Egolf challenger drops out of the race

A candidate running to unseat New Mexico’s Speaker of the House suspended her campaign Monday, saying she would re-focus her efforts to combat climate change. 

But as NM Political Report’s Andy Lyman, reporting for the Santa Fe Reporter, discovered, Lyla June Johnston’s campaign came to an end about a month after her former campaign manager accused her of theft. 

Johnston told the Santa Fe Reporter that a police report that named her as a suspect in a fraud and embezzlement investigation had nothing to do with her decision to drop out of her race. 

Johnston said the case was based on a misunderstanding and that her former campaign manager got her property back after police got involved. 

After she called police to report the alleged crime, the campaign manager told the responding officer that she thought Johnston, along with another campaign worker, took the campaign manager’s personal belongings in retaliation for quitting Johnston’s campaign. 

The campaign manager told the officer she quit the campaign after Johnston disclosed that an old Facebook post from her past was being circulated online. The post, the campaign manager said, seemed to show Johnston admitting to, and asking forgiveness for, sexual misconduct from when she was a student at Stanford University. 

Johnston told the Santa Fe Reporter that she has long deleted the post, but that it was her attempt to talk about consent. 

“What I was writing about was that when I was a teenager, I kissed someone when we were both inebriated and, as teenagers, we normalize this behavior at parties,” she told the Santa Fe Reporter. “But I eventually rejected that mindset. Because now I know this means neither of us were able to consent. So, I was trying to start a conversation about consent that extends beyond the narrow legal definition.”

Johnston’s official announcement that she was ending her campaign cited “a disappointing legislative session” and her seven day fast as two events that made it “clear that our resources and energy will be better directed toward a grassroots, statewide effort to address the climate emergency.”

Johnston is outspoken against the oil and gas industry and has criticized politicians, including her former opponent, Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, of relying too much on financial returns from oil and gas extraction. 

Her exit from the race leaves Egolf without an opponent with just a few weeks left for legislative candidates to file for candidacy.  

Lujan Grisham hails ‘really productive’ session

New Mexico’s 54th Legislature wrapped up Thursday amid congratulatory hugs and news conferences — a veneer of good cheer that masked a dose of sleep deprivation, early-morning procedural bickering, and finally, sighs of relief as key bills were passed just hours before the final gavel. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Democratic legislators touted the passage of a number of their priority proposals, including the creation of an early childhood trust fund, passing a high-profile firearms bill and shepherding through the state’s $7.6 billion budget for the 2021 fiscal year. “I think this was a really productive 30-day session,” Lujan Grisham said, surrounded by legislators and cabinet secretaries at a post-session news conference in  the Roundhouse. “We are building something new together. We’re investing for tomorrow and we’re delivering today.”

The governor won passage for the majority of bills she asked legislators to undertake — 80 percent of them, by her own count.

Senate panel trims 2021 budget

A cut here, a whack there — and a budget takes form. But not without some acrimony. The Senate Finance Committee released considerable changes to the state’s main budget bill Tuesday, trimming the House’s spending plan in high-visibility areas such as roads and teacher pay raises, and scaling down one of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s most prized pieces of legislation, the Opportunity Scholarship. The committee unanimously approved its amendments to House Bill 2, which calls for a $7.6 billion budget for the 2021 fiscal year, and moves the legislation to the Senate floor. That would represent a 7.6 percent increase over the current year and would target reserves at 25 percent.

Bill to create fund for uninsured clears House

Sparks flew between Republicans and Democrats Sunday during a lengthy debate on a health care tax bill that supporters say would help the uninsured. Passed by the House on a vote of 41 to 25, HB 278 would create a health care fund for New Mexicans who are uninsured. The bill would replace a federal tax that Congress repealed. The state health insurance tax would result in $99.1 million to go to a new “health care affordability fund” and the remaining $25.6 million would go to the general fund. Republicans tried twice to amend the bill to exempt small business owners from the bill.

House minority leader takes issue with special process for medical cannabis bill

An unconventional process for a somewhat controversial medical cannabis bill provoked the ire of the House Republican floor leader Sunday afternoon. 

House Minority Leader James Townsend, R-Artesia, told acting Speaker of the House Daymon Ely, D-Albuquerque, he felt like House Democrats have been changing rules for the majority’s benefit. 

The bill in question, SB 139, would change state law to only allow New Mexico residents to enroll in the state’s Medical Cannabis Program. The problem is, the bill is also directly tied to a state Court of Appeals case where Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, represents the appellees. In attempt to eliminate the perception of a conflict of interest, Egolf said in a letter last week, he would remove himself from the legislative process for that bill. Egolf’s letter asked leaders from the House majority and minority to make the decision about what sort of House committee assignments the Senate bill would get. 

Ely, who Egolf assigned as Speaker Pro Tempore for the assignment process of the bill, told the body on Sunday afternoon that Townsend declined to take part in the process. 

“There was a process proposed that the minority leader and majority leader would try to reach an amicable arrangement as to what committee or committees Senate Bill 139 would be referred to,” Ely said. “The minority leader, as is his right, has decided not to recommend that, so I as the presiding officer will make the referral.”

Townsend took issue with how Ely characterized the letter.

House bill continues budget battle

If legislation had taglines, this one’s might be: “How a highly technical bill became the latest partisan punching bag.”

On Friday, the Democrat-controlled House Taxation and Revenue Committee approved House Bill 341, which proposes to transfer money from the state’s enormous Tax Stabilization Reserve fund into its operating reserve if the latter drops to less than 1 percent of total appropriations. The legislation’s proponents say the measure would fix a structural issue created when the rainy-day fund was set up, and would even help the state avoid calling a special session when it’s not necessary. But it became a flashpoint for discord Friday, with Republicans critics contending the bill is a cover for Democrats spending too much during the session. “If we refuse to address the technical problem that has arisen, we’re not doing our job,” House Speaker Brian Egolf said Friday at the committee hearing before voting in favor of the bill. At issue is the balance in the state’s operating reserve, a sort of holding account for the general fund that provides a buffer in case there’s a revenue shortfall.

Egolf to recuse himself from process on cannabis bill

The New Mexico Speaker of the House announced Friday that he will remove himself from the legislative process if a Senate bill related to three of his clients makes it to the House. 

Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, issued a letter to the House clerk detailing his plan of action if SB 139, which would clarify that medical cannabis patients in the state must be New Mexico residents, makes it to the House. 

Egolf is an attorney outside of his role as Speaker. New Mexico does not have full-time legislators. The bill is a direct result of a pending court of appeals case between Egolf’s clients and the governor’s office. A bill that made sweeping changes to the state’s medical cannabis law last year included a change in who could become a New Mexico medical cannabis patient. Previously, the law defined a qualified patient as a “resident of New Mexico” who suffered from an approved qualifying condition.

Democrats, Republicans clash over length of debate on bills

Relations between Democratic and Republican leadership in the New Mexico Legislature were quite balmy through the first two-thirds of this year’s session. Not anymore. As the streets of Santa Fe froze over during a winter storm that blew in early this week, so did dialogue between the two parties. 

House Speaker Brian Egolf on Tuesday accused Republicans of deploying a strategy of extending debate on bills with bipartisan support to decelerate the process of passing legislation they don’t like. “They have told me point blank that they are going to try to slow everything down,” said Egolf, D-Santa Fe. “The other party just wants to gum up the works.”

Minority Leader Jim Townsend shot back that Egolf was “being a bully” and suggested the GOP might indeed continue to obstruct any fast-paced agenda pushed on the House floor.

‘Red flag’ bill only gets one committee assignment in House

This year’s high-profile firearms legislation will be heard by a House panel Tuesday, but it won’t be the Judiciary Committee. The controversial Senate Bill 5, which allows law enforcement to petition a court to take away a person’s firearms if they are found to pose a threat, will instead be heard by the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee. It’s a decision that had House Republicans sharply criticizing the Democratic majority Monday. “I think they’re just trying to force it through,” said House Minority Leader Jim Townsend, R-Artesia. “Any time you have a bill that’s so charged and has been amended five or six times, it deserves to be looked at by the Judiciary Committee in the opposing house.”

The Senate passed the legislation by a narrow margin Friday, and on Monday House Speaker Brian Egolf assigned it to be heard in the public affairs committee before it would proceed to a floor vote. The bill, also known as the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act, would allow someone’s firearms to be confiscated for 10 days, an order that could be extended to one year.

Bills to exempt Social Security from tax tabled

The House Taxation and Revenue Committee tabled two bills Friday that proposed to eliminate or reduce the state’s tax on Social Security income. Key legislators had previously voiced support for House Bills 29 and 77, and the majority of public attendees who spoke favored it at Friday’s committee hearing. Yet Democratic and Republican legislators alike said they were worried about altering the tax without having a plan to replace lost revenue. 

“You can’t have it both ways. Somewhere you have to pay the piper,” said Rep. Jim Trujillo, a Santa Fe Democrat and co-chair of the committee. “Let’s find a way to pay for it so we don’t create a hole in the general fund.”