Members of New Mexico’s citizen Legislature only receive $164 per day for expenses, plus mileage, during the session. But there are other perks to the job. For instance, the industry group called Ski New Mexico last week handed out VIP membership cards to 110 of the 112 state lawmakers, entitling them to two free days of skiing at any of eight ski areas in the state. The total value of the cards was $27,500, according to a lobbyist expense report filed this week by George Brooks, executive director of Ski New Mexico. That expense represented a large portion of the $85,000-plus that lobbyists and the organizations that hire them have reported spending on meals, parties, receptions and gifts for legislators and others so far in the session, which began just over two weeks ago.
With the state wracked by successive corruption scandals involving top officials, several lawmakers seem to agree that this is the year for ethics reform in New Mexico. A committee of the state House of Representatives gave a boost to those hopes Thursday by advancing a bipartisan proposal to establish an independent ethics commission through a constitutional amendment. The commission would have the power to investigate complaints of misconduct by public officials, candidates, lobbyists and contractors. The complaints would be public, and the commission’s opinions could be appealed to the state courts. Campaign finance reform advocates and good government groups have fought for years to create such a body.
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.
In a disastrous night for Democrats nationwide that saw Republican Donald Trump win the presidency, the state party actually did well, retaking the House of Representatives and expanding the party’s majority in the state Senate. The scope of the advantage in both chambers isn’t yet known, as there could be up to four automatic recounts, two in each chamber. Democrats also won back the Secretary of State seat when Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver easily defeated Republican Nora Espinoza. “What a difference two years makes,” Toulouse Oliver told a crowd of supporters Tuesday night, referring to her 2014 loss to Republican Dianna Duran. Duran resigned last year hours before pleading guilty to counts of misusing campaign funds, for which she spent 30 days in jail.
One of the key races that will decide the political control of the state House of Representatives pits an upstart against a Roundhouse veteran in southern New Mexico. The incumbent, Republican Andy Nuñez, has represented the district for most of the past decade and a half. He faces former Nathan Small, a Democrat who recently served two terms on the Las Cruces city council. NM Political Report will profile some key legislative races from now until election day. Nuñez, 80, is perhaps best known for switching his political affiliation multiple times over in the past few years, from Democrat to independent to Republican.
The local union that represent border patrol agents in El Paso and New Mexico will challenge the national union’s endorsement of Donald Trump for president. The March 30 endorsement by the national union, the National Border Patrol Council, was the first ever such endorsement by the union. It comes in the wake of Trump leading the Republican field, though receiving a series of body blows over recent weeks in elections, with a sharp focus on immigration and the border. The vote to endorse came through an 11-person board of the NBPC, though the union would not reveal the vote count. Now, Local 1929 says that they don’t like the endorsement and may move to remain neutral.
Votes by the Las Cruces City Council during Monday’s meeting assured that three members of the council will not be facing recall elections. For now, at least. The Las Cruces Sun-News reported that in three separate votes, the Las Cruces city council voted 4-1 to certify a ruling by the former city clerk that recall petitions against three of the Las Cruces city councilors did not have enough valid signatures to move forward with a recall election. The three councilors, Gill Sorg, Olga Pedroza and Nathan Small, each abstained from the votes pertaining directly to them, but each voted to certify the clerk’s ruling on the other two cases. Councilor Miguel Silva abstained from voting on any of the resolutions and Carl Levitano voted against certifying the petitions.
The Las Cruces City Council will not vote next week on three resolutions related to recall elections for three city councilors, according to a city official. Udell Vigil, a spokesman for the city of Las Cruces, told New Mexico Political Report the council will remove the items from the agenda due to a pending civil case. “The three resolutions will remain on the agenda, but they will be pulled by the council at the start of the meeting, which means they’re not going to consider them,” Vigil said. The council was scheduled to vote on whether or not to ratify signatures from three petitions aimed at recalling councilors Olga Pedroza, Nathan Small and Gill Sorg. Esther Martinez-Carrillo, the city clerk, deemed a number of signatures collected by a group called New Mexicans for a Better Tomorrow as invalid.