Further reopening on pause as officials urge more widespread wearing of masks

One message resonated throughout the state’s press conference on COVID-19: wear a mask. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and officials said wearing a mask is key to slowing the spread of the virus—and to further reopening the state. Lujan Grisham said the state of New Mexico has seen an uptick in cases of the disease in recent days, and that further easing of restrictions, and moving on to the next phase of reopening, would be on hold. “Our goal should be to reduce cases,” she said. “What happens when we reduce cases?

Cowboys for Trump leader in hot water after saying ‘the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat’

An Otero County Commissioner and leader of a group that supports President Donald Trump is facing calls to resign over his declaration that “the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat.”

The commissioner, Couy Griffin, made the remarks this weekend at a protest in Truth or Consequences where a number of elected officials and candidates for office spoke against restrictions imposed by the state to slow the spread of COVID-19. The protest came after a church in Truth or Consequences received a cease and desist for holding services despite the state’s public health emergency order that, at the time, banned in-person services. Churches can now hold in-person services with 25 percent capacity. Griffin quickly followed his comment, which was met by cheers from those in attendance according to a video posted by his organization ‘Cowboys for Trump,’ by saying he meant a political death, not a physical death. “We need to have, I say the reason why the only good Democrat’s a dead Democrat, I’m saying politically speaking, and I’m saying it because we need to have majorities in the House and Senate,” Griffin said.

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.

After filibuster, Senate OKs power plant shutdown bill

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.

Bill to create early childhood education department advances

One of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s favored legislative initiatives finally advanced Wednesday when the Senate Rules Committee voted 8-0 for a bill to create a centralized department for early childhood education. Senate Bill 22 would consolidate programs that are spread among several agencies, including the Public Education Department and the Children Youth and Families Department. The sponsor, Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, helped his cause by cutting in half his initial request of $2.5 million to get the department running by July 1, 2020. Padilla now is seeking $1.25 million for the department to make the proposal more palatable. He said the public would benefit from the new agency.

Lawmakers pressed to devise plan for improving public education

State Rep. Bobby Gonzales shook his head from side to side after listening to all the suggestions about how to meet a judge’s order to provide more resources to New Mexico children who, in the court’s view, are not receiving a good public education. “About 15 different ideas,” the Democrat from Taos said following a hearing on the topic last week in the House Appropriations and Finance Committee. “Maybe we need to break it all down. Maybe we can’t do it all in one year.” But the state doesn’t have a year, or even half a year, to comply with a mandate handed down in June by state District Judge Sarah Singleton of Santa Fe.

Morales adds visibility to lieutenant governor’s role

A bell on a desk greeted visitors to the lieutenant governor’s office during Howie Morales’ first couple weeks on the job. Ring for service, a sign said. Not particularly glamorous, it seemed to sum up the office of lieutenant governor, which comes with few official duties and even fewer prospects for higher office. But Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in her early days in office has handed Morales a more expansive profile than many of his predecessors. She asked the former state senator, teacher and high school baseball coach to oversee the Public Education Department until she names a cabinet secretary.

It’s Ramos: Governor to appoint replacement for Morales

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.

Legislature 2019: ‘Education will be at the front and center’

Lyssette De Santiago thought about the question only for a moment before her hand shot toward the ceiling. The dark-haired fifth-grader at Sweeney Elementary School didn’t need much time to think about an issue that likely will vex legislators, teachers, parents, education advocates and taxpayers in the upcoming 60-day session of the New Mexico Legislature. Her teacher asked: How would she spend a projected $1.1 billion in new oil and gas revenue to improve public education? “Spend it on notebooks,” Lyssette answered. “Because sometimes parents don’t have enough money to buy them for their kids.”