A proposed constitutional amendment that would remove the New Mexico Legislature from the controversial process of drawing new election districts for legislative and congressional seats wasn’t quite ready for its first vote, lawmakers decided Wednesday. Some members of the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee sought changes to House Joint Resolution 9 to strengthen its ability to ensure a nonpartisan redistricting process every 10 years. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Natalie Figueroa, D-Albuquerque, proposes appointing people to an independent redistricting commission who have been away from the political process for at least five years, and in some cases 10. But Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, said that wasn’t enough. “I think we can remove in a much stronger fashion the partisan influence from this commission by choosing who’s capable of serving on that commission,” he said.
After a contentious, two-hour debate over what should go into the bill to fund 2021’s second special legislative session, the House voted 65 to 1 to approve the $1.6 million package. The new House Majority Floor leader, Democratic state Rep. Javier Martinez, of Albuquerque, introduced HB 1, known as the feed bill, which ensures that the 2021 second special session legislative session can pay for itself. The legislative session, as called by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, is focused on redrawing political maps and how to appropriate the rest of the $1.1 billion the state has received from the federal American Rescue Plan Act under Pres. Joe Biden. The bill originally included additional monies to go to the executive and judicial branches, to enable the Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) to prepare to spend the ARPA funds and money for the courts to pay for pretrial services. Martinez referred repeatedly to the crime problem in Albuquerque and that the DFA needed to get ready for the federal expenditures as reasons to pass a bill that was designed to allow the legislature to include the additional expenditures.
Despite investments of hundreds of millions of dollars, access to broadband services has remained out of reach for many New Mexicans in rural and impoverished areas. And the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated that problem, especially when it comes to public school students trying to learn remotely.
That’s the message members of the House Transportation, Public Works and Capital Improvements Committee heard from a number of lawmakers, experts and members of the public during a Tuesday hearing on the issue. “We don’t need to talk about the need, we need to talk about the how — how are we going to do this?” said Rep. Natalie Figueroa, D-Albuquerque.
Figueroa is one of five House legislators, all Democrats, pushing for passage of House Bill 10, an initiative that would create a broadband division within the New Mexico Department of Information Technology. The committee voted 8-1 to approve the measure, sending it on to the House Appropriations Committee.
That proposed department would serve as a center of operations to provide planning and technical assistance to local governments, state agencies and public education institutions to develop and initiate broadband programs. Assistance will include guidance in applying for funding for such initiatives.
The goal, Figueroa said, is to create a central state agency focused on expanding affordable broadband access to all parts of the state.
Three Democratic candidates in New Mexico received endorsements from a high-profile source: former President Barack Obama. Obama announced his nationwide endorsements on Twitter Wednesday, with less than 100 days until election day. Obama endorsed 1st Congressional District candidate Deb Haaland, state House District 23 incumbent Daymon Ely and House District 30 candidate Natalie Figueroa. Haaland would be the first Native American woman elected to Congress, and her campaign says she asked for Obama’s endorsement. Haaland said she was “proud to have the support of my old boss.” Haaland was Obama’s Native American Vote Director in New Mexico in 2012.
The field is set for the 2018 state House primaries, with eight incumbents not filing for reelection and several others facing potentially competitive challenges either in the primary or the general election. Still, there are 26 candidates, all incumbents, who face no opposition in either the primary or general election. Independent and third party candidates can still enter, but it is much more difficult to make the ballot and win, due to higher signature requirements and a lack of party structure. Meanwhile, just two Libertarian Party candidates took advantage of the party’s new major party status to seek state legislative office. Here is a look at some of the 70 legislative races and dozens of candidates to watch.
Gov. Susana Martinez took out her major target in Tuesday’s election, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez. But that single victory came at a cost. Republicans lost the state House after two years in control, while Democrats strengthened their margin in the state Senate. The Democrats will control the House by at least a 37-33 margin, with an outside shot at a 39-31 split. Two races are going to recounts.
The state Republican Party is targeting a liberal political action committee for donating directly to Democratic candidates in state legislative races. The Republican Party of New Mexico wrote a complaint to the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office citing donations from Enchantment PAC to Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, and Democrat Natalie Figueroa, who is challenging state House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, as “against New Mexico statutes” and “in clear violation of the law.”
Enchantment PAC, which is also funding liberal advocacy organizations like Organizing in the Land of Enchantment, gave $1,000 to Sanchez and $600 to Figueroa during the general election cycle. State law, however, does not address the type of spending the GOP cited in its complaint. Reached by phone, GOP spokesman Tucker Keene referred to the written complaint, which he said the party sent in the mail to the Secretary of State on Tuesday. “Independent expenditure committees are not supposed to spend directly to candidates, they’re required by law to be independent,” Keene said earlier in a statement.