Special session for economic relief coming in April

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced an upcoming special session beginning on April 5 after an agreement with legislative leaders. At issue is a “junior” spending bill, which Lujan Grisham pocket vetoed. The governor said legislators would bring up a “revised” spending bill. She also indicated that she will ask the Legislature to provide further economic relief in light of rising inflation and soaring gas prices. “As prices remain high nationwide, it is clear that we must act swiftly to deliver more relief to New Mexicans,” the governor said.

Congress announces investigation into Otero County election canvass

Congressional Democrats announced on Thursday that they have launched an investigation into an election “canvass” taking place in a southern New Mexico county, saying it is run by “conspiracy theorists” who believe the “Big Lie” that the 2020 election was invalid. The effort in Otero County, which has been called a “vigilante audit” by the state’s top election administrator, is run by an organization that calls itself New Mexico Audit Force in association with the company EchoMail, Inc.

Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, the chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, and fellow Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the chairman of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, sent a letter to V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai, Ph.D., a former U.S. Senate candidate who runs EchoMail about the investigation and the possibility that it violates federal law. The company is involved in the Otero County effort. “The Committee is deeply concerned that EchoMail’s actions could undermine the integrity of federal elections and violate Americans’ right to vote,” the two wrote in the letter to EchoMail.  “Your company’s proven lack of knowledge about the details of election administration, your personal advocacy of election conspiracy theories, and your partnership with a conspiracist volunteer group to canvass voters raise serious concerns that your actions will damage election integrity in Otero County and beyond, including by intimidating voters in violation of federal law.”

In addition, the two sent a letter to Assistant Attorney General Kristen M. Clarke at the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. “The canvass is being run by volunteers from a conspiracist group whose leaders said they plan to ‘pinpoint’ a ‘list of suspects’ for ‘criminal prosecution,’ and called for ‘arrests,’ ‘prosecutions,’ and ‘firing squads,’” the letter states. 

It says the effort includes “potential voter intimidation” in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act.

Luján makes return to U.S. Senate

Thursday morning, during a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing, committee chair Senator Maria Cantwell stopped mid-sentence when she saw someone walk into the room. U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján, wearing a black face mask, made his return to the U.S. Senate, weeks after suffering a stroke. Members and those in attendance rose to give the freshman Senator a standing ovation. Luján had surgery to repair damage after the stroke he suffered on Jan. 27 and spent weeks in the hospital, during which his office provided sporadic updates on his condition.

AG, SOS issue warning over Otero County ‘vigilante audit’

The state’s top elections official and top lawyer issued a warning over an election “audit” taking place in Otero County, telling residents they are under no obligation to participate in the audit or provide any information. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, in a call with media members on Wednesday, referred to the effort as a “vigilante audit” and said “there is nothing that is legitimate about this process in my point of view.”

It came to light after a TikTok video by an Otero County voter received lots of attention when she highlighted a visit from a group called the New Mexico Audit Force. 

The effort, which echoes efforts made by conservatives and some far-right politicians throughout the country regarding the 2020 elections, was authorized by the Otero County Commission and outsourced to the New Mexico Audit Force. That group is sending volunteers door-to-door to speak to voters and gather personal information. Attorney General Hector Balderas and Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver issued a release to remind voters of their rights and what information is publicly available in the form of voter records. No voter is required to provide information on who they voted for or on how they voted on ballot issues, the two reminded.

Governor announces immediate end to mask mandate

In her post-session press conference, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that New Mexico would no longer have an indoor mask mandate in public settings, effective immediately. Lujan Grisham spoke while flanked by Lt. Gov. Howie Morales and Democratic leaders from both the House and Senate following the end of the state’s 30-day legislative session. She and most other leaders removed their masks at that time. “I want to express my gratitude to every New Mexican who has steadfastly worn a mask, gotten vaccinated, and done everything in their power to protect their neighbors, as well as the heroic health care and frontline workers who have courageously supported our communities during this uncertain time,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “Given the continued drop in hospitalizations and the lessening of the burden on our hospitals, it’s time to end the mask mandate.

Omnibus crime bill heads to governor’s desk

Midway through Rep. Meredith Dixon’s introduction to an omnibus crime bill put together by the Senate, Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, stopped her. At 4 a.m., he explained, the server for the legislative webcasts resets every morning and they would stand in place while that took place. Dixon, an Albuquerque Democrat, continued her explanation of the new portions of the HB 68 after the brief interruption, speaking for another ten minutes. This was just a short portion of the three hours of conversation. In all, the new version of the bill included 54 sections, a massive change from the five-section bill that left the House earlier in the legislative session.

Federal judge: Cowboys for Trump must disclose donors

A Donald Trump-supporting political group run by a controversial New Mexico county commissioner must disclose its donors, a federal appeals court judge ruled Tuesday, affirming a lower court’s previous decision. The judge ruled in a case where Cowboys for Trump challenged the constitutionality of New Mexico’s Campaign Reporting Act, after the Secretary of State ordered the group to identify who funded the group. State Attorney General Hector Balderas heralded the decision. “All elected officials and dark money groups in this nation must follow election reporting requirements in order to protect the public interest, and no one is above the law,” he said. Cowboys for Trump is run by Couy Griffin, an Otero County commissioner who traveled throughout the country in support of former President Donald Trump.

Luján recovering after stroke, surgery

U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján’s office announced on Tuesday that the senator was hospitalized after suffering a stroke. He is expected to make a full recovery. The statement from Carlos Sanchez, Luján’s chief of staff, said the 49-year-old senator experienced dizziness and fatigue Thursday morning and checked himself into Christus St. Vincent Regional Hospital in Santa Fe. It was there that medical staff determined he had a stroke in his cerebellum, which affected his balance.

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.