she loaned to herself, for the next six campaign reporting periods, marking a period of nearly two years. But on March 15 of this year, Jeff amended seven old campaign reports from the 2014 election cycle.
Former state Rep. Sandra Jeff will make it on the ballot for state Senate this upcoming primary election in June after all. Jeff came to an agreement with the Secretary of State’s Office on Monday—nearly three weeks after that office disqualified her from the ballot for not paying a fine for filing a late campaign finance report from an earlier campaign. Jeff, a Democrat, is challenging Sen. Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Pueblo, for the party nomination this year. Her attorney Zach Cook told NM Political Report that she agreed to pay “a nominal amount” of roughly $100 to the Secretary of State’s Office to get on the ballot. Part of the deal involves Jeff not having to concede that the fine was legitimate.
A former state Representative is challenging her disqualification from the ballot for a state Senate primary. Sandra Jeff will move forward with her attempt to challenge Sen. Benny Shendo of Jemez Pueblo in the Democratic primary for Senate District 22. Jeff is a former state representative who lost her position after failing to make the primary ballot for reelection to her state House seat in 2014. Two weeks ago, Jeff told NM Political Report she wasn’t sure if she wanted to challenge the disqualification. Jeff said she would consider running for Navajo Nation President or challenging U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan in the Democratic primary.