Indian Country News is a weekly note from High Country News, as we continue to broaden our coverage of tribal affairs across the West. Patricia Roybal Caballero was a freshman lawmaker in New Mexico’s House of Representatives when she walked into a popular Santa Fe restaurant in 2013 for a meeting with some of her colleagues. Roybal Caballero, a community and economic developer of Piro-Manso-Tiwa ancestry, was by then used to dealing with negative perceptions about her race, but what happened next astounded her. “Before I had a chance to ask for a table, the hostess said, ‘I am sorry, but we’re not taking applications right now,’” Roybal Caballero told me recently. This story originally appeared at High Country News and is reprinted with permission.
The field is set for the 2018 state House primaries, with eight incumbents not filing for reelection and several others facing potentially competitive challenges either in the primary or the general election. Still, there are 26 candidates, all incumbents, who face no opposition in either the primary or general election. Independent and third party candidates can still enter, but it is much more difficult to make the ballot and win, due to higher signature requirements and a lack of party structure. Meanwhile, just two Libertarian Party candidates took advantage of the party’s new major party status to seek state legislative office. Here is a look at some of the 70 legislative races and dozens of candidates to watch.
Dream team: The State of the State address started Tuesday with a whistle and chanting. Advocates for immigrants unfurled banners calling for passage of the Dream Act and shouted slogans as Susana Martinez stepped to a lectern to begin the governor’s annual speech. Martinez, of course, does not have any sway over the act, which is federal legislation proposed to create a path to citizenship for young people who were brought to the United States as children without authorization. Felipe Rodriguez, 23, a student at The University of New Mexico, said the group chose to protest at Martinez’s final State of the State address because of the governor’s track record. “Susana Martinez has been a very anti-immigrant governor,” he said.
A self-proclaimed government watchdog could have his private investigator’s license revoked, depending on what a governing board could decide next month. Another private investigator filed an official complaint with the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department (RLD) last month against Carlos McMahon that alleged he obtained his private investigator license fraudulently and abused his position as an investigator. McMahon has been in and out of the news since he filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center, his former place of employment, in 2010. At that time his name was Carlos Villanueva. He changed his last name to McMahon this June.
An automatic voter registration bill lost a bit of what made it automatic, but moved on from the House committee that previously blocked it. State Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Albuquerque, was one of two Democrats to previously vote against the legislation in the House Local Government, Elections and Land Grant Committee. He explained after that vote that he voted against the bill initially so he could bring it off the table, citing a parliamentary rule, and reconsider the matter. The bill was previously tabled in the same committee. Ely brought the bill back Tuesday.
luInterest rates for many small storefront loans in New Mexico would be capped at 175 percent and required to have a term of at least four months under a bill that got a unanimous recommendation from a House committee Friday. The House Business and Industry Committee gave a positive recommendation to House Bill 347, sponsored by state Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup. Earlier this week the committee delayed action on the bill to allow members of the small-loan industry to negotiate a compromise with backers of a bill calling for capping interest rates at 36 percent. However, Dan Najjar, a lobbyist for Axcess Financial, a company specializing in small installment loans, said that while some changes were made to the original version of the bill, the two sides failed to reach a consensus. The committee action represents the latest round in a long-running legislative battle over an industry which is attacked for charging exorbitant interest rates on short-term loans that the lenders say many New Mexicans depend on.
A state House of Representatives panel approved a bill to bar local law enforcement agencies in New Mexico from enforcing federal immigration laws. The bill, which according to a fiscal analysis would prohibit state resources from being used against anyone “whose only violation is being in the United States illegally,” passed on a party line 3-2 vote in the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee. The two “no” votes came from state Reps. Monica Youngblood of Albuquerque and Bob Wooley of Roswell. Both are Republicans.
Some professors, students and advocates at the state’s flagship university are warning proposed sweeping changes to the state’s higher education system could undermine academic freedom and programs like ethnic studies. A bill sponsored by state Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs would scale back the number of required credit hours students take in public university “general education core” classes and establish “meta-majors.”
“Meta-major” classes are defined in the bill as “lower division courses” that are set by the department and include general education courses and prerequisite courses. At a Senate Education Committee hearing last week, Kernan said her bill’s purpose is to make it easier for students who transfer to different universities to use the credits they’ve already earned from previous courses toward their college degrees. Kernan’s bill is supported by New Mexico Higher Education Department Secretary Barbara Damron. At last week’s hearing, Damron described meta-majors as a group of courses set under a list of broad subjects that undecided college students can choose from to create a path toward their eventual major.
Lawmakers took a step Wednesday toward raising New Mexico’s minimum wage. Members of the House Labor and Economic Development committee voted 6-5 along party lines to advance a bill sponsored by Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque, that would increase the state minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $10.10 over the next three years. Tipped employees would have to be paid at least 40 percent of the minimum wage, a boost from the $2.13 per hour they’re now paid. And starting in 2021, the minimum wage would be adjusted annually based on the cost of living. Business groups have fiercely opposed such legislation.
Saying President Donald Trump has created “undue fear” in New Mexico’s immigrant community with threats of massive deportations of undocumented residents, an Albuquerque Democrat introduced a bill that would prohibit state and local police from arresting people based solely on their immigration status. House Bill 116, sponsored by Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, would bar police from using state or federal “funds, equipment, personnel or resources” for detecting or apprehending a person whose only violation of law is entering or residing illegally in the U.S.
“I’m trying to make sure our communities are protected, so they don’t fear any negative repercussions from Trump’s threats” Roybal Caballero told The New Mexican
A spokesman for the governor said in an email Tuesday that “while we haven’t reviewed the legislation, the governor’s stance on these issues has always been clear. As a former prosecutor from a border district for more than 20 years, it’s never been about immigration — it’s about public safety.” During her first month in office in 2011, Martinez issued an executive order that nullified New Mexico’s status as a “sanctuary” state. That order, which applied to state police and other law enforcement agencies under the governor, said “State law enforcement officers shall inquire into the criminal suspect’s immigration status, and report relevant information to federal immigration enforcement authorities.”