House committee OKs bill to consolidate nonpartisan local elections

Election Day is not just a day in New Mexico. Between school boards, soil and water conservation districts, community college districts and hospital districts, it can seem like the voting never stops. “We have a vast number of small, rural elections in our state happening pretty much all the time,” Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver told a committee of the House of Representatives on Thursday. But whether people actually know about, much less participate in, these myriad elections is another matter. In response, the local government committee of the House approved a sweeping bill that would consolidate virtually all nonpartisan local elections on the same day.

Gov. Susana Martinez

Martinez approval ratings continue to fall

Gov. Susana Martinez’s approval rating remained among the worst in the nation at the end of 2017, according to a recent poll. The poll finds that 57 percent of New Mexico voters disapprove of her job performance, compared to just 33 percent who approve. That disapproval number is the fifth-worst in the nation and two of the governors below her have since left office. Her approval rating, meanwhile, is seventh-worst among all governors polled. Her job approval ratings in the last three months of 2017 also showed a drop from the previous ratings, released in October of last year.

Dems push to end cap on film industry rebates, GOP wary

Gov. Susana Martinez stood on a sound stage in Albuquerque last summer crediting the film and television industry with injecting a record $505 million into the New Mexico economy over the previous fiscal year. But will the governor who sought to cut tax rebates for filmmakers when she first took office go along with a bill to lift the current cap on incentives, a measure that some say would provide an additional boost as the industry continues to prove a particularly busy part the state’s economy? Democratic legislators are pushing a bill that would eliminate the $50 million cap on the annual total of tax rebates the state provides film and television producers working in New Mexico. In an unusual inversion of the Legislature’s typical partisan dynamics, Democrats argue it would be a boon for business but Republicans contend it could strain the state’s budget and amount to a giveaway for out-of-state businesses. So even though the proposal, House Bill 113, passed its first committee on Wednesday, it only did so on party lines, casting doubt on whether the Republican governor would support it.

Martinez says she won’t be part of border wall ‘distraction’ with ‘low-level legislators’

Another brick in the wall: Gov. Susana Martinez has clashed with President Donald Trump, but she is not going to stand between her fellow Republican and the “big, beautiful” wall he has promised to build on the border with Mexico. Several Democrats filed a bill to prohibit selling state land to the federal government for the purpose of constructing a wall along New Mexico’s 180-mile southern border. The state owns property along a 22-mile sliver of that boundary. But, except for financial matters, it is up to the governor to place bills on the agenda for this year’s 30-day session. Martinez on Wednesday told El Paso-based KVIA-TV that the Democrats’ bill will not be heard.

Senator calls on Martinez appointee as education chief to resign

State Sen. Linda Lopez is calling for the head of the New Mexico Public Education Department to resign over comments last month touting Manifest Destiny as one of the “fundamental principles of the country” — remarks that drew a scathing rebuke from Pueblo leaders. The department says Secretary-Designate Christopher Ruszkowski has reached out to tribal officials to express remorse after his comments at a charter school conference were reported in The Albuquerque Journal. But the remarks have still stirred outrage among indigenous New Mexicans who argue Ruszkowski demonstrated a lack of understanding about the history of westward expansion and the role of the education system in dispossessing Native Americans. The comments even drew the attention of The Washington Post this month. In a letter to Ruszkowski, Lopez wrote that he had still not explained what she described as “ill-advised comments.”

During session, Rotunda is state’s most coveted spot

As one of the tour guides at the New Mexico state Capitol, Dolores Esquibel loves to show off every corner of a building that has, well, no corners. For years, the Española resident has led dozens of visitors through the dizzying maze of hallways and corridors that make up the four floors of the half-century-old Roundhouse. But when lawmakers are in session, her tour is unlikely to include much time in the Rotunda, the open and circular center of the Roundhouse that rises all the way to the governor’s office on the fourth floor. “We usually bring them up here because we can’t do anything downstairs — they’re always having something, some kind of a function,” Esquibel said recently, peering down at the airy and busy Rotunda from the third floor. “Every day during the Legislature, there’s something going on,” she said.

Ceremonial measures: Building camaraderie but squandering time

At the end of every legislative session, there are dozens of bills that die on the House or Senate floor. When asked what happened, legislative leaders invariably shrug their shoulders and say, “We just ran out of time …” Which is true. But in the days and weeks that lead to the last moments of a session, lawmakers eat up untold hours — joking around, talking sports, engaging in ceremonial activities and spending time on legislation that doesn’t have the force of law. Call these activities “time bandits.”

Martinez rebuffs speculation about post-term plans

Guessing what Gov. Susana Martinez might do next after she leaves the state’s top elected office at the end of 2018 has become something of a parlor game in New Mexico politics. Just a few years ago, observers occasionally mentioned the two-term Republican as a potential vice-presidential nominee in 2016. Too late for that but might she run for U.S. Senate? “Why would I want to be one of 100?” she said Thursday.

Bipartisan push enacts nurse licensing compact

Gov. Susana Martinez signed a new nurse licensing compact on Thursday, averting what one lawmaker warned would be a health care crisis by ensuring nurses with licenses from more than two dozen other states can continue practicing in New Mexico without getting a separate certificate. A bipartisan group of lawmakers sped the bill through the Legislature in the first days of this year’s month-long session as they faced a deadline late Friday to either approve the new compact or leave dozens — potentially hundreds — of nurses with licenses from other states unable to work in New Mexico, only making worse a shortage of medical professionals around the state. “Some hospitals, as high as 70 percent of their staff are out-of-state nurses. This is critical,” Rep. Deborah Armstrong, a Democrat from Albuquerque and chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee, told representatives before the chamber voted 68-0 to approve the new compact without debate. After the swift vote, the measure headed to the governor, who signed it Thursday afternoon surrounded by Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

Governor calls for tax reform in State of State speech

Gov. Susana Martinez signaled Tuesday she is not going quietly into her last year in office, opening a 30-day session of the Legislature with a State of the State address that touted issues she has pushed throughout her administration and steeling herself for one last showdown with Democratic lawmakers. The two-term Republican governor called for comprehensive tax reform but did not offer any specifics on what that might involve, urged tougher criminal sentences and raised many of the same education and economic policies she has regularly mentioned in her annual address. With the state’s finances improving, offering a reprieve from another round of budget cuts, many Democrats and Republicans alike had come to expect this monthlong session would not be marked by any particularly ambitious initiatives or changes in policy as Martinez prepares to leave office. Instead, many seemed ready to approve a balanced budget and take steps to try to stem the state’s rising crime rates. Indeed, the governor did not offer any big new ideas.