December 21, 2022

2022 Top Stories: 10-6

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 2022 top stories, to date, here.

10. Couy Griffin booted from office

Former Otero County Commissioner and Cowboys for Trump founder and spokesman Couy Griffin once again found himself in the spotlight throughout 2022, finishing the year out of office.

Griffin was removed from office in September based on the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment’s Disqualification Clause due to his participation in the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection.

Griffin was arrested on Jan. 8, 2021 on a federal misdemeanor trespassing charge for joining in the insurrection.

He was convicted of the trespassing charge on March 22 and sentenced on June 17 to 14 days time served, ordered to pay $500 restitution, pay a $3,000 fine, complete community service and one year of supervised release.

On Sept. 6, New Mexico District Judge Francis Mathew ruled that Griffin ceased being eligible to hold public office as of Jan. 6, 2021.

Griffin’s political advocacy group Cowboys for Trump, or C4T as it is also known, was determined to be a political action committee by the New Mexico Secretary of State, an arbitrator chosen by the C4T camp and several judges at both the district and federal level. 

Cowboys for Trump has not been registered as a PAC nor accrued fines paid, SOS Spokesman Alex Curtas said on Dec. 13.

-Nicole Maxwell

9. Oil and gas buoys budget

The boom and bust cycle of the oil and gas industry was in a boom cycle in 2022.

That means big money—billions of dollars—in one-time money from taxes from the oil and gas industry are flowing into the state for next year’s budget. The latest Legislative Finance Committee projection put general fund revenue in New Mexico at $12 billion. The revenue for fiscal year 2022 was $9.675 billion.

This is because of record oil production in the state according to federal numbers. And the price of crude oil remained higher than in bust years.

But the influx of the money still brings problems. Oil prices are volatile and can change based on things New Mexico, or even the United States, has no control over. That means the question of how to spend the money is complicated. 

Some consultants warned legislators that this could be the last boom cycle for oil and gas.

So while oil and gas pushes the amount of available money to new heights, legislators will spend the 2023 legislative session debating on how to spend the money and how much to put into reserves to prepare for the next downswing.

-Matthew Reichbach

8. Voters pass constitutional amendment for early childhood education funding

Voters approved a constitutional amendment to increase distribution from the Land Grant Permanent Fund by 1.25 percent by a wide margin in November.

The constitutional amendment won with 70 percent of the vote. The additional 1.25 percent distribution is expected to increase funding for early childhood education by $125 million and an additional $100 million will go to the New Mexico Public Education Department to address at-risk students.

Advocates have said that the additional distribution will impact New Mexico’s annual bottom rankings on child well being, as well as help address some of the issues raised in the Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit. In that decision, the New Mexico Supreme Court mandated that the state must address educational inequities for the state’s marginalized learners.

Advocates have also said the additional distribution could help with some of the learning loss issues brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Getting to the point of allowing voters to decide this issue took ten years of work in legislative sessions in Santa Fe. Several nonprofit advocacy groups got behind the idea and a few legislators tried to carry bills each year but the bills stalled out every time, mostly due to the powerful state Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, who opposed the bill and chaired the Senate Finance Committee. But Smith lost his primary election in 2020 to a more progressive Democrat, along with five other conservative Democrats that June. With the shift in the state Senate, legislators were able to pass the bill in 2021.

-Susan Dunlap

7. San Juan Generating Station closes

After years of anticipation, the San Juan Generating Station burned its last coal in September.

The coal-fired power plant located west of Farmington has been the center of statewide attention since the Public Service Company of New Mexico announced in 2017 that it planned to close the plant. This led to the passage of the Energy Transition Act two years later.

The closure was the first test of the securitization portion of New Mexico’s signature electric transition legislation. Securitization is essentially a way to refinance past investments into the power plant and lower interest rates. A portion of the proceeds from those bonds will go to projects to assist displaced workers and help with economic development in northwest New Mexico. However, when the plant closed and PNM pre-funded the portion of the bonds that assist workers and the community, projects had not yet been chosen for those funds. The issuance of the bonds will come along with PNM’s proposed rate increase and, until the new rates go into effect, PNM customers will continue to pay for operation and maintenance of the shuttered power plant. 

Meanwhile, some of the solar facilities and battery storage projects intended to replace the power that has come from the San Juan Generating Station are behind schedule and the costs to build them are increasing. This has led to concerns that there might not be enough electricity to meet demands next summer.

PNM has signed some short-term power purchase agreements that the utility says will keep the lights on.

The City of Farmington, along with the company Enchant Energy, were attempting to acquire the San Juan Generating Station and reopen it. Their ultimate goal was to retrofit it with carbon capture to allow it to operate under the new emissions requirements that go into effect on Jan. 1. These carbon dioxide emission caps are part of the Energy Transition Act.

After PNM auctioned off some equipment used at the San Juan Generating Station this month, the City of Farmington announced that the project was no longer viable. This came after Farmington and Enchant Energy were unable to negotiate a transfer of ownership. In addition to the equipment auction, the mine that supplies the coal is being sealed and the options for moving forward were becoming more limited. Farmington is currently a partial owner of the power plant.

-Hannah Grover

6. Lujan Grisham wins reelection

Voters re-elected Democratic incumbent Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in November following an intense campaign between herself and Republican opponent Mark Ronchetti, a former KRQE-TV meteorologist.

The race ended with Lujan Grisham winning 52 percent of the vote to Ronchetti’s 46 percent and Libertarian candidate Karen Bedonie’s 2 percent.

“Tonight, New Mexico said yes – yes to hope, yes to growth, yes to fighting for our neighbors, not against them,” Lujan Grisham said in a press release on Nov. 8. “Tonight New Mexico said yes to equal justice under the law, New Mexico said yes to economic opportunity for all, New Mexico said yes to more health care for families, better education for kids and more economic freedom for workers and students.”

Polls showed anything from a 1-point win for Ronchetti to an 8-point win for Lujan Grisham. In the end it was a six point win for Lujan Grisham.

Both Lujan Grisham and Ronchetti had support from recent presidents including President Joe Biden stopping in Albuquerque to stump for Lujan Grisham and former President Donald Trump expressing his endorsement for Ronchetti via Truth Social, a social media site run by Trump.

The election was certified on Nov. 29 by the State Canvassing Board which consisted of  Lujan Grisham, New Mexico State Supreme Court Chief Justice C. Shannon Bacon and New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse-Oliver.

-Nicole Maxwell