Leaders of Black communities and organizations in New Mexico are asking for public apologies and stronger condemnation of recent remarks and actions by Republican lawmakers that dozens of African Americans say represent long-standing systemic racism in the Roundhouse. Earlier this month during a confirmation hearing, Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca, R-Belen, questioned Cabinet nominee Sonya Smith’s ability to represent New Mexicans while leading the Department of Veterans Services as a Black woman. “Do you expect after your time here over the years, that you’ve been immersed in this culture enough in this state? That you feel comfortable entering a position where we’re a state with 2.6 percent of the population is African American in this state. And 48 percent is Hispanic or Hispanic mix?” Baca asked.
Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca of Belen said Monday he had apologized to Veterans Services Secretary-designate Sonya Smith for what he called “that insensitive line of questioning.” Baca has been under fire for questions and comments with racial overtones he made during a Friday confirmation hearing for Smith. “Do you expect that in your time here, in seven years, that you’ve been immersed in this culture enough in this state that you feel comfortable entering a position?” Baca had asked Smith, who is Black. He noted 2.6 percent of the state’s population is African American, while “48 percent is Hispanic or a Hispanic mix.
The top-ranking Republican in the state Senate has come under fire for what some said was an undercurrent of racism during his questioning of a Black woman who heads the Department of Veterans Services. The encounter occurred Friday during a confirmation hearing for Secretary-designate Sonya Smith, when Minority Leader Greg Baca, R-Belen, asked Smith if she felt “comfortable adequately representing” New Mexico’s various races and ethnicities, including Hispanic, white and Black residents.
The question followed some interplay between Smith and Baca about the need to communicate with all cultures about different issues, including the coronavirus pandemic and the vaccine for the virus.
“That really isn’t what I’m — I mean that is an immutable trait, as I’m a Hispanic man, so I guess what we do in our everyday life we do as that,” Baca said, telling Smith she could answer the question as she wished. “Are you asking do I feel comfortable representing the Department of Veterans Services as a Black woman? Is that what you are asking?” Smith asked Baca.
The ocean. Greg Baca had never seen anything like it. A product of desert terrain — he was born in Belen in 1971 — Baca looked out over the watery expanse of the Atlantic from the deck of the USS Nimitz and saw a whole new world around him. “It was just bigger and more beautiful than I could have imagined,” recalled the onetime machinist’s mate. “It was one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen, and I’ve seen water all over the world, from deep gray to bright blue.”
New Mexico state Senate Republicans saw a somewhat unexpected leadership shake-up Tuesday.
Senate Republicans announced Tuesday evening that Sen. Greg Baca of Belen was elected as the Senate Minority Leader over Sen. Stuart Ingle, who had been minority leader since 2001.
In 2016, Baca defeated incumbent Michael Sanchez, a Democrat also from Belen. Sanchez was the Senate Majority Leader. Senate Republicans were still unable to take the majority of the chamber that year and Democratic Sen. Peter Wirth of Santa Fe was elected by his caucus to the majority leader position and one he still holds.
According to an announcement from Senate Republicans, Baca served in the U.S. Navy during the Gulf War.
Also elected to Senate Republican leadership is Rep. Craig Brandt of Rio Rancho. Brandt was picked to continue in his role as Senate minority whip, a role he’s had since this summer when former-whip Bill Payne stepped down from the position when he announced his retirement. Brandt is also a veteran, having served in the U.S. Air Force.
The state Senate has shifted to the left and progressive Democrats picked up one state Senate seat Tuesday night, according to unofficial results, and will likely pick up two more. All results cited are as of midnight on Wednesday. All results reported election night are unofficial until the Secretary of State announces the official results later this month. Progressive Democrat Siah Correa Hemphill beat Republican James Williams in state SD 28, which encompasses Grant, Catron and Socorro counties. Correa Hemphill led most of the night and won with 51 percent of the vote, with all precincts reporting.
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.
ByAndrew Oxford and Milan Simonich, Santa Fe New Mexican |
New Mexico is not what is known as a “right-to-work” state, and the Legislature drove home that point Sunday night. The Senate voted 23-19 to approve House Bill 85, which permits employers and labor organizations in New Mexico to enter into agreements requiring membership in a labor organization as a condition of employment. Now the measure goes to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who’s well aware that 10 of the state’s 33 counties have adopted so-called right-to-work laws that say employees cannot be compelled to pay fees to a labor union that represents them on the job. The Senate struck back by approving the bill that strikes down these local measures. In some ways, the bill is as symbolic as the the city and county ordinances it seeks to void, merely reaffirming New Mexico’s labor laws.
A bill aimed at shutting down the coal-burning San Juan Generating Station and strengthening New Mexico renewable energy standards survived a rambling 3 1/2-hour filibuster and other parliamentary maneuvering by opponents in the state Senate on Wednesday night. But one victim of the games on the Senate floor was the annual House vs. Senate basketball contest at the Santa Fe Indian School gym, an annual benefit for the University of New Mexico’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. The Senate team had to concede and return to the Capitol, some members arriving in the Senate chamber still wearing basketball gear, because the debate on Senate Bill 489 — dubbed the Energy Transition Act — went on well into the night. State Sen. Cliff Pirtle returned to the Senate floor wearing his jersey for the House-Senate basketball game and the rules-mandated tie.
New Mexico legislators rolled five different crime bills into one, then sent the measure to the governor Wednesday in what they called a bipartisan move to make communities and prisons safer. State senators approved the plan, House Bill 19, on a vote of 32-2. The measure already had cleared the House of Representatives on a 66-1 vote. Now the bill moves to Republican Gov. Susana Martinez for her consideration. Martinez herself pushed a number of crime bills during the 30-day legislative session, including an unsuccessful attempt to reinstate the death penalty.