APD investigating alleged political shooting mastermind’s campaign finances

Albuquerque Police detectives found what they think may be illegally obtained campaign contributions while investigating Solomon Peña and the shootings he allegedly masterminded. “APD detectives learned through witness interviews related to the shooting investigation that Peña identified individuals to funnel contributions from an unknown source to his legislative campaign,” an APD news release states. “Detectives are working with other law enforcement agencies to determine whether the money for the campaign contributions was generated from narcotics trafficking and whether campaign laws were violated.”

Campaign finances are regulated under the Campaign Reporting Act, or CRA, which is under the State Ethics Commission’s purview. “Presently, our office is reviewing the matter for CRA violations,” State Ethics Commission spokeswoman Suha Musa said via email. “If the Commission takes action in this matter, it will do so at a public meeting.”

The Campaign Reporting Act dictates how campaign funding can be used.

Marsella Duarte appointed to fill state House vacancy

The Bernalillo County Commission voted to appoint kindergarten teacher Marsella Duarte to fill the vacancy in state House District 16 at a special meeting Wednesday. The appointment lasts until the end of the term, which is Dec. 31 of this year. Duarte was one of seven applicants in attendance at the meeting. Duarte is a lifelong resident of the district, which covers portions of Albuquerque’s Westside along Coors Boulevard from Central Avenue to Montaño Road.

NM primaries were a mixed bag for state House incumbents

Voters decided on the nominees for the New Mexico House of Representatives in every district in the state on Tuesday. While many incumbents either successfully defended their seats from others in their own respective parties or did not face opponents at all, other races ended with ousted incumbents or new candidates. 

Here are some races that we watched closely. District 12 

Art De La Cruz handily won his three-way primary race against Democrats Melissa Armijo and Nicole Olonovich with 53 percent of the votes. De La Cruz is a former Bernalillo County Commissioner and was appointed to his current seat to fill a previous vacancy. 

De La Cruz was endorsed by two education organizations, a public sector labor union and a real estate development organization. De La Cruz, while a Democrat, received criticism from progressives for his support of the proposed Santolina development in Bernalillo County.  

District 17

Rep. Deborah Armstrong, citing family needs, opted not to run for the seat she has held for four terms. The district also saw significant boundary changes last year when the state Legislature redrew state House districts. 

Former Albuquerque city councilor Cynthia Borrego won the Democratic primary for House District 17 against her opponent Darrell Deaguero by 22 points.

NM Senate approves House map, heads to governor’s desk

The New Mexico state Senate approved a bill that would redraw state House maps on a 24-13 vote. HB 8 is one of four proposals that would draw state political districts in the current special legislative session. 

The Senate floor debate for HB 8 came just after the Senate spent hours debating its own political boundaries and was much shorter than that of the Senate map proposal. 

Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, who presented the proposal, said the map met both deviation and population number requirements. 

While there is somewhat of an unspoken rule that the Senate and House do not make significant changes to each other’s maps, Republicans offered one amendment, presumably to make a point and discussed amendments they said they would like to make, but didn’t. 

Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, offered up an amendment to pair Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe in the same district as Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, but he ultimately withdrew the amendment. 

“We just passed a set of Senate maps that left a couple members paired, and this would pair a couple members in the House,” Pirtle said before withdrawing his amendment. “So that way, we have some continuity between the bodies.”

HB 8 already pairs a number of incumbents together. 

Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, said he took issue with how the House redrew the boundaries for districts currently represented by Rep. Jane Powdrell Culbert, R-Rio Rancho. HB 8 proposes to shift much of that district into Corrales. Brandt said he took issue with House Democrats approving a map that significantly changes a district represented by an African American woman. 

“The people in her district respect her and she has served this state in a bipartisan way and has been a strong voice for minority communities in the state,” Brandt said. 

Brandt added that he had a floor amendment ready to go, but opted not to push it unless he saw there was widespread support for it. 

Ivey-Soto introduced a floor amendment that would reverse a previous amendment made during a previous committee hearing.

Multiple cannabis legalization bills expected during the NM Legislative session

New Mexico’s 2021 legislative session will surely be marked with debates over education issues, state finances and abortion rights. But the Legislature is also set to weigh the pros and cons of recreational-use cannabis. In recent years,  generally speaking, Democrats have pushed for legalization while Republicans have opposed it. This year, though, Democratic lawmakers expect to see multiple legalization bills, with some technical differences. 

Senate leadership, along with at least two expected sponsors of legalization proposals, told NM Political Report that the goal this year is collaboration and to avoid bogging down the process. 

In the House, all eyes are on Rep. Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque. 

Martínez has sponsored a bill aimed at legalization nearly every year he’s been in office. His 2019 attempt arguably saw the most progress.

Legislature passes COVID relief bill during quick special session

The New Mexico State Legislature passed a COVID-19 relief bill that would provide over $300 million in relief provided by the federal CARES Act in a very short special session that lasted less than eight hours. The bill included $194 million to provide $1,200 for those who qualify for unemployment and lost work because of the pandemic. It also would provide $100 million in grants to local small businesses and nonprofits, with smaller amounts to provide aid for rent and mortgage payments, money for COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and vaccine rollout and money for households that did not receive federal stimulus money earlier this year. Update: Lujan Grisham signs COVID-19 relief package into law

The bill ultimately passed with widespread majorities in both the House and Senate, though many legislators voiced concern about the proposal and said they wished they had more input. Only one amendment to the introduced legislation passed, one that would include 501(c)8 organizations to be eligible for funds.

Which legislative races could decide the fate of marijuana legalization

It is unlikely that recreational-use cannabis legalization will be the sole deciding factor for New Mexico voters when they fill out their ballots this year. But Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is a proponent of legalization and the state Legislature is expected to take up the issue next January. And according to a poll commissioned by the Albuquerque Journal this summer, a large majority of New Mexicans are in favor of legalization. At least two major medical cannabis producers contributed almost $35,000 collectively to Democratic candidates or Democratic political committees. 

With the entire Legislature up for election this year, it’s hard to pinpoint whether there will be enough votes to pass any legalization attempts. But, there are a handful of state Senate and House races that could be deciding factors.

Status of some bills still in limbo while special session looms

A handful of bills passed by both the state Senate and House of Representatives continue to sit in limbo. Normally, those bills would be signed or vetoed by the governor. Instead, their fate likely lies with the judicial branch. The head of the Legislative Council Service (LCS), the nonpartisan administrative arm of the state Legislature, said he and his staff suggested to lawmakers and the secretary of state that some vetoed bills should actually be chaptered. Chaptering, or printing, the bills is typically the first step to writing them into state statute.

A look at Gov. Martinez’s vetoes

Gov. Susana Martinez is getting attention, to say the least, for her onslaught of vetoes as the legislative session nears a potentially messy end. But the tension between Martinez and state lawmakers started with her early veto of the bill to fund the operations of the Legislature during the session and the interim. It continued towards the end of January, when she vetoed a much-publicized bill to allow for industrial research of hemp. February came and went with no bills headed to Martinez’s desk. But at the end of the first week of March, she rejected a measure to allow teachers to use all of their allotted sick days without absences making a negative impact on their statewide evaluation.

NM politicians backing Trump speak at Pence rally

Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence spent his Tuesday Albuquerque town hall defending the character of his party’s controversial presidential nominee in wake of constant negative headlines. So did a few other local Republicans who spoke at the event, including Congressman Steve Pearce and State House Majority Whip Alonzo Baldonado, R-Los Lunas. Pearce said he was won over during the Republican National Convention with a few “dramatic revelations of the character of Donald Trump.”

Among them was Trump’s “disarming and revealing” words about his evangelical Christian supporters. “He said, ‘I’m getting support from the evangelicals and I’m not sure I deserve it,’” Pearce said. “That’s what I am looking for in politicians who will be transparent.”

Another moment of revelation?