On a quiet Saturday morning, just as an early morning rain had stopped and the clouds drifted away, a pile of inflatable rafts sat piled under a tree at La Llorona Park in Las Cruces. Soon, about a dozen teenagers trickled into the park, ready to float about 3 miles down the river with U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján.
Luján’s district is about 300 miles north of the public park, named after a folklore character associated with rivers and children, that butts up against the Rio Grande. Luján wasn’t there on official business, but instead to engage with young people from other parts of the state not within his congressional district as part of his campaign for U.S. Senate.
Luján’s name is likely familiar to those who even casually follow political news. Earlier this year, he was tapped to become the assistant Speaker of the House, the fourth-highest rank in Democratic leadership. His father, Ben Luján, served as the New Mexico Speaker of the House and many have speculated that if Ben Ray Luján stayed the course in Congress he might be in line to succeed U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House.
A group of New Mexicans filed a lawsuit Thursday afternoon against two state officials who rejected numerous attempts to start the process to overturn laws passed in this year’s legislative session.
The lawsuit, filed by former Libertarian attorney general candidate Blair Dunn on behalf of a group called the New Mexico Patriot Advocacy Coalition, asks a state district court judge in Curry County to deem actions taken by the two elected officials as unconstitutional. The lawsuit claims New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, in consultation with state Attorney General Hector Balderas, violated the rights of New Mexicans by denying 10 attempts to overturn recently passed laws. The state constitution allows for a referendum process in which petition signatures are gathered to overturn laws, though the process is rarely used and has only been successful once in state history.
Previous attempts by House Minority Leader Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, to overturn gun restriction laws were also rejected. Townsend’s three attempts were denied by Toulouse Oliver for what she called technical errors and on the grounds that the state’s process for referendums to reverse laws does not apply to laws “providing for the public peace, health and safety.” One of Townsend’s attempts to overturn a gun background check law is among the ten instances the coalition says Toulouse wrongfully denied. The other petition attempts, filed by the coalition, aimed to overturn laws ranging from the recent minimum wage increase, election changes and a law that shot down the ability for local governments to enact right-to-work laws.
“It’s time to abolish ICE,” Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Maggie Toulouse Oliver said Tuesday afternoon. Toulouse Oliver made the statement in a press release, saying, “ICE no longer prevents terrorism, instead it creates terror in the United States.”
She also said she supports comprehensive immigration reform. The Secretary of State, one of two top-tier Democrats seeking the party’s nomination to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, cited raids by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement over the weekend. The raids appeared to result in relatively few arrests after Donald Trump promised widespread arrests, which his administration said would target 2,000 recently arrived migrants and enforce deportation orders against them. This included many families who refused to open their doors to ICE agents.
U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján announced Tuesday that he supports Medicare-for-all. The Assistant Speaker of the House, the fourth-highest position in Democratic leadership in the chamber, made the announcement as he seeks the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate. His opponent in the primary, Maggie Toulouse Oliver, supports Medicare-for-all. Luján told NM Political Report between votes on Wednesday that he supports the legislation because it emphasizes “that healthcare is a fundamental right, not a privilege for the few.”
Toulouse Oliver said on Twitter she is glad that Luján “has come on board with the latest issue I’ve supported from Day 1.” Luján signed onto the bill sponsored by Washington Democrat Pramila Jayapal.
A couple of hundred abortion rights activists gathered in Albuquerque Tuesday as part of nationwide “Stop the Bans” protests. Ellie Rushforth, the ACLU of New Mexico Reproductive Rights Attorney, told the crowd, “We must keep fighting because our lives depend on it.”
The crowd then marched through downtown Albuquerque, holding signs and chanting slogans in support of abortion access. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, who is running for U.S. Senate, attended the rally. “I’m still fuming over the fact that the U.S. Senate put Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court,” Toulouse Oliver said in a statement. “I can’t help but think that if more women were serving in the U.S. Senate, the outcome of the Kavanaugh hearings would have been very different.”
Representatives for members of the New Mexico congressional delegation also attended.
New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver announced Wednesday she is running for the U.S. Senate. The Democrat has already won statewide races for Secretary of State twice and if she wins in 2020 would become the first woman to represent New Mexico in the U.S. Senate in the state’s history. In a slickly-produced video, Toulouse Oliver emphasized her personal history, including attending college as a single mother and graduating with “a pile of student debt.” She says that as Secretary of State she “took on the Koch brothers and won,” on campaign finance reform. She also said that she supports Medicare-for-all and supports “a Washington that doesn’t separate families at the border.”
In a separate statement announcing her run, Toulouse Oliver also says she supports the Green New Deal. “We need more women in Washington,” Toulouse Oliver said.
The third time was not the charm. For the third time in just over a month, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver rejected a Republican petition for a referendum to overturn the law that would require background checks for nearly all gun purchases. Minority Leader Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, submitted the second amended petition on April 12. The petition fixed a technical problem related to the filing. But the Secretary of State found the larger issue is still that the law is not eligible for a referendum under the state constitution according to Toulouse Oliver.
For the second time, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver rejected a petition to take a gun background check law to the voters. House Republican leaders hoped to use a voter referendum to overturn a law passed this year, requiring background checks for most gun sales in the state of New Mexico. New Mexico generally does not allow for voter referendums. But the state constitution allows, under limited circumstances, for voters to attempt to overturn a newly passed law. Toulouse Oliver said the current proposal does not meet those limited circumstances. She cites the state constitution in saying to determine if the referendum qualifies, it must “[bear] a valid, reasonable relationship to the preservation of public peace, health or safety.”
Toulouose Oliver said she “underwent the process of carefully examining the legislative history, the contemporaneous declarations of the legislature and the conditions sought to be remedied by [the law].”
In March, Toulouse Oliver also listed a number of technical objections to the Republican call for a referendum.
The New Mexico Secretary of State rejected the effort by House Republicans to overturn a new law requiring background checks for nearly all gun purchases in New Mexico. The Republican House leader said they are prepared to take legal action over the decision. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver announced today that the petition submitted by Republicans doesn’t meet the state’s constitutional requirements to overturn a law. In a letter to House Minority Jim Townsend, who submitted the petition along with House Minority Whip Rod Montoya, Toulouse Oliver wrote that because Senate Bill 8, which was signed into law by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham earlier this month, relates to the public peace, health and safety, “it is not a law subject to referendum.”
While the state constitution allows for petitions to vote on overturning recently passed laws, it does not allow for the petitions to target laws related to the preservation of public peace, health or safety. In her letter, Toulouse Oliver quoted a press release from Lujan Grisham that says the law “improves public safety by expanding required background checks on firearm purchases to include private gun sales, closing loopholes for certain sales like those made online or at gun shows.”
Toulouse Oliver also outlined technical problems with the petition, from failing to suggest a popular name for the law they wish to overturn and failing to submit a petition in the form outlined by state law.
Following a contentious debate, the state House of Representatives late Tuesday voted to approve a bill that would automatically register eligible New Mexicans to vote when they conduct transactions with the Motor Vehicle Division. House Bill 84 includes a provision that allows those citizens to opt out of registering or updating their existing voter registration as they apply for a driver’s license or state identity card. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver spoke in favor of the legislation during a news conference at the Capitol earlier in the day, saying, “When more eligible voters vote, our democracy wins.” She said the bill, if it becomes law, has the potential to increase voter participation by 30 percent, or, according to a fiscal impact report, some 385,000 people. Rep. Debra Sariñana, D-Albuquerque, a co-sponsor of the bill, said the proposal “would make it more likely that anyone who wants to cast a vote can.”