Note: Every year, we count down the top ten stories of the year, as voted on by NM Political Report staffers.
See our entire countdown of 2021 top stories, to date, here.
10. SCOTUS Supreme Court hearings
The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in early December on a Mississippi case that challenges Roe v. Wade.
Dobbs v. Whole Women’s Health Organization is under consideration. A decision is expected in late June or early July.
The state of Mississippi passed a 15-week abortion ban in 2019. The only abortion clinic in Mississippi offers abortion up to 16 weeks. The lower court in Mississippi declared the law unconstitutional but the state of Mississippi appealed to the Supreme Court and asked the court to consider overturning Roe v. Wade.
Supreme Court analysts believe the court is likely to do just that. If the court overturns the landmark 1973 decision, New Mexico is expected to remain a state where abortion will remain safe and legal.
But the question remains how abortion clinics in New Mexico will handle the overflow of patients. Reproductive health experts have said that millions of women and others of reproductive age will be living in states that will restrict or ban abortion altogether. For more on this story, follow this link.
9. 1st Congressional District special election
While observers nationwide watched, Democrats held serve and easily held the 1st Congressional District seat. Deb Haaland vacated the seat to take the position of U.S. Secretary of the Interior, triggering a special election, the first in over two decades in New Mexico.
In a four-way race, Democrat Melanie Stansbury, at the time a state representative, won with 60.4 percent of the vote, well ahead of Republican state senator Mark Moore’s 35.6 percent. Independent Aubrey Dunn, Libertarian Chris Manning and a write-in candidate received the remainder of the vote.
Democrats have won every election in the 1st Congressional District since 2008, after previously never holding the seat. The district’s map will change substantially after redistricting, but Democrats are favored to hold the seat in the 2022 elections.
8. PNM/Avangrid merger fails
After more than a year of gathering information, the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission rejected a proposed merger between Public Service Company of New Mexico and Avangrid, the subsidiary of the global utility giant Iberdrola. The PRC found that the potential harms to customers outweighed the benefits of the merger, but PNM officials say the decision will slow down the transition to clean energy. Avangrid’s management of utilities in New England, a criminal investigation into Iberdrola executives and concerns that PNM could favor Avangrid Renewables resources rather than the most beneficial generation sources were among the factors contributing to the PRC’s decision. Read the story here.
7. Legislature approves amendment to tap Land Grant Permanent Fund
One potentially overlooked piece of legislation in the mix of a very busy 60-day session involved the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund. The fund, in place since New Mexico became a state, includes $22 billion and is a major source of education funding.
Progressive legislators and groups have pushed for years for a constitutional amendment that would allow for more money to be pulled from the vast fund to fund early childhood education.
For many years, the legislation died in the Senate Finance Committee, many years without a hearing from John Arthur Smith, the Democrat who led the committee for years. Smith lost reelection last year and when the proposed constitutional amendment came up for a vote—and passed.
Ultimately, the bill to withdraw an additional 1.25 percent of the endowment passed both the House and Senate, and will go 60 percent toward early childhood programs and the remainder to public schools.
The battle isn’t over yet—voters will need to approve the amendment at the polls.
6. Redistricting remaps state political boundaries
A landmark event this year, that only happens every ten years, was redistricting. After the latest census data was complete, the New Mexico Legislature took on the task of redrawing boundaries for congressional, state House, state Senate and Public Education Commission districts.
2021 marked the first year that the Citizen Redistricting Committee submitted map concepts for the Legislature’s consideration. Nothing in state law required lawmakers to accept the committee’s concepts verbatim, but the maps the Legislature approved were largely based on concepts provided by the committee, which spurred many Republicans to criticize the new process as “tainted.”
The congressional map proposal seemed to get the mostar criticism from Republicans as well as a lot of national attention. The congressional map proposal pushes the southern boundary of the First Congressional District into rural areas like Carrizozo and Capitan, while stretching part of the Third Congressional District into areas like Artesia and Lovington. The Second Congressional District which has often been a Republican stronghold, will now include rural and farming communities outside the Albuquerque-metro area.
But the state House and Senate map proposals saw plenty of debate and controversy as well, particularly the Senate map. After hours of delay in the last few days of the special session, the Senate approved its own map, after accusations, mostly from Republicans, that the Democrats were ignoring Hispanics for honoring an agreement with tribes and pueblos.