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.
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.
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.
Getting elected governor of New Mexico by 14 percentage points doesn’t mean you’ll get everything you want in Silver City. Settling a short but heated battle within her own party and ending an impasse with three Southwestern New Mexico counties, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Wednesday appointed Gabriel Ramos to fill the state Senate seat vacated by Lt. Gov. Howie Morales. Lujan Grisham had asked over the weekend that the counties give her additional names of potential candidates, arguing state law appears to require each county nominate different possible successors. But county leaders across the sprawling district stood by Ramos, a Democrat, as the legislative session began this week and Morales’ old seat sat empty. While Ramos enjoyed the backing of the boards of commissioners in Grant, Catron and Socorro counties, environmentalists argued he has been too supportive of the Central Arizona Project and some Democratic activists said he is too conservative.