Ben Ray Luján aims to connect with voters across the state

On a quiet Saturday morning, just as an early morning rain had stopped and the clouds drifted away, a pile of inflatable rafts sat piled under a tree at La Llorona Park in Las Cruces. Soon, about a dozen teenagers trickled into the park, ready to float about 3 miles down the river with U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján. 

Luján’s district is about 300 miles north of the public park, named after a folklore character associated with rivers and children, that butts up against the Rio Grande. Luján wasn’t there on official business, but instead to engage with young people from other parts of the state not within his congressional district as part of his campaign for U.S. Senate. 

Luján’s name is likely familiar to those who even casually follow political news. Earlier this year, he was tapped to become the assistant Speaker of the House, the fourth-highest rank in Democratic leadership. His father, Ben Luján, served as the New Mexico Speaker of the House and many have speculated that if Ben Ray Luján stayed the course in Congress he might be in line to succeed U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House.

ABQ contractor aims to take on Heinrich for Senate

There’s still more than a year until New Mexicans vote in the primary election and general election for the U.S. Senate, but one local commercial building contractor said he’s already prepared to take on incumbent Democrat Martin Heinrich. Mick Rich, owner of Mick Rich Contractors, said his plans for the Senate don’t go past two terms, or 12 years. “I am not moving to D.C.,” Rich told NM Political Report. “I want to make it clear, two terms and I’m done.”

A registered Republican, Rich speaks highly of former Republican U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici and said the six-term senator’s career is a “great road map” for serving New Mexico. “He made sure that our labs and bases had a mission,” Rich said.

Heinrich votes against prescription drug imports

Martin Heinrich was one of 13 Democratic U.S. senators who voted against legislation earlier this week that would have allowed Americans to buy prescription drugs from other countries. The measure, a health care reform idea often supported by progressives, came as an amendment to legislation aimed at changing Senate rules to allow majority votes on budget bills. The procedural changes, which the Senate narrowly approved in the early hours of Thursday, are the first step in Republican plans to repeal as much of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, as they can. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent senator who unsuccessfully ran for the Democratic Party presidential nomination last year, sponsored the amendment with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota. Senators rejected the amendment on a 52-48 margin, with 12 Republicans casting their votes in favor.

Gun bills coming this session

With less than two weeks to go before the beginning of the 2017 state legislative session, four lawmakers have already filed bills on a controversial reoccurring topic—guns. One bill from two prominent Democratic senators seeks to mandate background checks on gun owners who transfer firearms between each other. That bill, filed by incoming Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, and longtime Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Española, would exempt background checks for gun transfers between family members, licensed gun dealers and law enforcement officers and agencies. Opponents of the current process often call it the “gun show loophole,” since some of these background check-free firearm transfers occur at gun shows. State Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos, has also prefiled a similar bill in the state House of Representatives.

Lawmakers sue to stop ABQ from seizing property before convictions

Two New Mexico Senators, with the help from a national public interest law firm, announced a lawsuit against the City of Albuquerque Wednesday over the city seizing property. The suit asks the Second Judicial District Court to order the city to stop its current practice of taking ownership of property, including those accused but not convicted, of driving while intoxicated. Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque said even though Albuquerque is a home-rule city, they cannot go against state laws. He pointed out the recent law passed says there is “only” criminal forfeiture in New Mexico, making it unlawful to take property before a criminal conviction. “Last time I checked Albuquerque is geographically in the state of New Mexico,” Ivey Soto said.

Legislators start the conversation on drones

New Mexico legislators are joining the conversation on drones and discussing the devices’ role in the state. The interim Science, Technology & Telecommunications Committee heard a presentation on Monday about the use of drones in New Mexico. Present at the meeting was Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park. McCamley, a supporter of Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programs, told New Mexico Political Report that he would like to see more legislation that outlines how and when drones can be used for personal use. Currently, the Federal Aviation Administration prohibits the commercial use of drones without an FAA approved pilot’s license.

Martinez names Republican to fill Senate vacancy

Gov. Susana Martinez named a Republican to fill a vacancy in the state Senate. Martinez named former Estancia mayor Ted Barela to replace former State Senator Phil Griego. The Torrance County Commission named Barela as their choice to fill the vacancy. “I have great confidence that Ted will work hard to represent the residents of District 39 well and believe he’s committed to working with legislators from both parties to diversify our economy and improve our schools,” Martinez said in a statement. Griego resigned with just days left in the legislative session.

Senate Democrats’ capital outlay at risk

Two Senate Democrats spoke out against a decision by a House committee to remove $80 million from a capital outlay bill on Friday. Sens. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, and Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa, told reporters that financial cuts made in the House Ways and Means Committee were fiscally irresponsible. Smith criticized the committees approval of cuts from senior centers and colleges across the state to instead fund roads. Smith said this process of funding roads is already a source of state debt.

Compromise driver’s license bill heads to the Senate floor

A bill that would create a two-tiered driver’s license system was approved by a Senate committee on Thursday. The bill sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee by an 8 to 1 vote. Senate Bill 653, often referred to as a compromise bill, was presented by Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming. Smith told the committee that the proposed legislation would create a license that meets the federal Real ID Act and another that would serve solely as a statewide license. Supporters of the bill have said it would be less discriminatory than other proposals.

Daylight Savings Time bill heads to the House

A bill that would keep New Mexico on Mountain Daylight Savings Time from here on out passed the Senate by a 28 to 10 vote. The bill’s sponsor Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, told the Senate SB 377 would keep New Mexico “an hour ahead of Arizona, permanently.”

“No one likes changing clocks twice a year, so let’s stop doing it,” Pirtle said in a prepared statement. SB 377 now moves to the House, where it will receive committee assignments. With the clock ticking on the legislative session, it will be difficult to get the bill to the House floor before Saturday at noon. According to a statement from the Senate Republican press office, Gov. Susana Martinez would still need permission from the federal government to make the time change official.