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.

Opportunity Scholarship clears Senate panel

A scholarship plan aimed at covering all college tuition and expense costs for New Mexicans cleared yet another hurdle when members of the Senate Education Committee voted 5-2 to send it to the Senate Finance Committee. But the bill may face deeper scrutiny once it gets there since a Legislative Finance Committee fiscal impact report says it may cost much more than the Higher Education Department estimates. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said the program would cost about $35 million a year when she unveiled the proposal last year. Reacting to concerns expressed early in the session, the bill’s sponsors worked on a revamp to make it more palatable to lawmakers. Their alterations increased the cost to $45 million.

State auditor opens special audit on Jal water issues

State Auditor Tim Keller recently designated the City of Jal for a special audit on the city’s water billing issues. The move comes two months after Keller’s office opened a case into an arrangement where the city in the southeastern New Mexico oil patch gave a local ranch a discount on utility water worth $1.2 million over a 25-month period between 2012 and 2014. NM Political Report, in partnership with the Jal Record, first reported on the city’s water deal with the Beckham Ranch in September. Related: State Auditor to investigate Jal water deal

In a Dec. 2 letter to Jal Mayor Cheryl Chance*, Keller writes the special audit will look at Jal’s “compliance with applicable laws, regulations, policies and and procedures with respect to water utility billing practices.”

Jal City Manager Bob Gallagher told NM Political Report that he is “extremely pleased” with the state auditor’s decision for the special audit and said he has been cooperating with Keller’s office on the matter for the past two months.

City gave ranch million-dollar water discount, documents show

This story was reported in partnership with the Jal Record, a weekly newspaper based in southeastern New Mexico. JAL—Like many areas in New Mexico, water is in short supply in this southeastern oil patch town of 2,500 people. In the past few years, city officials have tried to address the matter by limiting water use, including barring businesses from buying city water for industrial use in the summer of 2013. But between 2012 and 2014, the city gave one ranch an unusual perk—a more than $1 million discount on its water bills. On top of this, Jal continued to sell industrial water to Beckham Ranch, Inc. for six months after the ban went into effect.

Far from heaven: Fatalities, crime and rents rise alongside oil production

© New Mexico Political Report, 2015. Contact editor@nmpoliticalreport.com for info on republishing. Part two in a series of two. Click here for part one. On a two-lane New Mexico state road, the number of heavy commercial trucks and semis roaring southeast between the villages of Loving and Jal tops 200 in under an hour.