Senate approves key change to New Mexico primary election process

New Mexico senators approved a new measure Friday that would allow independent voters to cast ballots in primary elections by registering with a major party on Election Day, potentially opening up primaries to a wider swath of the population. The surprise amendment was added to an elections reform bill that aims to streamline the voting-by-mail process if the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing during November’s general election. The amendment, which was proposed by Sen. John Sapien and passed with bipartisan support, would allow voters not registered with a major party to affiliate with one when they arrive at polling stations to vote. Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, who was the lead sponsor on the main bill, said the change would prevent situations that take place under current law, in which voters unaffiliated with a major party arrive to vote in primaries but aren’t able to. “Right now, you’ve got people who in their mind affiliate a certain way, who may want to show up to vote but right now their only option is to be turned away,” said Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque.

Watered-down version of election reform bill clears Senate panel

A Senate panel significantly watered down a bill late Thursday that aims to streamline the voting-by-mail process if the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing during November’s general election. Senate Bill 4, which is backed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, had proposed to allow county clerks to automatically send mail-in ballots to registered voters without requiring people to request them. But after a three-hour debate, the Senate Rules Committee voted to strike that provision from the bill. Under the revised bill, people would still need to apply for absentee ballots before receiving them. Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, proposed the amendment after Republicans on the panel expressed concerns that automatically mailing ballots would put election security at risk.

Can New Mexico lawmakers get in, get out for special session?

The New Mexico Senate’s conservative-leaning Democrats long have been the gatekeepers — the ones who ultimately decide if legislation backed by the governor and the House of Representatives can become law. Of course, the control they wield has an expiration date after a number of their most influential members lost primary elections this month to more progressive challengers. Those lawmakers will be leaving the Legislature at the end of the year. Even so, they’ll have one last hurrah to exercise their power — the upcoming special session — and they could use it again to block bills backed by their colleagues. This time, they might do that by leaving town.

Progressive Democrats defeat incumbents, with some races still pending

Tuesday night proved to be a night of historic upsets against state Senators who have long held onto their seats. Much of the action was on the Democratic side, though it appears two Republican incumbents also lost their primaries. State Sen. John Arthur Smith, after 32 years in the state Senate and the most powerful legislator as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, is extremely likely to lose to grassroots challenger Neomi Martinez-Parra. Smith represents SD 35. He more than doubled Martinez-Parra in donations.

How much did state Senate candidates raise and where did they spend it?

Planned Parenthood, through its various PACs, is spending $390,000 on the New Mexico primary, and the bulk of that on three races. Sarah Taylor-Nanista, executive director of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains Action Fund, said the nonprofit organization is “laser focused” on the progressives running against the seven Democratic incumbents who voted against HB 51 last year. HB 51 would have repealed a 1969 abortion law that abortion rights supporters worry will become law again if Roe v. Wade is overturned. But of the seven, there are three races in particular where Planned Parenthood is spending the bulk of its money. Those are Neomi Martinez-Parra’s race against state Sen. John Arthur Smith for Senate District 35; Siah Correa Hemphill’s fight to unseat state Sen. Gabriel “Gabe” Ramos for Senate District 28; and Pam Cordova’s challenge against state Sen. Clemente Sanchez for Senate District 30.

ACLU spending on education in two state senate districts targeted by progressives

Two progressive Democrats, Siah Correa Hemphill and Pam Cordova, who are challenging  incumbents who lean more to the right within the Democratic party, are getting a boost in their campaign efforts. Correa Hemphill is running against incumbent Democratic state Sen. Gabriel Ramos. With her May filing report, she has outraised Ramos by $53.26. Ramos, who was appointed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to replace Lt. Gov. Howie Morales, is running his first election for the seat. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico is spending $150,000 in the remaining weeks of the primary to educate voters on the fact that Ramos and state Sen. Clemente Sanchez, also a Democrat, both voted against HB 51 in 2019.

Progressive Democratic challengers want new voices in the state legislature

District Senate 38 Democratic candidate Carrie Hamblen got a boost last week in her bid to defeat incumbent state senate candidate and President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen. That’s because the race narrowed to two candidates – Papen and Hamblen – last week when healthcare professional and entrepreneur Tracy Perry dropped out, citing health reasons. Hamblen, who was the morning radio host for National Public Radio local member station KRWG for 20 years, would have likely split the more left leaning Democratic voters in District 38 with Perry. But Hamblen said the race is now, “more of a challenge for Senator Papen.”

Perry’s name will remain on the ballot. Hamblen is one of seven progressive Democrats running for state senate seats in the upcoming June 2 primary against a group of more conservative-leaning Democrats.

Proposal to tap land grant permanent fund for early childhood education suffers another setback

For years, it was one of the most talked-about proposals in the Roundhouse. 

There was repeated excitement, momentum, controversy and resistance — all over legislation calling for a constitutional amendment to tap more of the state’s nearly $20 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund to pay for early childhood education. But this year, the atmosphere is more one of muted neglect. That’s likely because there’s a new kid on the block, a proposal to create an early childhood trust fund with other revenue streams. The idea has traveled further in its first year than the land grant proposal ever has — it reached the governor’s desk after being passed by the full Senate on Friday. A big setback for the land grant proposal came on Saturday in the Senate Rules Committee, where most members walked out before the legislation, known this year as House Joint Resolution 1, was heard. Many legislators had been in the room for other matters earlier that morning, yet only four were left when HJR1 was taken up, depriving its supporters of a quorum needed for a vote. 

“I apologize.

Policymakers say education overhaul will take years

As Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham enters the second year of an education overhaul she promised on the campaign trail — and a state judge mandated months before she took office — she and other policymakers say the changes will come over decades, not within legislative sessions. They point to persistent problems, such as low rates of student proficiency in math and reading and high numbers of high school dropouts, and say solutions will require years of steadily increasing investments in building an education workforce that suffers from a severe shortage. They say initiating programs to aid the state’s most vulnerable kids and extending classroom time — both expensive propositions — are a start, but add the effort requires New Mexico to rethink how it views education funding. “People say we just throw money at it, but we haven’t ever tried throwing money at it,” said state Sen. Mimi Stewart, an Albuquerque Democrat who serves on the Senate Education Committee. “We’ve done nothing but underfund for years.

NM’s minimum wage will be $12 per hour (eventually)

With a stroke of her pen, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham set into motion New Mexico’s first minimum wage increase in a decade. Lujan Grisham signed SB 437 into law Monday afternoon, bumping the state’s minimum wage from $7.50 per hour to $9.00 per hour by the beginning of 2020. Then by 2023 the rate will increase to $12 per hour. “This session, the Legislature sent a clear signal: We will not tolerate poverty wages in New Mexico. And this administration is putting working families first,” Lujan Grisham said.