December 28, 2017

Our favorite stories of the year

Laura Paskus

As part of the Refugee Wilderness Explorers Summer Camp, children visit the Sandia Mountain Wilderness

We’ve told you about some of the most important and most popular stories of 2017. But we also have some personal favorites: stories that might not have rocked the site’s analytics or made waves among policymakers, but stories we liked reporting or writing.

See all of our year-end stories

Laura’s favorite stories

Hands down, my favorite stories are the ones that involve wandering around outside. These include one about the Refugee Wilderness Explorers Summer Camp, a summer program run by New Mexico Wilderness Alliance and Catholic Charities’ Refugee Mentoring Program, and a visit to the Pueblo of Santa Ana to learn about restoration and wildlife projects.

Another one is a story reported this spring about areas in the Jemez Mountains burned by Las Conchas and the Dome Fire. I also learned this year what fire officials have to deal with in our forests.

There are a few more favorites, mostly related to helping readers understand issues related to transparency or what happens behind the scenes at agencies, including at the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission and Office of the State Engineer. And, Andy Lyman and I explained why our education week stories were missing a critical voice.

Andy’s favorite stories

I spend a significant portion of the year covering Albuquerque’s mayoral election. By the time Mayor Tim Keller won in November I had written about numerous ethics complaints, negative ads and one lawsuit against the city clerk.

By the beginning of 2017, there was already a long list of mayoral hopefuls. There was the expected handful of seasoned politicos, but there was also a long list of first-timers as well. By April, six months before the election, there were 15 people trying to gather enough signatures to get on the ballot. About half of those people failed to qualify. Some of those candidates discovered how much work goes into qualifying for public financing. That public money and the way he accepted donations also became the focus of criticism towards Keller.

I really enjoyed covering this year’s election as so much happened in just a few months.

A notable change in this year’s political climate was President Donald Trump following through with some of his campaign promises, particularly the tightening of U.S. immigration policy. Iraq changed its own policy and began accepting deported Iraqis back to the country to stay out of Trump’s Muslim travel ban. As a result, many refugees who had been on removal status were suddenly eligible for full deportation.

I covered one man’s effort to stay in the U.S. who eventually took sanctuary in a local religious center. I was also able to show that sanctuary status is simply a result of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) memo issued under President Obama. In other words, there is no actual law on the books that allows refugees guaranteed sanctuary. Instead, ICE could theoretically repeal the memo that instructs officers to avoid churches, schools and hospitals when detaining immigrants.

That reporting also led me to Glen Thamert and his son Justin Remer-Thamert who both had experience advocating for refugees. Glen saw first-hand what happens when the federal government decides to go after refugees and those who assist them out of their respective country.

Matt’s favorite stories

Generally, I don’t get to write the big, investigative stories. I leave that to Andy and Laura (and before them, Joey). As a result, I write a lot of quick reads that are only a few hundred words (I wrote over 250 stories this year). But on occasion, I get to stretch my writing legs and do some reporting.

Unlike most normal people, I like writing about the budget. Not just the numbers that make your eyes glaze over, but the impacts on people. One story in that vein was about the impact of the failure by Congress to authorize CHIP and how it could leave New Mexico holding the bag. I also wrote about how New Mexico’s revenue still hadn’t recovered from the Great Recession and, relatedly, the state’s reserves are among the lowest of any state. These could seem like dry topics to some, but they are important and have real-life impacts.

Oh, and that Republican tax bill that just passed? It could blow a huge hole in the state’s budget.

On a lighter note, New Mexico and Colorado raced to be the first to create a specialty license plate featuring chile. New Mexico ended up winning the race when Gov. Susana Martinez announced MVD would create the specialty plate (it isn’t the prettiest license plate, unfortunately).

As with most political reporters, I enjoy covering elections. Two of my favorite stories weren’t about elections that happened this year, but were focused on 2018. This summer, I looked at which state House races could be in play, and if Democrats could expand their majority. After big victories by Democrats in Albuquerque and Las Cruces (and in Virginia), I reexamined the topic.

Another topic I’ve been covering is the push for right-to-work shifting to the county level. In Sandoval County (where I lived for most of my life), two county commissioners, aided by some high profile conservative groups, want to impose the law. It’s not clear if it’s legal to do this at the county level. And in public meetings, union supporters slammed the effort and unions promised an expensive lawsuit. This is another story that will continue into 2018.

As an editor, a lot of my focus is on stories that our writers did. One was by Joey, who left New Mexico for the cold climes of Minnesota. He wrote a profile of Curtis Boyd, “the controversial and celebrated abortion provider.” The story was a collaboration between NM Political Report and the Santa Fe Reporter, like some of our other best stories of the year.

And, of course, there was Laura Paskus nominating the Interstate Stream Commission for the “black hole award” for failure to follow open records laws and the Open Meetings Act. They “won” the dubious award.

Ah, who am I kidding? The best story I wrote was about new Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller introducing a metal band.