The state Senate late Wednesday debated a sweeping crime bill that includes stiffer penalties for violent offenders and recruitment and retention stipends for police officers — all part of a larger effort to combat a wave of lawlessness that has been plaguing New Mexico. The push to aggressively fight a rising crime problem that has emerged primarily in Albuquerque, the state’s largest city, comes as the unrest has become a major political talking point leading up to the November general election. “What’s important about this bill is it recognizes that attacking the crime problem requires a multifaceted approach,” said Sen. Joe Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, who has been one of the lead architects of the crime package. “It requires us looking at law enforcement on the streets, law enforcement officers’ needs, and it requires us looking at prosecutors and public defenders. It requires us looking at the court system.
Legislation to reform hunting regulations and wildlife management in New Mexico stalled in the Senate Conservation Committee on Saturday. Senate Bill 312 appears doomed for this session after members tied 4-4 on a vote to reconsider debate and vote on the legislation in the absence of Sen. Joe Cervantes, a Las Cruces Democrat who serves on the committee.
A vote earlier in the week also resulted in a tie. “Right now it just seems like there is a stalemate in the committee,” said Sen. Liz Stefanics, a Cerrillos Democrat who chairs the committee. Currently, 84 percent of hunting tags go to residents, 10 percent are set aside for outfitters and 6 percent go to nonresidents. Under the bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Nathan Small and Sen. Jeff Steinborn, both Las Cruces Democrats, 90 percent would be reserved for residents and the rest for out-of-state hunters with none for outfitters.
After weeks of heated testimony, the last legislative debate on a contentious gun-control bill played out with little drama Thursday night on the House floor. But there was a moment late in the proceedings when Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas choked up with emotion. The Albuquerque Democrat described his wife’s 41-year-old cousin, Celena Alarid, sticking a gun in her mouth and pulling the trigger. “She went to heaven sooner rather than later,” he said.
But much of the three-hour debate over Senate Bill 5 played out like a piece of lackluster theater — one in which everyone involved knew their lines, everyone was tired of saying them and the final scene was very easy to predict. The House voted 39-31 Thursday night to approve the so-called “red-flag” bill, which will allow law enforcement to petition for a court order to take away a person’s firearms. A judge would require the person to give up their guns for 10 days — an order that could be extended to one year — if probable cause is found that the person poses a threat to themselves or others.
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.
One of the less-surprising moments on Tuesday was when U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham won the Democratic primary for governor. A recent Albuquerque Journal poll showed Lujan Grisham more than 40 points ahead of former television executive and son of a past New Mexico governor, Jeff Apodaca. On Tuesday night, election numbers showed Lujan Grisham with more than 60 percent of the vote against Apodaca and state Sen. Joe Cervantes. “You guys are awesome,” Lujan Grisham said to supporters Tuesday night during a victory speech in Albuquerque. In the last several weeks, the race became increasingly contentious when Apodaca’s campaign criticized Lujan Grisham’s role in a private company that manages the state’s high risk insurance pool.
When Gov. Susana Martinez was sworn into office nearly eight years ago, she had this to say about educating children in New Mexico: “Nothing we do is more indispensable to our future well-being or will receive more attention from my administration than guaranteeing our children a quality education.” New Mexico had received an “F” for K-12 achievement on a national education grading report. Fast forward eight years. As she winds down the final year of her second term, New Mexico earned a “D-” for K-12 achievement from Education Week’s Quality Counts report — and our overall grade actually sunk from a C to a D, dropping from 32nd to 50th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. There’s more to learn about that progress — or lack thereof — in trying to improve education in New Mexico, other than “it’s hard.” Turning around a system as large as public education is like turning an aircraft carrier. It’s going to take a lot of pushing and it won’t turn on a dime.
A poll conducted for the Michelle Lujan Grisham campaign shows she has a massive lead over the other three candidates in the Democratic primary for governor. The internally-funded poll shows that the congresswoman from Albuquerque has the support of 72 percent of Democratic primary voters. All other candidates are far behind, with former media executive Jeff Apodaca at 13 percent, state Senator Joe Cervantes at 6 percent and alcohol tax advocate Peter DeBendittis at 2 percent. The campaign released the poll just days ahead of the Democratic pre-primary convention, where delegates from around the state will vote on who ends up on the ballot. Candidates who receive the support of 20 percent of those at the pre-primary convention will automatically make the ballot, while those who fail to do so will need to collect additional signatures to make the primary ballot.
A Senate committee dealt a blow to Public Service Company of New Mexico on Saturday by voting to stall a bill allowing the utility to sell bonds to pay for the early closing of a coal-burning power plant in northwestern New Mexico. The Senate Conservation Committee voted 5-4 to table Senate Bill 47, known as the Energy Redevelopment Bond Act. The vote followed a more than three-hour hearing, which drew a packed crowd to the Senate chambers. Proponents argued the measure would boost renewable energy in the state while offering aid to residents of San Juan County who heavily rely on jobs at the power plant and a nearby coal mine that supplies it. Opponents, however, painted it as a bailout for PNM and said it would weaken state regulators’ oversight of the utility.
A new poll shows Michelle Lujan Grisham has a strong lead in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. The poll by The Majority Institute (TMI) found that 75 percent of likely Democratic primary voters support Lujan Grisham, lapping the field. Ten percent support Jeff Apodaca, three percent Joe Cervantes and two percent Peter DeBenedittis. According to the poll ten percent of likely Democratic primary voters are undecided. Rick Palacio, a managing partner with TMI, said the poll was not paid or conducted for by any candidate or committee “but was part of a larger research project.”
“We regularly conduct research on a variety of topics nationally and in various states throughout the country,” Palacio said in an email to NM Political Report.
Joseph Cervantes is the fourth Democrat to declare a 2018 run for governor. An attorney with a background in architecture, Cervantes has served in the state legislature representing Las Cruces for 16 years, first in the House of Representatives before winning an election in the Senate in 2013. Cervantes is considered a moderate Democrat from his time in the Legislature. He even once attempted to oust then-Speaker Ben Lujan with a coalition of Republicans and some Democrats. NM Political Report caught up with Cervantes just days into his campaign office to speak about how he wants to approach the state’s highest political office.