Sheryl Williams Stapleton resigns

Embattled House Majority Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton resigned from her position in the state legislature amid state and federal investigations into alleged corruption related to her role in Albuquerque Public Schools. Earlier this week, state investigators raided Williams Stapleton’s house and Friday the Albuquerque Journal reported APS received a federal grand jury subpoena. By Friday afternoon, House Democrat leadership announced that Williams Stapleton had resigned. “Given the weight of the allegations against Rep. Stapleton and the ongoing investigation, her resignation from the House is appropriate and in the best interest of the Legislature and the state,” Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, House Majority Whip Doreen Gallegos, and House Majority Caucus Chair D. Wonda Johnson said. “There is important work to be done for the people of New Mexico, and House Democrats and our strong leadership team will continue to remain focused on serving our constituents and moving our great state forward.” 

The state investigation included allegations of “racketeering, money laundering, receiving illegal kickbacks and violations of the Governmental Conduct Act.”

The state search warrants said that businesses and charities operated by Williams Stapleton received nearly $1 million from Robotics Management Learning Systems LLC, a Washington D.C.-based company that has contracts with Albuquerque Public Schools.

New Mexico’s climate may lead to a smaller carbon footprint when growing cannabis

When the New Mexico Legislature was considering a bill that eventually became the Cannabis Regulation Act, one of the major topics of concern was water use. Ultimately, lawmakers agreed to require cannabis growers to prove they had legal access to water. But one issue that was not addressed, at least not at length, was how much power it would take to operate possibly hundreds of grow operations around the state. A study released in March of this year showed that as states move towards legalizing adult-use cannabis, greenhouse gases and energy consumption have gone up. The study also showed that some of the higher energy-use areas were in the southwest and midwest regions of the U.S. And while state regulators do not have any specific energy restrictions for cannabis growers, two people familiar with New Mexico’s cannabis industry said the state’s climate will likely play a key role in keeping the carbon footprint of cannabis small. 

The study from earlier this year found that high levels of greenhouse gases and excessive energy use comes from indoor growing, where climate control is reliant on fans, high powered lights and manufactured carbon dioxide. 

A spokesperson for the state’s Regulation and Licensing Department, which oversees the state’s Cannabis Control Division said there are currently no restrictions or guidance for energy consumption.

Growing Forward: Green Rush Part 1

By law, the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department has about a month before it has to start accepting applications from businesses looking to enter the new, non-medical cannabis industry. The state’s Cannabis Regulation Act, which was signed into law in April, legalized the adult-use and possession of cannabis as well as home-cultivation. The new law also allows for commercial sales, but leaves much of the specifics up to rules and regulations. 

RLD has to start accepting applications for cannabis business licenses no later than Sept. 1 and start issuing licenses no later than Jan. 1, 2022.

For families of color, climate change in New Mexico is already here, say experts

Climate change isn’t in the future for New Mexico—it’s already here and impacting families of color, according to climate change experts. From Navajo leaving their land due to dwindling resources, hotter wildfires altering landscapes, an increase of climate change refugees crossing outside ports of entry and wells running dry in rural areas, families of color in New Mexico are already feeling the heat from climate change, various sources told NM Political Report. Joan Brown, executive director of climate justice organization New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light, said it’s hard to not feel “immobilized” by the immensity of the problem. “Climate change is touching into every aspect of life and all of our neighbors’ lives,” she said. According to a Yale Project on Climate Change and George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication report, communities of color are likely to disproportionately feel climate change more than white communities due to socioeconomic inequities.

The stench of climate change

“Oh my gosh. It is just cranking.”

Nathalie Eddy, a field advocate for Earthworks, the environmental monitoring group, is sitting in her Jeep next to an oil well southwest of Loving, New Mexico, in the Permian Basin. A tangle of well pumping equipment is on one side of the quarter-acre pad. Ten yards away are eight storage tanks, each about the size of a Greyhound bus standing on end. She’s aiming her camera at the top of one of those tanks.

CYFD employees say they were reprimanded, fired for asking questions about major software contract

In late 2019, Jackson Williams, manager of a data unit at the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department, raised his hand at a work meeting to ask about a massive computer system upgrade at the agency — one that could potentially cost $45 million over the next decade. Led by Cabinet Secretary Brian Blalock, a San Francisco Bay Area transplant, the CYFD had selected a young California firm named Binti to lead the overhaul, apparently without considering any of the more than 20 other companies that expressed interest in the job. “Who is Binti, and why are they in charge of this project?” Williams asked. 

Within days, Williams said he was taken off the modernization project. Soon after, Williams received a letter of reprimand from his supervisor asserting that he had violated the CYFD code of conduct by “going outside the chain of command” when he voiced his concerns about Binti. Williams later resigned from the department.

Restaurant jobs abound. But many in NM want something better to come back to.

SANTA FE —  More than 71 percent of New Mexico residents have had at least one dose of the vaccine. Thousands of restaurant jobs are vacant statewide, and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has even offered up to a $1,000 cash payment for workers to come back in July. But according to state unemployment records and a lobbying group for the restaurant industry, restaurant jobs (and many others) still abound — so much so that many eateries have had to cut hours or even close for a day because they can’t find enough people to meet the demand of a public hungry for eating out after months of staying in. “It’s every place. I’m gonna say 98 percent of restaurants don’t have complete staff,” said Carol Wight, executive director of the New Mexico Restaurant Association.

Early childhood education expansion could empower New Mexico women, advocates say

On August 1, New Mexico will expand early child care assistance to allow a family of four with a  nearly $93,000 yearly income eligible for assistance from the state, among other early childcare changes. Some have said the expansions to early childcare could empower women in New Mexico. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Early Childhood Education and Care Department Secretary Elizabeth Groginsky announced earlier this month that, through funding from the federal American Rescue Plan, the state will expand who qualifies for early child care assistance. Micah McCoy, ECECD communications director, told NM Political Report that the income requirement for state assistance for early childcare is currently 200 percent of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that equals about $53,000 a year, he said.

Democrat Manny Gonzales wants to be mayor. Republicans run his campaign.

Eight years ago, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, a Republican, cruised to re-election with almost 70% of the vote. Yet this year, with just three weeks left for a candidate to produce the 3,000 petition signatures necessary to get on the ballot, it seems likely there won’t be a registered Republican running for the job for the first time since 1974, when the city established its current system of government. But that doesn’t mean prominent Republicans don’t have a candidate to promote. Jay McCleskey—a formidable GOP strategist—is working for Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales, a Democrat aiming to unseat Mayor Tim Keller. 

McCleskey shepherded both campaigns of former Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and served as her chief strategist. He won the Albuquerque mayoral seat for Berry, twice.

Abortion care providers prepare for Texas gestational ban

Abortion care providers in New Mexico expect an increase in patients if a court allows Texas’ six-week gestational ban to take effect in September. A group of Texas abortion fund and clinic providers filed suit in a Texas state court last week to stop the state’s new law from going into effect. But because the law is new territory, providers, abortion fund organizations and legal experts in New Mexico are watching to see if the court blocks the law with an injunction and, if not, how large the ripple effect could be felt in this neighboring state. Ellie Rushforth, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico called the Texas law not just unconstitutional but “sinister.”

“The point of this [Texas] law is to instill fear and place a bounty on the head of anyone who is providing abortion care or helping people get the care they need. It’s inviting and encouraging complete strangers to stake out and continue to harass abortion providers and networks of care,” she said.