A one-sentence provision in state law is emboldening at least one agency to keep public information from seeing the light of day. All officials have to do is accuse someone of having a political agenda. For more than a year, retired Interstate Stream Commission director Norman Gaume has wanted to know how much water farmers and others currently draw from the Gila River. That’s where the state plans to build a controversial new project that would divert more water from the river. Specifically, he wondered if water users are using the maximum amount of water they’re already allotted from the river.
Years after the state cut off Medicaid funding to 15 behavioral health providers, citing “credible allegations of fraud,” the Attorney General cleared all providers of the alleged fraud. AG Hector Balderas made finishing the investigation into the providers a key goal when he entered office in 2015. Previously: Top ten stories of 2016: 10-6; #5: NM Dems buck national trend, retake House; #4: Demesia Padilla resigns
In April, Balderas announced the investigation was complete, with no evidence of fraud in the final two companies. Balderas previously cleared ten providers in February, and had already cleared two others in 2015. The allegations of fraud came from a 2013 audit for the state Human Services Department by Boston-based Public Consulting Group.
The highest-ranking official at the state Taxation and Revenue Department became somewhat reflective Tuesday over last week’s sudden resignation of his former boss, Demesia Padilla. At an annual state legislative conference hosted by the New Mexico Tax Research Institute, the department’s Deputy Secretary John Monforte said he’s known Padilla for 10 years and came to the department when she was appointed by Gov. Susana Martinez. Padilla resigned as secretary last week after an agent for Attorney General Hector Balderas filed a search warrant affidavit on her home. Monforte is now heading the department. The affidavit described an ongoing investigation that points to possible tax evasion and alleged embezzlement of money from a business she once did accounting work for, including while she was TRD secretary.
New Mexico has joined the fight over the federal government’s regulation of methane releases from oil and gas operations. This week, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas and California Attorney General Kamala Harris filed a motion to intervene in the case the industry filed against the federal government. The Western Energy Alliance and Independent Petroleum Association of America want to overturn the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s rule that regulates the release of methane, or natural gas, from oil and gas operations on federal and tribal lands. New Mexico and California support the rule. According to court documents the BLM’s rules will benefit the two states in three ways: generating more annual revenue by cutting natural gas waste, protecting public health from harmful air pollution and reducing the impacts of climate change.
State Taxation and Revenue Department Secretary Demesia Padilla resigned from her position today, according to media reports. Padilla’s resignation came after New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas filed a search warrant on her house related to an investigation into allegedly aiding an ex-client by using her position as TRD head. Padilla worked as a certified public accountant before Gov. Susana Martinez appointed her to the helm of TRD in 2011. Related: The key parts of the Demesia Padilla search warrant
The search warrant sought Padilla’s personal and business income tax returns from 2011-2013, among other information, stemming from an anonymous referral sent to the Attorney General’s Office in July 2015 “alleging illegal and financially questionable acts” as well as a referral from State Auditor Tim Keller. The warrant also sought tax records from Jessie Medina Jr. According to the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office, Jessie Medina was listed as an officer of Padilla’s private accounting firm.
After U.S. Sen. Tom Udall said he would not run to be the next governor, some Democrats released statements about potentially running for the state’s highest office. A spokeswoman for Hector Balderas, the state’s Attorney General, said he is considering a run for governor in 2018, and the mayor of Santa Fe says supporters have asked him to run. This is on top of U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who previously said she would decide whether or not to run for governor by the end of the year. Related: Tom Udall says he will not run for governor in 2018
Caroline Buerkle, who worked on campaigns for Balderas in the past, sent a statement to media Wednesday afternoon after Udall’s announcement that he would remain in the US Senate. “Attorney General Balderas is seriously considering a run for governor and has deep concerns about the future of our state,” Buerkle said.
Attorney General Hector Balderas, who also chairs the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy Board, appointed a group to look into the policies and procedures behind investigations into shootings by police officers and use of force incidents in the state. The announcement of the review by a new subcommittee of the board came hours before a mistrial in South Carolina, where police officer shot Michael Slager shot Walter Scott, a black man, in the back as Scott ran away. Scott died. The April 4, 2015 incident was caught on video and quickly made news around the country after it happened. “Officer-involved shootings can have devastating consequences for both the civilian and law enforcement communities,” Balderas said in a statement.
The U.S. Supreme Court wants the Department of Justice to weigh in on a lawsuit the state of New Mexico filed against the state of Colorado over the Gold King Mine spill that occurred in 2015. The Call for the Views of the Solicitor General, as the order is known, was part of orders released Monday. The Supreme Court did not grant any new cases. The call asks for the Solicitor General to weigh in on the case, though the federal government is not involved in the lawsuit. According to The Hill, the request likely will not be fulfilled before Jan.
The results of the 2016 elections have barely come in and already attention is turning toward 2018. There is no presidential election in 2018, but New Mexico will elect a new governor and many statewide elected officials will be up for reelection. U.S. Sen. Tom Udall is perhaps signalling an end to his time as an elected official in Washington D.C. and a run for governor. “I’ve heard from many New Mexicans who are urging me to run for governor. I’m flattered by their support; I have an open mind, and I’m considering it,” Udall, a Democrat, said in a statement.
A Republican State Senator and criminal defense attorney withdrew from a criminal case last month, citing media attention. She says the attention was solicited by the state Attorney General’s office. In her motion to withdraw, Sen. Lisa Torraco, R-Albuquerque, wrote that Democratic Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office “made false statements to the media” that interfered with her clients right to a fair trial. “The Office of the Attorney General has successfully made Ms. Torraco’s representation of the defendant a media centerpiece and it is impairing the defendant’s opportunity for a fair trial,” Torraco wrote. About a week after Torraco withdrew from the case, the AG’s office itself stepped aside and appointed special prosecutor Mark Drebing, former deputy for Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg (a Democrat).