State to get COVID help from federal medical teams

New Mexico will get a boost in medical personnel from the federal government amid the ongoing COVID-19 surge. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham acknowledged that New Mexico is one of a handful of states that will receive federal medical teams. New Mexico had a large increase in cases in December, before the rise of the Omicron variant, and case numbers have continued to increase to record levels in recent days. Hospitalizations have also remained at high levels for weeks in New Mexico, with 609 people hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Thursday. “I am grateful to President Biden and our federal partners for their continued support in our ongoing battle against COVID-19,” Lujan Grisham said. “New Mexico health care workers are counting on each and every one of us to do our part to ease their burden – get vaccinated, get boosted, and mask up.”

The U.S. Department of Defense Medium Medical Team is expected to arrive in New Mexico within the next week and will provide help at the University of New Mexico Hospital for 30 days. 

This isn’t the first time the state received federal medical help.

Governor, SOS announce voting rights expansion package

New Mexico’s governor along with the state’s top elections official announced support for legislation that would protect and expand voting rights in the state. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver announced their backing on Thursday, less than two weeks before the start of the state’s 2022 regular legislative session. The announcement also came on the anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, when supporters of former President Donald Trump attempted to stop the certification of electoral votes. The voting rights package proposed by Lujan Grisham and Toulouse Oliver would expand online registration for voters, provide increased support for Native American residents and create a permanent absentee ballot list for those who request to be added.

2021 Top Stories #2: COVID continues

See our entire countdown of 2021 top stories, to date, here. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues throughout the country, one thing changed from 2020, when much of the world was first impacted, into 2021: Variants. Scientists kept close track of mutations made to COVID-19 and which variants were considered of concern. 

Some variants were more aggressive in infections than others, most notably the Delta variant, first designated as a variant of interest by the World Health Organization in early April. By May 11, it was called a variant of concern. The more contagious variant quickly became the dominant variant across the globe, including in New Mexico.

NM detects its first confirmed Omicron case

State health officials announced the first confirmed case of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, which has been called a variant of concern by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The case of Omicron is from a female adult in Bernalillo County who reported travel to another state that had reported cases of the variant. She was seen in an emergency room but has since been discharged to recover at home. The Omicron variant was first identified in South Africa, though scientists have since found earlier cases occurred inEurope. It has now been discovered in more than 60 countries throughout the world and 30 states and the District of Columbia in the United States.

State House map backed by tribal governments heads to House floor

A bill to draw new lines for state House districts statewide passed two committees on Wednesday and is now headed to the House floor. On Wednesday evening, the bill passed the House Judiciary Committee on a 7-4, party-line vote. 

During the hearing, a number of representatives of sovereign nations, pueblos and tribes expressed their unified support for the map put forward by Daymon Ely, D-Corrales. “This has not been an easy process trying to reach a consensus among sovereign governments,” Pueblo of Acoma Governor Brian Vallo said. 

He and others said that Native governments worked for months to find a preferred map that would allow for representation in the Legislature. And others said that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated chronic undercounting during the 2020 census, which led to why the districts had a lower number of residents than other districts, particularly those in northwestern New Mexico. Republicans on the House State Government, Elections & Indian Affairs Committee had expressed concern over the “deviation” of the different districts, or how much each district differs from the ideal equal population.

Vaccines, masks required in the Roundhouse during upcoming legislative sessions

The upcoming legislative special session for redistricting and next year’s regular legislative session will be open to the public—but they must provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter and wear masks while in the Roundhouse. That’s according to the Legislative Council Service, which announced the changes on Tuesday. “Given the high number of COVID-19 cases across the state and the strain this continues to put on state resources, it is incumbent on us to protect everyone in the Capitol complex while conducting the state’s business,” Legislative Council Director Raúl Burciaga said in a statement. “I believe the measures being taken for the special and regular sessions will allow for the work to get done while greatly minimizing the risk for COVID spread.”

This currently would not apply to legislators, NM Political Report confirmed. The 2021 legislative session took place behind closed doors because of the threat of COVID-19, with some members participating remotely.

Keller wins reelection; stadium bond fails

A record number of voters cast ballots in Albuquerque, and chose to reelect Tim Keller as mayor for a second term. Keller won in a three-way race with over 55 percent of the vote with 71 or 72 vote centers reporting. 

Keller easily outdistanced both of his opponents, Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales and conservative radio host Eddy Aragon. 

If no candidate had reached 50 percent, there would have been a runoff election between the top two candidates. Keller said in his victory speech that the results showed voters cared about “leadership in tough times.”

“There is no doubt, these are some of the toughest times Albuquerque has been through,” Keller said. “Four years ago, you trusted me to move our city in the right direction, and now, I’m asking you to trust me to see that vision through. We may not always agree, but today we affirmed our mutual commitment that I will push us forward and lift up our city for future generations.”

Keller received 55.82 percent of the vote with 72 of 72 vote centers reporting, while Gonzales received 25.56 percent and Aragon received 18.38 percent.

Voters head to the polls for local elections

Voters throughout the state will go to the polls on Tuesday in local elections. The two biggest elections, in terms of voters, are those in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Both elections will feature incumbent mayors seeking a second term. In Albuquerque, incumbent Mayor Tim Keller faces two opponents, Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales and conservative radio host Eddy Aragon. The two public polls in the race show Keller with large leads in the three way race.

State crosses 5,000 COVID-19 deaths

State health officials announced on Monday that New Mexico reached 5,000 COVID-19 related deaths. The news on Monday came as the state announced 15 additional deaths related to COVID-19 on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, for a total of 5,002 COVID-19 related deaths since the beginning of the pandemic in March of last year. “These aren’t just numbers – they are our family members, friends, and neighbors, and we grieve for them and their families,” New Mexico Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Dr. David Scrase said. 

According to the New York Times COVID-19 tracker, New Mexico has the 20th-highest number of COVID-19 deaths per capita, with 238 per 100,000 residents. The state’s latest mortality update, from last week, showed that over 2,200 deaths were among those 75 or older, nearly 1,200 among those 65-74 and over 1,200 among those 45-64. The mortality update, along with other epidemiological reports, are usually released in the middle of the week.

State supreme court sets date for arguments on pandemic aid case

The New Mexico Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case over who has the authority to distribute federal pandemic aid funds in November. The case, which will have oral arguments on Nov. 17, is brought by legislators who say the governor’s veto of language that directed the use of federal COVID-19 pandemic aid is illegal and that the Legislature should have the authority to direct where the money goes. 

Sen. Jacob Candelaria, a Democrat from Albuquerque, and Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca, a Republican from Belen, filed the petition in September. 

At the time, the two said the governor’s action was unconstitutional. The Lujan Grisham administration said that previous state supreme court precedent allowed the governor to direct federal funds. “The Supreme Court of New Mexico has concluded that federal contributions are not a proper subject of the Legislature’s appropriative power, and the Legislature’s attempt to control the use of such funds infringes ‘the executive function of administration,’” Lujan Grisham wrote in her veto message regarding the funds. 

When asked about the dispute when State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg, a Democrat, said he believed the money should be handled by the Legislature, a spokeswoman for the governor said she believed the Legislature had the authority to dispense state, not federal funds.