New Mexico senators approved a new measure Friday that would allow independent voters to cast ballots in primary elections by registering with a major party on Election Day, potentially opening up primaries to a wider swath of the population. The surprise amendment was added to an elections reform bill that aims to streamline the voting-by-mail process if the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing during November’s general election. The amendment, which was proposed by Sen. John Sapien and passed with bipartisan support, would allow voters not registered with a major party to affiliate with one when they arrive at polling stations to vote. Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, who was the lead sponsor on the main bill, said the change would prevent situations that take place under current law, in which voters unaffiliated with a major party arrive to vote in primaries but aren’t able to. “Right now, you’ve got people who in their mind affiliate a certain way, who may want to show up to vote but right now their only option is to be turned away,” said Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque.
A Senate panel significantly watered down a bill late Thursday that aims to streamline the voting-by-mail process if the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing during November’s general election. Senate Bill 4, which is backed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, had proposed to allow county clerks to automatically send mail-in ballots to registered voters without requiring people to request them. But after a three-hour debate, the Senate Rules Committee voted to strike that provision from the bill. Under the revised bill, people would still need to apply for absentee ballots before receiving them. Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, proposed the amendment after Republicans on the panel expressed concerns that automatically mailing ballots would put election security at risk.
The New Mexico Senate’s conservative-leaning Democrats long have been the gatekeepers — the ones who ultimately decide if legislation backed by the governor and the House of Representatives can become law. Of course, the control they wield has an expiration date after a number of their most influential members lost primary elections this month to more progressive challengers. Those lawmakers will be leaving the Legislature at the end of the year. Even so, they’ll have one last hurrah to exercise their power — the upcoming special session — and they could use it again to block bills backed by their colleagues. This time, they might do that by leaving town.
In a historic defeat, Neomi Martinez-Parra won Senate District 35, defeating state Senator Sen. John Arthur Smith who has held the seat for 32 years. Martinez-Parra’s win did not come as a surprise Wednesday. She pulled ahead of Smith in the Democratic primary late Tuesday night and appeared to be the presumptive winner. She won by 500 votes. She received 2,793 votes to Smith’s 2,293 in unofficial results.
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.
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.
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.
Of the 12 reproductive justice bills prefiled or introduced in this year’s legislative session, only two made it to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk. HB 25 enables pregnant workers and new moms to seek “reasonable accommodations,” to perform their jobs while pregnant or if they’ve recently given birth. It passed both the House and the Senate. The other bill, HB 21, is one that protects victims of sexual harassment, retaliation or discrimination in the workplace. Bill backers say it enables greater parity when the victim is negotiating a settlement with the former employer.
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.
The full state Senate approved legislation Wednesday that would create a new revenue stream for early childhood programs.
By a vote of 40-0, senators passed Senate Bill 3, sponsored by Sen. John Arthur Smith and Rep. Doreen Gallegos. The legislation calls for an appropriation of $320 million to start a new Early Childhood Education and Care Fund that would draw on two other funding sources in future years. The proposal aims to help the state leverage unprecedented oil revenue to boost spending on early childhood education, which Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has emphasized since taking office, without causing volatility in the general fund. “This gives us a reliable revenue stream,” Smith, D-Deming, said on the Senate floor. “If you have only hills and valleys, you’re not talking about a plan, you’re talking about a political deal.”
Smith, who is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, also thanked the windfall from the oil boom in the Permian Basin for giving the state the money to create the new fund. “We still would have been waiting except for the generous returns of oil and gas that have allowed us to do this,” he said.