After report on Russia ties, Heinrich says Senators should call Manafort in to testify

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich says a former Donald Trump campaign chairman should testify in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee after reports of the former campaign official’s ties to Russia. Heinrich, a member of the committee, said that Paul Manafort must testify “and give the American people the answers they deserve.”

Heinrich cited an Associated Press report that Manafort “secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics.”

Manafort worked for Oleg Deripaska, who is a close ally of Putin, for a reported $10 million a year contract. Heinrich said the work described by the AP was similar to recent Russian hacking actions during the elections in the United States. “I am alarmed by reports that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort created and then sold the Russians what appears to be a game plan to undermine democracy and further the interests of the Russian government – including inside the United States,” Heinrich said. “His reported recommendation to use political campaign tactics, establish front groups, and manipulate the press are strikingly similar to the actual tactics we know the Russians employed to undermine our presidential election.”

The Trump administration has attempted to downplay Manafort’s role, with White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer saying Manafort’s role in the campaign was “for a very limited amount of time.”

As CNN reported, Manafort was Trump’s campaign chairman and chief strategist for the summer of 2016 before the role went to Breitbart News’ Steve Bannon and political strategist Kellyanne Conway.

Gun bills coming this session

With less than two weeks to go before the beginning of the 2017 state legislative session, four lawmakers have already filed bills on a controversial reoccurring topic—guns. One bill from two prominent Democratic senators seeks to mandate background checks on gun owners who transfer firearms between each other. That bill, filed by incoming Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, and longtime Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Española, would exempt background checks for gun transfers between family members, licensed gun dealers and law enforcement officers and agencies. Opponents of the current process often call it the “gun show loophole,” since some of these background check-free firearm transfers occur at gun shows. State Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos, has also prefiled a similar bill in the state House of Representatives.

Trump campaign to air ads in New Mexico

The general election presidential race is coming to New Mexico. Or at least, it is through TV and digital ads. The Associated Press, and other outlets, reported late last week that Donald Trump’s campaign would be spending a total of $140 million on ads in 13 states. This is $100 million on TV ads and $40 million on digital advertising. From the AP:
The Trump campaign is targeting key battleground states like Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania, along with Michigan, Maine, New Mexico, Wisconsin and others.

Martinez considering a special session to address shortfall

Reports indicate that Gov. Susana Martinez is considering calling the Legislature into a special session to deal with what looks like a large shortfall in the state’s budget. The news comes nearly a week after Senate Finance Committee Chair John Arthur Smith said a special session would be needed. Smith made the comments during a legislative interim committee. The Associated Press reported Tuesday that Martinez has been “working for weeks with executive agencies and a key legislative committee” on how to deal with the shortfall. Smith, a Democrat from Deming, said he spoke to Martinez’s staff about the need for a special session.

Not just Flint: Some NM areas have high lead levels in drinking water

An investigation found areas in New Mexico with lead levels that exceed national levels of allowable lead in water. And even those numbers appear to understate the issue. In the wake of the Flint water crisis, when a governor-appointed city manager changed the water source to the city resulting in incredibly high levels of lead in drinking water, many are paying more attention to the problems of lead in water. An Associated Press investigation found 17 entities with levels higher than federal levels in New Mexico, according to a review of the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS) database. The Centers for Disease Control wrote in a 2012 report “no safe blood lead threshold in children has been identified.” Lead exposure can lead to “an adverse health effect such as IQ loss.” It can also have neurotoxic effects in both adults and children.

Odds and Ends: What judge will hear Phil Griego case?

—Who’s going to take the Griego case? Judges are recusing themselves from the pending Phil Griego case left and right. Dan Boyd over at the Albuquerque Journal wrote earlier this week that four judges recused themselves from the case. That’s already outdated: A fifth judge also recused himself. The ball is now in the court of Judge Raymond Ortiz; a KOB reporter called Ortiz’s office and they said Ortiz isn’t sure if he’ll take the case.

Martinez won’t endorse after Rubio drops out

After the failure of her preferred candidate, New Mexico’s governor is staying neutral in presidential race for now. Susana Martinez endorsed Marco Rubio earlier this month. Less than two weeks later, the Florida Senator was blown out in his home state by businessman and reality TV star Donald Trump. After the big loss, Rubio dropped out of the race, ending a disappointing presidential race by winning just one state and two territories. In New Mexico, the attention turned to who Martinez would endorse.

Feds give NM REAL ID extension

New Mexico received an extension on a waiver that will allow the state to comply with the federal REAL ID Act. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security gave the extension to the state on Friday after the state legislature approved a bill that would bring New Mexico into compliance with the controversial federal law while still allowing those who are in the country illegally to legally drive. The Associated Press first reported the news that the federal government granted the waiver. Gov. Susana Martinez requested the waiver earlier this week while in Washington D.C.

This comes after DHS denied an extension to New Mexico late last year. The department let the congressional delegation know that an extension would still be available if the Legislature and governor could come to an agreement before the session.

Two more legislators under campaign finance microscope

Two more state representatives are facing scrutiny over their campaign finance reports following media reports. State Representatives James Madalena, D-Jemez Pueblo, and Andy Nuñez, R-Hatch, are the latest to see their campaign finance reports be examined for alleged improprieties. The Albuquerque Journal reported Madalena spent campaign funds “on surgery expenses, attire from a Nike factory store and to help a ‘needy family’ in his legislative district.” Madalena told the newspaper that he is working on amending the reports. But he also told the newspaper to look at the campaign finance reports of Nuñez, a Republican (who used to be a Democrat) in a key swing district.

Flashback: NM county clerk resigned over same-sex marriage

New Mexico has been giving marriage certificates to same-sex couples since 2013, after a state Supreme Court decision said that it was unconstitutional to deny marriage certificates to same-sex couples. New Mexico was the 17th state to legalize same-sex marriage. Nationwide, same-sex marriage only became legal earlier this year after a U.S. Supreme Court decision. The opposition to the same-sex marriage has been signified by a county clerk in Kentucky who went to jail rather than give marriage certificates to same-sex couples. A federal judge ruled Kim Davis in contempt of court for failing to give such certificates despite numerous court rulings that said government workers cannot deny certificates to same-sex couples.