NM group files suit against Sec. of State and AG over referendum process

A group of New Mexicans filed a lawsuit Thursday afternoon against two state officials who rejected numerous attempts to start the process to overturn laws passed in this year’s legislative session.   

The lawsuit, filed by former Libertarian attorney general candidate Blair Dunn on behalf of a group called the New Mexico Patriot Advocacy Coalition, asks a state district court judge in Curry County to deem actions taken by the two elected officials as unconstitutional. The lawsuit claims New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, in consultation with state Attorney General Hector Balderas, violated the rights of New Mexicans by denying 10 attempts to overturn recently passed laws. The state constitution allows for a referendum process in which petition signatures are gathered to overturn laws, though the process is rarely used and has only been successful once in state history. 

Previous attempts by House Minority Leader Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, to overturn gun restriction laws were also rejected. Townsend’s three attempts were denied by Toulouse Oliver for what she called technical errors and on the grounds that the state’s process for referendums to reverse laws does not apply to laws “providing for the public peace, health and safety.” One of Townsend’s attempts to overturn a gun background check law is among the ten instances the coalition says Toulouse wrongfully denied. The other petition attempts, filed by the coalition, aimed to overturn laws ranging from the recent minimum wage increase, election changes and a law that shot down the ability for local governments to enact right-to-work laws.

State presses Air Force to take action on PFAS contamination

The state of New Mexico wants a federal court to compel the Air Force to address contamination at two U.S. Air Force bases. The contamination comes from PFAS, a class of chemicals that came from the use of a since-discontinued firefighting foam at Cannon and Holloman Air Force Bases. Areas of contamination span throughout the country with hundreds of confirmed locations across 43 states, largely from places like military bases. See all of NM Political Report’s coverage on PFAS contamination

The state filed a preliminary injunction to get the Air Force to regularly test groundwater and surface water testing, to provide alternate water sources for those affected and provide voluntary blood tests for those who may have been exposed to the toxic chemicals. The injunction was filed by the Attorney General and the New Mexico Environment Department.

No Epstein indictment here, for now

Investigators with the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office plan to turn over any information they gather about alleged sex crimes committed here by Jeffrey Epstein to federal prosecutors “as soon as possible,” a spokesman for the AG says. That means, for now, Attorney General Hector Balderas’ team is working as fact-gatherer for the US Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York, where Epstein pleaded not guilty last week to charges of sex trafficking of minors and sex trafficking conspiracy, says Matt Baca, senior counsel for Balderas’ office. Mug shot of Jeffrey Epstein made available by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Department, taken following his indictment for soliciting a prostitute in 2006

“At this point it’s primarily been communication between the two offices,” Baca tells Santa Fe Reporter and New Mexico In Depth on Wednesday. “As soon as we’re done, or at a place where we feel like we have significant investigative materials to turn over to them, we plan to do that.”

He says the AG isn’t working on an indictment here, but noted “nothing is off the table in terms of possible state-level charges.”

Baca confirms that “two or more” women have told prosecutors in New Mexico they are victims of Epstein, who owns the massive Zorro Ranch in southern Santa Fe County. The AG’s office began investigating allegations against Epstein in “February or March,” he says, independent from the SDNY investigation.

AG looking into potential Epstein crimes committed in NM

Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office is looking into whether convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein committed crimes in New Mexico. 

The newly renewed attention on the New York financier came after investigative work by the Miami Herald—and resulted in new federal charges on sex trafficking charges. Thanks to a sweetheart deal from Alex Acosta, who announced Friday morning that he would resign from his position as U.S. Labor Secretary amid criticism of the plea deal, Epstein only served 13 months in county jail, and was granted work release. The deal was kept sealed, including from his victims.

Last week, the federal government charged Epstein with sex trafficking. The indictment says Epstein “sexually exploited and abused dozens of minor girls at his home in Manhattan, New York, and Palm Beach, Florida, among other locations.” In addition to the homes listed by prosecutors, Epstein owned, and perhaps still owns, Zorro Ranch in New Mexico. And that ranch is where Balderas’ office is looking into allegations.

Balderas: ‘I’ve decided to pass’ on U.S. Senate run

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas announced Thursday that he will not run for the U.S. Senate seat in 2020. Balderas made the announcement on a classic rock morning show in Albuquerque. “I’ve decided to pass on that position and pass on running for the U.S. Senate,” Balderas said, while a guitar riff played in the background on the “Erika Viking & The Hoff In The Morning” show. Many political observers thought Balderas would consider running and might be a top tier candidate in the Democratic primary. Speculation intensified earlier this week when a spokesman said he would make an announcement Thursday morning.

Prosecutors oppose parole changes

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas and all fourteen of the state’s district attorneys are asking Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to veto a bill that would change laws governing probation and parole for criminal offenders. The prosecutors said in a letter Friday to the governor that the measure approved by the Legislature would jeopardize public safety. Supporters of the bill said that isn’t accurate. The letter is, at best, disingenuous, said House Judiciary Chairwoman Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, one of the bill’s four sponsors. “We are looking at a new day here and a lot of what is claimed in that letter, the exact opposite is true,” Chasey said Friday.

‘Intolerant’ of groundwater contamination, NM sues Air Force over PFAS pollution

In a lawsuit against the U.S. Air Force, New Mexico alleges the military isn’t doing enough to contain or clean up dangerous chemicals that have seeped into the groundwater below two Air Force bases in the state. On Tuesday, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) filed a complaint in federal district court, asking a judge to compel the Air Force to act on, and fund, cleanup at the two bases near Clovis and Alamogordo. “We have significant amounts of PFAS in the groundwater, under both Cannon and Holloman Air Force bases,” NMED Secretary James Kenney told NM Political Report. PFAS, or per and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are toxic, human-manufactured chemicals that move through groundwater and biological systems. Even in small amounts, exposure to PFAS increases the risk of testicular, kidney and thyroid cancer and problems like ulcerative colitis and pregnancy-induced hypertension. NMED Secretary James Kenney

“We want the groundwater cleaned up in the shortest amount of time possible, and we think at this point litigation is our best and fastest approach,” Kenney said.

Quay County gun-rights ‘sanctuary’ status catches like fire

TUCUMCARI — Back when this Eastern New Mexico town was founded as a tent city in 1901, it was unofficially known as “Ragtown.” Another nickname — “Six Shooter Siding” — later emerged, reportedly because of the large number of gunfights that took place there. “Six Shooter Siding” would be used by a saloon on Old Route 66. Today, like many old commercial establishments in Tucumcari, Six Shooter Siding is boarded up. And it’s been at least a century or so since the town was renowned for gun violence.

NM to sue Trump administration over emergency declaration, calling president ‘desperate’

The state of New Mexico will join a lawsuit against the Trump administration over the president’s  declaration of a national emergency to pay for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. California announced last week that it would sue the federal government. And California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said on the ABC Sunday morning talk show “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” that New Mexico and five other states would join California in the lawsuit against the Trump administration. Update: In all, 16 states, including New Mexico, filed suit. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office did not  say exactly which states were involved, but confirmed the lawsuit would be filed.

Dems dominate statewide races

Democrats swept statewide races on Election Day, and will control not just the governor’s office and all of the executive agencies, but also independent state agencies that oversee everything from state funds to state lands. Democratic incumbent Tim Eichenberg easily won the race for State Treasurer over Republican Arthur Castillo and Democrat Brian Colón defeated Republican Wayne Johnson for State Auditor. In the three-way race for Attorney General, Democratic incumbent Hector Balderas beat Republican Michael Hendricks and Libertarian Blair Dunn. And another Democratic incumbent, Maggie Toulouse Oliver defeated Republican Gavin Clarkson and Libertarian Ginger Grider to hold on to the Secretary of State seat. The closest statewide race on Election Day was for State Land Commissioner.