Note: Until the end of the year, we will be counting down the top stories of the year, as voted on by NM Political Report staffers.
9 (tie). Budget surplus
New Mexico is in the midst of a budget surplus amid record oil and gas activity in the state. And with that increased spending means debate on how to spend the “new” money.
The state increased spending on education and many other areas of the state budget, including extra money for road projects, in a budget that hit $7 billion.
9 (tie). Abortion ban repeal fails
With an even further shift to the right on the U.S. Supreme Court, abortion rights activists are worried that the country’s high court will overturn Roe v. Wade—which means New Mexico’s currently unenforceable law banning abotion in most cases would go into effect.
An effort to repeal the law made it through the state House but failed in the Senate when the bloc of conservative Democrats voted along with Republicans. Whether there will be another effort in the 2020 during the 30-day session, without a significant change in the makeup of the Senate, remains unseen.
9 (tie). Opioid use disorder added to medical cannabis list
Many medical cannabis patients and advocates have long pushed to add opioid use disorder to the list of qualifying conditions that allows a person to use medical cannabis. During then-Gov. Susana Martinez’s time in office, petitions to do add opioid use disorder repeatedly failed, even though an advisory board repeatedly recommended adding it.
Just after the 2019 legislative session ended, that same advisory board tried again.
At the first Medical Cannabis Advisory Board meeting since Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham took office, the board’s chair and Department of Health officials signaled that the board’s recommendations would be considered more seriously than under the previous administration. The board recommended adding opioid use disorder and weeks later DOH accepted that recommendation and officially made it a qualifying condition.
8. Trump targets NM electorally
Donald Trump lost New Mexico’s five electoral votes to Hillary Clinton in 2016 by over eight percentage points. But former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson took nearly 9 percentage points as the Libertarian Party’s nominee. And now, the Trump campaign thinks New Mexico can be a target in 2020.
Trump traveled to Rio Rancho in September and held a campaign rally. And Trump’s campaign manager continues to say the state will be in play in 2020. This is a story that will be among the top stories of 2020 as well.
7. Gun safety
One of the big debates during the legislative session was over a number of bills related to gun safety. While a bill to seize guns from those deemed an imminent threat to themselves or others failed, other legislation did pass: Legislation to require background checks on nearly all sales and legislation to remove firearms from those subject to a protection order in a domestic abuse case.
However, the governor’s signature wasn’t the end of things: Sheriffs around the state said they would not enforce the laws. And some started efforts to repeal the laws by referendum, a rarely attempted, and even more rarely successful, tactic. The Secretary of State rejected the efforts, citing language in the constitution that says laws that “[bear] a valid, reasonable relationship to the preservation of public peace, health or safety” are not subject to these referendums.
The efforts will continue into next year and the elections.
6. US Senate scramble
When U.S Sen. Tom Udall announced he would not seek a third term in 2020, it set off a scramble to see who would replace him. On the Democratic side, U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan was the first to jump into the race, just a week after Attorney General Hector Balderas said he would not run. Days later, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver announced her candidacy; she would end her run six months later.
Gavin Clarkson, a former Trump administration official, was the first Republican to announce his candidacy. He was later joined in the Republican primary race by Albuquerque contractor, and 2018 Senate candidate, Mick Rich, and anti-abortion activist Elisa Martinez.
Democrats are favored to retain the seat next year.