One of the biggest winners in the just concluded 60-day session of the New Mexico Legislature was a man who never set foot in the Roundhouse and, in fact, never came close to crossing the state border. His name is Donald J. Trump, the president of the United States. Republican Trump lost New Mexico in November by 8 percentage points, and Democrats control both the state Senate and House of Representatives. Even so, several pieces of legislation aimed at Trump failed to get traction in the Legislature. Senate Bill 118, sponsored by Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, would have required presidential candidates to disclose five years of personal income taxes to get on the general election ballot in New Mexico.
The Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday endorsed a proposed constitutional amendment to establish a state ethics commission, a proposal that has died in the New Mexico Legislature year after year. The measure now moves to the full Senate, where its advocates hope it receives a vote before the legislative session ends at noon Saturday. Note: This story has been updated throughout with more information on the proposed ethics commission. Members of the Rules Committee voted 9-1 to advance House Joint Resolution 8, sponsored by Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque. The House last week voted 66-0 for the measure.
After six years of trying to require “dark money” organizations and other independent-expenditure groups to report their political backers, supporters of campaign-finance reform got their bill through the state House of Representatives on Monday night. The House on Monday passed Senate Bill 96, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, and Rep. Jim Smith, D-Sandia Park. The bipartisan vote was 41 to 24. Six Republicans joined with the 35 Democrats to vote for the bill. The Senate had already passed the bill, but it will have to go back there for consideration of House amendments.
Democratic state Rep. Debbie Rodella joined with three Republicans on Thursday to kill a bill that would have allowed people to register to vote within three days of primary or general elections. Eligible voters in New Mexico now must register at least 28 days before an election in order to vote in it. Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, sponsored the bill to widen the time for registration, saying voting is a right and lawmakers should make it easier for people to cast a ballot. His proposal, Senate Bill 224, would have allowed for the extended registration period at early voting sites, many of which have real-time access to New Mexico’s voter registration system. For those lacking that technology, voters would have been allowed to cast provisional ballots that wouldn’t be counted until a subsequent verification of whether the registrant was eligible to vote.
With the state wracked by successive corruption scandals involving top officials, several lawmakers seem to agree that this is the year for ethics reform in New Mexico. A committee of the state House of Representatives gave a boost to those hopes Thursday by advancing a bipartisan proposal to establish an independent ethics commission through a constitutional amendment. The commission would have the power to investigate complaints of misconduct by public officials, candidates, lobbyists and contractors. The complaints would be public, and the commission’s opinions could be appealed to the state courts. Campaign finance reform advocates and good government groups have fought for years to create such a body.
The biggest spender among lobbyists in New Mexico last year was not employed by an oil company or a tobacco company or a mining company. Instead, it was a New York-based advocacy group for gun safety that spent $219,500. The reports, filed this week with the Secretary of State’s Office, show that Pedro Morillas, regional director for Everytown for Gun Safety, spent more than any other lobbyist in the state. And he completely outgunned the National Rifle Association, which spent just over $10,000 on New Mexico candidates last year. Overall, lobbyists spent more than $1.7 million in the state in 2016.
As in past years, Common Cause New Mexico is running an election protection hotline for voters and others to report problems at polling locations throughout the state. So far, according to Common Cause New Mexico Executive Director Viki Harrison, the reports have been “typical” problems that they have seen in past years. For example, some polling locations told voters they needed photo ID to vote. But a call to the county clerks in charge straightened out that problem. Some others were concerned about anti-abortion trucks “rolling through Corrales this morning.” The next stop for the trucks may be Los Lunas around midday.
The state Republican Party is targeting a liberal political action committee for donating directly to Democratic candidates in state legislative races. The Republican Party of New Mexico wrote a complaint to the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office citing donations from Enchantment PAC to Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, and Democrat Natalie Figueroa, who is challenging state House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, as “against New Mexico statutes” and “in clear violation of the law.”
Enchantment PAC, which is also funding liberal advocacy organizations like Organizing in the Land of Enchantment, gave $1,000 to Sanchez and $600 to Figueroa during the general election cycle. State law, however, does not address the type of spending the GOP cited in its complaint. Reached by phone, GOP spokesman Tucker Keene referred to the written complaint, which he said the party sent in the mail to the Secretary of State on Tuesday. “Independent expenditure committees are not supposed to spend directly to candidates, they’re required by law to be independent,” Keene said earlier in a statement.
There is not an official candidate for mayor of Albuquerque in next year’s election. But that’s only because there is no way for a candidate to become official yet. Deanna Archuleta, a former Bernalillo County Commissioner, announced earlier this year she intends to run for Mayor of Albuquerque in 2017. Since her announcement she has held at least one public fundraiser, but has not filed any campaign finance information—largely because there’s no place to do it yet. The Albuquerque City Clerk’s office does not currently have any procedure in place for candidates starting their campaign early.
Because of a disagreement between the Albuquerque City Council and Bernalillo County Commission, it’s not clear which ballot initiative voters will get to vote on—or if either will even be on the ballot. During a Bernalillo County Commission meeting last week, commissioners did not discuss either of two recent ballot initiatives sent to them by the Albuquerque City Council. In fact, neither even appeared on the agenda. One initiative, prompted by a successful petition drive, would require some employers to provide sick leave to employees. The other would increase public campaign finance dollars to Albuquerque mayoral candidates.