Senate Dems at odds with Native American governments over Senate redistricting

The New Mexico Senate Judiciary Committee voted 7-2 on Sunday to change a bill aimed at redrawing its own Senate districts, despite pleas from numerous Native American pueblos and tribes not to do so. 

The original proposal, SB 2, adopted a Native American consensus plan that was recommended to the Legislature by the state’s Citizen Redistricting Committee to create stronger Native American voting districts. 

The new version of the bill shifted district boundaries in order to protect six Republican senators from being paired with each other. Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, who brought the substitute forward, told the committee that the replacement bill was a result of working with Senate Republicans to avoid the pairing of Republicans who represent districts in the western and southeastern parts of the state. 

“In the Senate, we try very hard to be collaborative and to work as an entire body, not just one party,” Stewart said. “And so I was approached by the minority party with ideas.”

Earlier this year, a statewide Native American coalition presented a consensus map to the newly formed Citizen Redistricting Committee. That consensus map was included in SB 2. 

During Sunday’s committee meeting, many representatives from numerous tribal nations and pueblos spoke out against the substitute bill on the basis that they spent months of effort to come up with a map that was agreeable to them all. 

Conroy Chino, a registered lobbyist for the Pueblo of Taos, asked committee members to consider the amount of time and effort it took for the coalition to come to an agreement and urged them not to adopt the substitute bill. 

“You can only imagine the challenge of bringing together 22 sovereign governments and having them arrive at a consensus and an agreement,” Chino said. “It was quite challenging and required careful deliberation and meaningful discussion in order for them to arrive at an agreement on a map.”

Pueblo of Zia Governor Jerome Lucero expressed the importance of lawmakers honoring the wishes of Native governments and asked them to adopt a state Senate map that includes the result of the months of work from the coalition. 

“For many redistricting cycles throughout history, our voice was often ignored from this important democratic process,” Lucero said.

House passage a ‘major step forward’ for protecting Chaco Canyon

A bill to establish a permanent 10-mile buffer around Chaco Canyon to protect it from oil and gas extraction activity passed the U.S. House on Wednesday with bipartisan support. The bill, sponsored by U.S. Reps. Ben Ray Luján, Deb Haaland and Xochitl Torres Small, would prohibit oil and gas activity on nearly 500 square miles of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) held land surrounding the Chaco Culture National Historical Park. The bill passed 245-174, with all Democrats in the House voting in favor of the legislation, along with 17 Republicans. The legislation would withdraw BLM-held land within the 10-mile buffer around the Chaco Canyon park from future oil and gas development, but would not prevent the Navajo Nation or individuals with allotments in the buffer zone from pursuing energy development.

All Pueblo Council of Governors say no to nuclear waste storage

The All Pueblo Council of Governors adopted a resolution last week opposing license applications from two private companies to transport and store nuclear waste in Lea County, New Mexico and Andrews County, Texas. The council, which represents 20 sovereign Pueblo nations of New Mexico and Texas, affirmed its commitment to protecting Pueblo natural and cultural resources from “risks associated with transport of the nation’s growing inventory of high level nuclear waste,” it said in a statement. 

Holtec International and Interim Storage Partners LLC each applied for licenses with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission for transporting and storing nuclear waste in New Mexico and Texas. 

Holtec International applied for a 40-year license to construct and operate a multibillion-dollar complex in Lea County to house 120,000 metric tons of nuclear waste. The consolidated interim storage facility would house 8,600 metric tons of uranium initially. The uranium waste would be transported into New Mexico from nuclear generator sites across the country and housed in steel casks placed 40 feet underground. RELATED: An evolving nuclear agenda spurs plutonium pit production at LANL

Interim Storage Partners applied to build a smaller storage facility in Andrews County, Texas that would hold 40,000 metric tons of nuclear waste.

Protest period opens for proposed Greater Chaco drilling

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The federal government is proceeding with plans for a December auction of oil and gas drilling leases on thousands of acres of land in the Greater Chaco region. A comment period on the proposal opened today and will continue through October 31, despite a pending Senate bill that would protect the area, and without a cultural review and consultation promised by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Miya King-Flaherty, organizer with the Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter, said the government is violating its own procedures by not having a resource management plan in place. “They’re not following their own rules,” King-Flaherty said; “they’re really just rubber-stamping these drilling permits while not giving the thorough analysis that they are mandated to do.” New Mexico Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich have introduced legislation to protect the greater Chaco region.

Arnold-Jones apologizes to tribal leadership group for comments made on Fox News

A New Mexico congressional candidate publicly apologized to pueblo leaders for her comments on a national television news show. The apology came from Republican Congressional District 1 candidate Janice Arnold-Jones at an All Pueblo Council of Governors event on Thursday morning for state and federal candidates. Before the candidates’ speeches to the council began, tribal leaders brought up the comments Arnold-Jones made on a Fox News show weeks earlier about her opponent Deb Haaland. “Today, the All Pueblo Council of Governors addressed the recent remarks by Republican congressional candidate Janice Arnold Jones in which she questioned the ethnicity of her Democrat opponent, Deb Haaland of Laguna Pueblo,” according to a statement from the council. “The APCG took issue with her remarks and advised her that many of the Governors were offended.

Senator calls on Martinez appointee as education chief to resign

State Sen. Linda Lopez is calling for the head of the New Mexico Public Education Department to resign over comments last month touting Manifest Destiny as one of the “fundamental principles of the country” — remarks that drew a scathing rebuke from Pueblo leaders. The department says Secretary-Designate Christopher Ruszkowski has reached out to tribal officials to express remorse after his comments at a charter school conference were reported in The Albuquerque Journal. But the remarks have still stirred outrage among indigenous New Mexicans who argue Ruszkowski demonstrated a lack of understanding about the history of westward expansion and the role of the education system in dispossessing Native Americans. The comments even drew the attention of The Washington Post this month. In a letter to Ruszkowski, Lopez wrote that he had still not explained what she described as “ill-advised comments.”

Chaco memorial hits at deeper issues

Saturday night, freshman state Rep. Derrick Lente watched one of his first initiatives turn into a showdown on the House floor. Earlier in the session, Lente’s memorial to protect cultural and historical sites near Chaco Canyon received bipartisan support and passed through the House State Government, Indian and Veterans’ Affairs Committee unanimously. Something changed, though. By the time it reached the House floor, the Democrat’s memorial had triggered uncertainty and skepticism from Republicans. That’s because there was an elephant lurking in the room, said Lente, who is from the Pueblo of Sandia.