December 26, 2016

Top ten stories of 2016: 10-6

As we did in 2015, NM Political Report counted down the ten top stories that we covered this year. This time, our staff of four ranked over 20 stories that we felt were the most important of the year. Then, each member ranked what they felt were the top-ten stories and we averaged them out.

Today, we will count down numbers 10 through 6. Tuesday, we will post numbers five and four, Wednesday numbers three and two and finally on Thursday, we will post our stop story of the year.

There are many important stories, but these are the top-ten.

10. HSC Takeover

The University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center saw a leadership shake-up this summer  when it shifted back to the hands of university regents.

Before the switch, HSC was overseen by a board that consisted of regents and community members. After UNM regents voted 4-2 to dissolve the HSC board, control of the medical center went solely to university leadership, which included the school’s president.

Some called the move a power grab and an attempt to transfer large amounts of money from the hospital to the state.

The change seemed to be unpopular with many at HSC, including HSC Chancellor Paul Roth, who called it “a retreat to pre-21st Century academic medicine.”


9. Michael Sanchez loses Senate seat

One of the more significant outcomes of crime legislation during the 2016 special session was the eventual ouster of former Sen. Michael Sanchez.

Sanchez, often a target for Republican ire, was seen as blocking a number of bills aimed at expanding criminal penalties during the special session. Sanchez was later the target of political mailers and TV ads characterizing him as soft on crime.

The right-leaning Super PAC Advance New Mexico Now mostly targeted Sanchez in their mailers. Sanchez lost his spot in the Senate after more than 20 years, but the Democrats maintained their majority in the Senate and took back the House.

Sanchez partially credited himself with helping to instill camaraderie between the two parties in the Senate.


8. Congressional panel targets UNM, Southwest Women’s Options

A congressional panel’s investigation of an Albuquerque health clinic and the state’s flagship university churns on into 2017.

The impetus for the investigation revolves around an anti-abortion conspiracy theory—that abortion clinics across the nation are selling fetal tissue for profit.

In March, the U.S. House of Representatives Select Panel on Infant Rights, headed by Republican Tennessee Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, subpoenaed the University of New Mexico and Albuquerque-based Southwestern Women’s Options for documents related to fetal tissue research.

The university and the health clinic complied with most of the subpoena, except for the part that asked for identifying information of UNM students and medical personnel. “We simply cannot comply safely with the demand that accompanies the subpoenas for documents that identify staff and students who worked in the laboratory where this research was conducted,” UNM Health Sciences Center spokesman Billy Sparks said in March.

Supporters of abortion rights repeatedly denounced the House Select Panel’s investigation. So did Democratic congressional members of the Select Panel, dismissing it as “McCarthy-era tactics.”

Ranking members of the panel aren’t quitting. In 2016, they twice asked New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office to open a criminal probe into the matter, most recently in December.


7. Trump rallies, protests get ugly

When Donald Trump appeared in New Mexico in June, hundreds of protesters were on hand to greet him. While the initial rally was heavily anti-Trump and featured some spirited exchanges between Trump supporters and the protesters, thanks in large part to close quarters between the entrance and where police cordoned off protesters.

But it was after the sun went down that the family atmosphere turned into something else. Protesters rushed past police and rushed toward locked doors at the Albuquerque Convention Center. Eventually, protester threw flaming t-shirts and other projectiles at police, including those on horses. Police responded with pepper spray and smoke canisters

Blocks away, protesters threw rocks at police. Overall, the Albuquerque Police Department said six police were injured and four protesters. A week later, three were arrested.

Months later, Hillary Clinton defeated Trump easily in New Mexico, though Trump won the presidency.


6. Special session chaos

The legislative session peaked with an epic 21-hour day in the House, which included a quixotic debate on the reinstatement of the death penalty long after most of the state went to sleep.

But the backdrop was the Legislature struggling to balance the state’s massive budget deficit. The Senate decided to address the budget situation then go home.

The House, meanwhile, decided to stay in session and debate more bills—including crime bills that Democrats said should wait until January’s 60-day regular session.

The crime bills largely passed the House—including that death penalty bill early in the morning—but the Senate never took them up.