Federal moves on wildfires, shortening environmental studies + upcoming public meetings

On Tuesday, U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke directed his agency to “adopt more aggressive practices” to prevent and combat wildfires. We’ll keep you posted on what that actually means, and what it will mean for New Mexico. E&E news reported this week that Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt signed an order restricting the length of environmental studies to 150 pages or less, or less than 300 pages for “unusually complex projects.” According to the story, “More broadly, the memo gives Bernhardt the potentially far-reaching responsibility for overseeing the department’s efforts to clear away ‘potential impediments’ and ‘streamline’ the environmental review process.” Before claiming the Number Two position at Interior, Bernhardt was a lobbyist whose clients included mining and energy companies and the nation’s largest irrigation district, California’s Westlands Water District. He represented Westlands in four different lawsuits against the department where he now works. The Associated Press reports that the New Mexico Department of Transportation is putting up warning signs along the stretch of Interstate-10 near the border with New Mexico that’s become increasingly prone to dust storms, putting drivers at risk.

Officials, others remember Pete Domenici

Wednesday morning, news broke that former U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici died at the age of 85. Domenici served six terms in office and was widely respected in the state and beyond. Nearly immediately, remembrances and statements from New Mexico officials and others began flowing in, lauding Domenici, both from his fellow Republicans and Democrats who respected his work. NM Political Report collected the statements throughout the day, many of which referenced his work on mental health and his support of New Mexico’s national labs. Gov. Susana Martinez called it a “sad day for all New Mexicans.”

Pete Domenici, a longtime U.S. Senator, dies

Former longtime U.S. Senator Pete Domenici died Wednesday morning. He was 85. The Albuquerque Journal first reported the news, citing his wife Nancy and son, Pete Domenici, Jr.

NM Political Report collected responses from elected officials and others throughout Wednesday. Domenici served for six terms in the U.S. Senate and chaired the powerful Senate Budget Committee. The Republican was frequently praised for securing funding for New Mexico’s national labs.

Senators question Wilson on past controversies at confirmation hearing

A U.S. Senate panel’s confirmation hearing for former New Mexico congresswoman Heather Wilson stuck mostly to the nuts and bolts of what her duties as the next secretary of the Air Force may entail. But her previous scandals related to her post-Congress business connections came up more than once during the three hour meeting before the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday morning. The panel did not vote on Wilson’s nomination to the post. The committee’s ranking member Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, posed questions to Wilson about her controversies working as a private contractor for national laboratories and her lobbying for weapons contractor Lockheed Martin. In quizzing Wilson about her private defense contracting work, Reed brought up the conclusions of a federal investigation that found that Sandia National Laboratories wrongly paid Wilson for services that federal law bars compensation for.

ACA repeal would have big impact on recovering addicts

Lawrence Martinez says driving triggers him back to the dark days of dependency. “Monday was my first day driving the car,” the Albuquerque father of four said last week, talking about the car he and his wife recently bought, as he sat in a conference room at Albuquerque’s Turning Point Recovery Center. “That was an issue on its own, but it’s working out now. Leaving the house, I get anxiety. Once I get on the road, it’s perfect.”

Martinez has been recovering from a methamphetamine addiction since last July.

Air Force Secretary nominee helped a major defense contractor lobby for more federal funds

When New Mexico Rep. Heather Wilson left Congress in 2009, she went to work the same month as a paid consultant for a subsidiary of weapons-contracting giant Lockheed Martin. That company then capitalized on Wilson’s extraordinary familiarity with Washington to craft a lobbying strategy meant to avoid having to compete for the renewal of a government contract that brought in huge profits. The strategy relied on discrete meetings between Lockheed officials and powerful members of the fledgling Obama Administration, key members of Congress, and influential Washingtonians who had also passed through the revolving door between government and private industry. Wilson, a Republican who had spent four years on the House Armed Services Committee and six years on the Intelligence Committee, spent five months drawing up a roadmap for Lockheed to achieve its key objective: Renewing its existing contract to manage Sandia National Laboratories, a wholly-owned subsidiary that helps make nuclear weapons and has an annual budget of more than $2 billion, without having to compete with any other firm — unlike most federal contractors. Fulfilling the classic role of a “nonlobbyist” strategic adviser, trading on information she gained while serving in public office, she told the firm exactly who they should approach for help.

House Majority Leader gave staffer big contracts after the session ended

New Mexico lawmakers haven’t been in session for nearly seven months, but that didn’t stop the Majority Leader of the state House of Representatives from awarding more than $100,000 in contracts to his top staffer. But Rep. Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, defended the contracts of his de-facto chief of staff Ryan Gleason as “well worth the expenditure.”

Gentry snagged Gleason—an attorney who previously was a legislative assistant Sen. Pete Domenici, the New Mexico state director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a research director for the state Taxation and Revenue Department—from state Speaker of the House Don Tripp, R-Socorro. Gleason worked as Tripp’s full-time chief of staff from January 2015 through the end of this year’s general legislative session in February. Gentry’s position of majority leader is directly under Tripp in state House Republican leadership. Gleason’s switch from working for Tripp to working for Gentry reflects how the bulk of policy decisions in the House Republican leadership start with Gentry.