Democrats dream of expanded majority in State Senate

In the wake of a “progressive wave” in June’s Democratic primaries that swept out of office a group of powerful incumbent Democrats, the state Senate will look very different come January. The wins could help progressive Democrats advance key initiatives, like tapping the Land Grant permanent fund for early childhood programs or getting rid of a criminal abortion law on the books since the 1960s. 

But first, the victorious challengers must win on Tuesday or other closely contested seats largely within the Albuquerque metro area must flip if Democrats want to strengthen their 26-16 advantage in the chamber. 

This story was written for New Mexico In Depth and is republished here with permission through a Creative Commons license. New Mexico In Depth identified 10 Senate districts in which the difference between registered Democratic and Republican voters is below 4,000. We then charted out candidate spending for each race, as well as the level of in-kind contributions for each candidate. The in-kind contributions reflect spending by party leaders on behalf of the candidates, who then included the value of that spending in their own campaign reports.

Spending in New Mexico’s 2nd district congressional busts into stratosphere

This year’s rematch between Democrat Xochitl Torres Small and Republican Yvette Herrell in New Mexico’s second congressional district is one of the most closely-watched in the nation, generating tensions within the state’s oil and gas industry and tens of millions in outside spending. Roll Call has identified Torres Small as one of the 10 most vulnerable House incumbents up for re-election this year. The respected Cook Political Report rates the race as a tossup. 

This story was written by New Mexico In Depth and is republished with permission through a Creative Commons license. At this point, candidates and outside groups have spent a combined sum exceeding $30 million. Spending in 2018 approached $14 million, in a year when across the country record spending was recorded.

Oil and gas support for Torres Small exposes internal divisions

Dressed in denim on a windy day in front of an oil and gas rig, Xochitl Torres Small looks into the camera and says, “Washington doesn’t get us,” then tells viewers she fought to get workers the coronavirus relief they deserve. 

The ad is just one of many in which Democrat Torres Small is positioning herself as an ally of oil and gas this election year as she strives to win a second term in New Mexico’s southern congressional district, one of just 26 of 435 House races across the nation declared a tossup by the respectedCook Political Report. It’s New Mexico’s most competitive high-profile contest. 

Two years after Torres Small beat former Republican state lawmaker Yvette Herrell by fewer than 4,000 votes out of nearly 200,000 cast, the two women are facing off again in 2020, and Torres Small is making sure to stress her oil and gas bona fidesOil and gas money powers the economy in the 2nd Congressional District and generations of families have come up through the oil patch in a solidly Republican swath of counties in southeast New Mexico. 

Xochitl Torres Small 2020 social media ad claiming her support for oil and gas workers. The first-term Democrat insists she would not vote to ban fracking, a drilling method that has greatly expanded U.S. fossil fuel production and flooded New Mexico with revenue before the pandemic crippled the state economy. Advocates who want to ban the procedure, which injects chemical laden water at high pressure into underground rock formations, say fracking threatens human health in addition to increasing greenhouse gas emitting fossil fuels. But industry professionals and their supporters insist it can be done safely and responsibly. 

Torres Small also took to Twitter last week to call out her party’s presidential nominee, tweeting it was wrong to “demonize” one industry in the fight against climate change after Joe Biden said he’d work to transition to an economy based on renewable energy and away from the current oil economy. 

Her efforts to trumpet her support of oil and gas come at a time when the industry itself is in turmoil and internal tensions between larger companies and their smaller New Mexico-based counterparts are bursting into the open, particularly over how to talk about Torres Small and her record. 

Ryan Flynn, executive director of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, whose board of directors is dominated by out-of-state oil producers, told the Associated Press in August that Torres Small has been a “strong advocate for our state’s energy interests.”  

Flynn’s comment ignited a mini-firestorm among Republican loyalists. 

New Mexico Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce, a former congressman in the southern district who made a fortune selling his oil field services company, condemned Flynn’s statement.

Despite no corporate money pledges, Democratic federal candidates keep taking it

While every Democrat running for federal office in New Mexico this year pledged to not accept money from corporate political action committees, they still benefit from corporate giving. 

Funneled to their campaigns from intermediary PACs that gather corporate money and then redirect it to candidates for office, the donations shine a light on the complications Democrats face when attempting to distance themselves from corporate special interests while still raising enough money to run winning campaigns. Since the landmark Citizens United vs. FEC Supreme Court ruling in 2010– which opened political campaigns to unrestricted outside spending in elections by corporations, nonprofits, unions, and other organizations—a movement to enact reforms that would limit corporate influence in elections has grown, and found a home within the Democratic Party. One group, called End Citizens United, encourages candidates to pledge not to accept donations from corporate PACs. Federal rules already prohibit candidates from taking donations from corporations directly.

Nursing home secrecy compounded pain of COVID-19 death

Roslyn K. Pulitzer drew her final breath holding the ungloved hand of Kay Lockridge, her partner of 36 years, on the morning of Thursday, April 30, at the University of New Mexico Hospital’s intensive care unit in Albuquerque. 

“Roz knew I was there, although she couldn’t talk because of her breathing apparatus and mask,” Lockridge said. “She winked at me and squeezed my hand.”

Pulitzer was the first Santa Fe resident to die of COVID-19, according to the New Mexico Department of Health. She had turned 90 years old the previous Saturday but Lockridge couldn’t celebrate with her in person because Pulitzer was in quarantine for COVID-19 at the Advanced Healthcare Center of Albuquerque. In February, Pulitzer fell and fractured several ribs. At Christus St.

For third day in a row, four NM counties see double digit rise in cases

For the third day in a row, New Mexico saw more than 200 new cases of COVID-19, with double digit new cases also for the third day in a row coming from four counties: Bernalillo, McKinley, San Juan and Doña Ana. The New Mexico Department of Health announced 209 additional cases and two additional deaths related to COVID-19. The state tested 2,321 individuals Saturday. The total number of deaths reached 491 while the total number of test positive cases reached 11,619. These numbers come on a day in which national news media report that cases across the U.S. are on the rise and more than 2.5 million Americans have been infected by the disease. 

New Mexico Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase has said that the state would like to test around 5,000 a day.

State investigating hospital with coronavirus policy that profiled pregnant Native American mothers and separated them from newborns

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. This story originally appeared at ProPublica and New Mexico In Depth and is republished with permisssion. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced on Twitter Saturday that state officials would investigate allegations of racial profiling of pregnant Native American women at a top hospital in Albuquerque. Lujan Grisham was reacting to a story published Saturday by New Mexico In Depth and ProPublica revealing that Lovelace Women’s Hospital had a secret policy for screening Native American women for coronavirus based on their appearance and home ZIP code, according to several clinicians who work there.

NM jail populations plummet amid joint efforts to avoid COVID-19 outbreak; positive test rates are low

This story first appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is republished with permission. New Mexico’s 27 adult county jails have slashed their combined population by a third since the new coronavirus began tearing through the state 11 weeks ago, according to data gathered by the New Mexico Association of Counties. On March 13, two days after New Mexico saw its first confirmed COVID-19 cases, counties held nearly 6,000 men and women behind bars; by  Wednesday, May 27, around 4,000 sat in jails around the state, the vast majority of them awaiting trial. District attorneys, public defenders and county officials told New Mexico In Depth the rapid population reductions could signal a long-term shift toward locking fewer people up, in a state that historically has had higher rates of incarceration in jails than most others. Some of the largest dips have been in counties hardest hit by the virus, including McKinley (more than a 60 percent decrease) and San Juan (with a 45 percent decline).

COVID-19 pandemic complicates 2020 wildfire season

One morning in June 2017, while fighting the Frye Fire in southern Arizona, firefighters began visiting the on-site paramedic complaining of body aches, sore throats, fever, and fatigue. The paramedic diagnosed them with strep throat, a bacterial infection that can pass person to person or through food or water, and sent them to the regional medical center. 

Then another crew showed up with the same symptoms. And then, a third. Medical staff estimated nearly 300 people might have been exposed. They risked overwhelming the local hospital and spreading the infection into town. 

Instead, sick crews were isolated, and a doctor and antibiotics brought to them. Other staff disinfected gear, dumped water, and tossed out catered food.

Zia Pueblo sees COVID-19 outbreak

“As of today April 5th, the Pueblo of Zia has confirmed 11 Zia Tribal Members, potentially 20, infected by COVID-19(Coronavirus),” Acting Governor Floyd Toribio wrote Sunday in a memo to tribal members.