Debt crisis averted: NM delegation responds to debt ceiling deal

The debt ceiling saga neared its end this week after both the U.S. House and Senate approved a deal to raise the debt limit, with provisions. The U.S. The Senate voted Thursday night 63-36  to pass a bipartisan bill reflecting a deal made between President Joe Biden and House Republican leadership. The U.S. The House of Representatives voted 314-117 to approve the deal on Wednesday. The Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 suspends the federal debt limit through January 1, 2025 and adds new discretionary spending limits for FY24 and FY25. Members of the New Mexico congressional delegation released statements about the bill and their votes.

Sen. Martin Heinrich speaks to Rio Rancho Elementary students during an assembly celebrating the school being listed as one of ESPN’s Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools for 2022.

Heinrich touts universal school meals and outdoor learning at school visits

On Friday, Rio Rancho Elementary faculty and students celebrated the school’s recent listing as one of ESPN’s Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools for 2022. It was the only elementary school on the list. Rio Rancho Elementary was recognized for its inclusivity measures pertaining to school sports that includes all learners including those with intellectual disabilities. One of the people at Rio Rancho Elementary to celebrate the day was Sen. Martin Heinrich. “I’m here today because what you’re doing is super cool,” Heinrich told a group of Rio Rancho Elementary students.

Screenshot of President Joe Biden during a press conference May 9, 2023. The press conference followed a closed-door meeting between Biden and congressional leadership to address the debt ceiling impasse.

Concerns mount as debt ceiling deadline nears

President Joe Biden met with congressional leadership from both parties Tuesday to negotiate an end to the federal debt ceiling dispute. Both Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy delivered comments and took questions following the closed-session meeting. Biden called the meeting productive. The meeting was called to discuss a path beyond the current debt ceiling problems.

“America is not going to default on this debt for the first time in history. Never has, never well,” Biden said.

Heinrich ‘All In’ for Senate re-election bid

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich released a campaign video Thursday announcing his run for re-election in 2024. “When I look at Washington these days, I see plenty of fighters,” Heinrich, a Democrat, said in the video. “The problem is too many are fighting for themselves for their career and their big donors. The way I see it, you hired me to work for you. And I want you to know, I’m all in.”

Heinrich is seeking his third term in the U.S. Senate.

Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernández approaches the rostrum to address a legislative joint session Monday.

Federal delegation address legislators

Members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation touted federal legislation like the American Rescue Plan Act while speaking to the state Legislature on Monday. U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich and U.S. Reps. Teresa Leger Fernández and Gabe Vasquez, all Democrats, addressed a joint session of the New Mexico Legislature Monday. “I want to start by thanking you for your partnership, for your collaboration and for your leadership,” Heinrich said. “We have faced extraordinary challenges over the last few years and yet we have accomplished so much together to directly improve New Mexico’s future from passing legislation to provide paid leave for all workers to raising teachers wages to taking on predatory lenders and building a more equitable revenue base.

Political ‘retribution’: The DOI rejected 100% of New Mexico’s proposed LWCF projects

After cheering the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, which secured permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), New Mexico wildlife and conservation advocates were shocked to learn every single project proposed to the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) for LWCF funds was rejected. 

The LWCF, created by Congress in 1965 to support public land management using offshore oil and gas royalties, received $900 million annually under the Great American Outdoors Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump in August. It marked just the second time since its creation that the program is fully funded. The Great American Outdoors Act, which environmental groups considered a historic public lands conservation package, passed the Senate with what some dubbed “rare” bipartisan support on a 73-25 vote. The bill was introduced earlier this year by Republican U.S. Senators Cory Gardner of Colorado and Steve Daines of Montana—both of whom relied heavily on the Act’s passage in their respective reelection campaigns. New Mexico Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich also supported the bill, as did U.S. Reps.

Sen. Heinrich wants to protect the Pecos watershed from future mining

The Pecos watershed is home to some of the state’s most pristine riparian habitat, but Lela McFerrin, vice president of the Upper Pecos Watershed Association, is worried that a proposal to drill new mines in the area will threaten the creeks, streams and drainages that make up the headwaters of the Pecos river. 

“What we’re well known for is crystal clear, pure water. That’s what keeps us alive up here,” McFerrin told NM Political Report. 

In 2019, Comexico, a subsidiary of the Australia-based mining firm New World Resources, submitted a proposal to acquire rights to 20 federal mining claims in the area. The company hopes to dig multiple mines to extract zinc, copper and gold. 

McFerrin and other community members banded together to fight the proposal at the local level. The Stop Tererro Mine coalition includes area residents, members of the Pecos, Tesuque and Jemez pueblos, and environmental and conservation groups. 

But the mineral rights beneath the ground in the National Forest are managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and there was little action that local leaders could take to prevent future mining in the watershed. So the coalition turned to U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich. 

“The proposal by Comexico is what really brought that community together, and they started communicating with my office,” Heinrich told NM Political Report. 

“That conversation with people who live in that valley, people who fish in that valley, people who farm in that valley, is what led to this legislation,” he said. 

The Pecos Watershed Protection Act would remove mineral rights from future leasing on roughly 170,000 acres of National Forest land of the watershed.

Heinrich defends stream access as issue heads to NM Supreme Court

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich weighed in on an ongoing and complicated dispute between the state Game Commission and environmental groups about accessing streams in New Mexico. Heinrich told NM Political Report that New Mexico’s leadership needs to step up efforts to protect stream access rights. 

At issue is a rule adopted by the Game Commission in 2017 that enables landowners to apply through the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to certify portions of waterways that run through private property as “non-navigable.” By obtaining the non-navigable designation, those landowners are able to block off portions of waterways from public access. The rule was generally supported by landowners, and NMDGF approved several applications before it imposed a moratorium in July 2019 on issuing the certificates over legal questions. 

Critics of the rule argue that restricting public access to waterways — including those that flow through private property — is unconstitutional. The New Mexico Constitution states that waterways belong to the public, and critics argue trespassing was never allowed under state law to access a public waterway. Water recreationalists have also argued that the rule has impeded recreation on some of the state’s most popular waterways, including the Chama, Pecos, Alamosa, Mimbres and Peñasco rivers. 

Controversy around the issue swelled in early 2020, when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declined to reappoint commission chair Joanna Prukop, whom she had appointed to the position in June 2019, after Prukop led a majority vote at the commission to ask the NMDGF to review and possibly amend the rule.

Shutdown is over, but federal workers remain uncertain

On Monday, federal employees will return to work. For now. After more than 30 days, the partial federal shutdown ended Friday. During that time, almost 11,000 New Mexicans—and 800,000 people nationwide—were either furloughed or working without pay. But many people remain wary, given that the deal worked out between Congress and the White House only reopens the government for three weeks, through February 15.

U.S. action toward migrants along border ignites moral showdown across the nation

Tornillo, Texas, is a desert town east of El Paso, just 89 miles from Las Cruces. Fewer than 2,000 residents were recorded living there in the 2010 Census. But it hosts a port of entry across the U.S.-Mexico border—one that exposes the increasingly urgent moral battle over migration and human rights. Last week, the Trump administration announced a new facility at the port of entry to temporarily hold immigrant children separated from their parents. According to a story in the Texas Tribune, HHS is erecting tents in Tornillo for the children and teens.