As Trump speaks, Democrats rally miles away

While the city of Rio Rancho prepared for President Donald Trump’s appearance in Rio Rancho, Democrats held a unity rally in Old Town Albuquerque at Tiguex Park. Hundreds of supporters listened to Democratic elected officials and others slam Trump and his agenda. They also rejected the idea that Trump could win New mexico and be the first Republican presidential candidate to win the state since George W. Bush in 2004. Related: Trump rallies in Rio Rancho, vows to flip NM in 2020

Supporters held signs calling for Trump to be impeached, calling for action on gun violence and to protect abortion access. Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller kicked off the event.

Toulouse Oliver releases gun safety plan

A Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful released a gun plan Friday that includes support for an assault weapons ban and universal and expanded background checks. New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said she also supports enacting red flag laws and raising the minimum age to purchase a rifle to 21. 

“This epidemic has claimed the lives of too many innocent Americans–far too many of them children–and it is well beyond time for Congress to act to protect Americans from the scourge of gun violence,” Toulouse Oliver said in her gun safety plan. “In the U.S. Senate, I will fight for common-sense gun-safety legislation as if my own children’s lives depended on it–because they do.”

Toulouse Oliver cites the rise in mass shootings, including the shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio that left more than 30 people dead and dozens more injured, as reasons why to reimplement a ban on assault weapons—and to expand the definition of assault weapons to include AR-15-style guns. When it comes to background checks, Toulouse Oliver says they should extend to all gun purchases—and that such background checks should include information on the online history of the person seeking a background check and extending background checks to close relatives and other members of the household. Toulouse Oliver also calls for restoring funding for researching the effects of gun violence. 

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich has sought to repeal the Dickey Amendment, which bars the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from researching gun violence and its impact on public health.

Could Toulouse Oliver be part of a Senate ‘Squad?”

New Mexico’s primary elections are still more than eight months away, but that hasn’t slowed down candidates for U.S. Senate. Both the Republican and Democratic primaries have multiple candidates already, but arguably the Democratic race is the closest watched so far. 

Democrats will choose between U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, who is walking away from the high ranking position in U.S. House leadership of Assistant Speaker of the House to run, or Maggie Toulouse Oliver, New Mexico’s Secretary of State. Luján has a financial advantage so far and secured endorsements from U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Rep. Debra Haaland and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. But Toulouse Oliver said she believes New Mexicans care less about what friends in high places think.     

“We have our own local leaders that we look to and we’re very independent-minded,” Toulouse Oliver said.  “While I respect those decisions and respect Congressman Luján for getting that support for himself, I don’t think that it’s going to be even a remotely deciding factor at the end of the day.”  

Pushing the envelope vs. mainstream

Toulouse Oliver didn’t grow up with a high-ranking state legislator as a parent and doesn’t have the institutional knowledge of Congress — two things Luján can boast.

Ben Ray Luján aims to connect with voters across the state

On a quiet Saturday morning, just as an early morning rain had stopped and the clouds drifted away, a pile of inflatable rafts sat piled under a tree at La Llorona Park in Las Cruces. Soon, about a dozen teenagers trickled into the park, ready to float about 3 miles down the river with U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján. 

Luján’s district is about 300 miles north of the public park, named after a folklore character associated with rivers and children, that butts up against the Rio Grande. Luján wasn’t there on official business, but instead to engage with young people from other parts of the state not within his congressional district as part of his campaign for U.S. Senate. 

Luján’s name is likely familiar to those who even casually follow political news. Earlier this year, he was tapped to become the assistant Speaker of the House, the fourth-highest rank in Democratic leadership. His father, Ben Luján, served as the New Mexico Speaker of the House and many have speculated that if Ben Ray Luján stayed the course in Congress he might be in line to succeed U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House.

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.

Toulouse Oliver wants to abolish ICE

“It’s time to abolish ICE,” Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Maggie Toulouse Oliver said Tuesday afternoon. Toulouse Oliver made the statement in a press release, saying, “ICE no longer prevents terrorism, instead it creates terror in the United States.”

She also said she supports comprehensive immigration reform. The Secretary of State, one of two top-tier Democrats seeking the party’s nomination to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, cited raids by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement over the weekend. The raids appeared to result in relatively few arrests after Donald Trump promised widespread arrests, which his administration said would target 2,000 recently arrived migrants and enforce deportation orders against them. This included many families who refused to open their doors to ICE agents.

Luján throws support behind Medicare-for-all bill

U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján announced Tuesday that he supports Medicare-for-all. The Assistant Speaker of the House, the fourth-highest position in Democratic leadership in the chamber, made the announcement as he seeks the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate. His opponent in the primary, Maggie Toulouse Oliver, supports Medicare-for-all. Luján told NM Political Report between votes on Wednesday that he supports the legislation because it emphasizes “that healthcare is a fundamental right, not a privilege for the few.”

Toulouse Oliver said on Twitter she is glad that Luján “has come on board with the latest issue I’ve supported from Day 1.” Luján signed onto the bill sponsored by Washington Democrat Pramila Jayapal.

Protesters march to ‘stop the bans’ on abortion

A couple of hundred abortion rights activists gathered in Albuquerque Tuesday as part of nationwide “Stop the Bans” protests. Ellie Rushforth, the ACLU of New Mexico Reproductive Rights Attorney, told the crowd, “We must keep fighting because our lives depend on it.”

The crowd then marched through downtown Albuquerque, holding signs and chanting slogans in support of abortion access. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, who is running for U.S. Senate, attended the rally. “I’m still fuming over the fact that the U.S. Senate put Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court,” Toulouse Oliver said in a statement. “I can’t help but think that if more women were serving in the U.S. Senate, the outcome of the Kavanaugh hearings would have been very different.”

Representatives for members of the New Mexico congressional delegation also attended.

Toulouse Oliver announces Senate run: ‘We need more women in Washington’

New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver announced Wednesday she is running for the U.S. Senate. The Democrat has already won statewide races for Secretary of State twice and if she wins in 2020 would become the first woman to represent New Mexico in the U.S. Senate in the state’s history. In a slickly-produced video, Toulouse Oliver emphasized her personal history, including attending college as a single mother and graduating with “a pile of student debt.” She says that as Secretary of State she “took on the Koch brothers and won,” on campaign finance reform. She also said that she supports Medicare-for-all and supports “a Washington that doesn’t separate families at the border.”

In a separate statement announcing her run, Toulouse Oliver also says she supports the Green New Deal. “We need more women in Washington,” Toulouse Oliver said.

SOS says no to third attempt calling for referendum to reverse gun background check law

The third time was not the charm. For the third time in just over a month, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver rejected a Republican petition for a referendum to overturn the law that would require background checks for nearly all gun purchases. Minority Leader Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, submitted the second amended petition on April 12. The petition fixed a technical problem related to the filing. But the Secretary of State found the larger issue is still that the law is not eligible for a referendum under the state constitution according to Toulouse Oliver.