NM Democrats praise Biden’s choice of Harris for running mate

While presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden did not choose New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham as his running mate, he followed through on his promise to select a woman as his running mate when he chose California U.S. Senator Kamala Harris on Tuesday. Harris, the daughter of a Jamaican immigrant father and an Indian immigrant mother, is the first woman of color as a running mate for a major political party. Democratic politicians in New Mexico, including Lujan Grisham, praised Biden’s choice. “It’s time to rebuild our country better than ever before. It’s time to take back the White House.

Trump trial balloon of moving Election Day lands with a thud

Democrats in New Mexico, including the Secretary of State, rejected President Donald Trump’s suggestion that the upcoming federal elections be delayed. Trump floated the unlikely idea on Twitter Thursday morning, writing, “With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”

After pushback, including from Republican leaders who said the idea of moving Election Day back was a non-starter, Trump tweeted that he was glad he got the media to talk about mail-in voting. Election Day is set by federal law and leaders in the U.S. House and Senate, including Republicans, rejected the idea.

Poll finds Hispanic families still in need of relief

A recent survey of 480 Hispanics in the state found that close to half have $1,000 or less in savings and nearly a quarter have $100 or less. The survey from Latino Decisions, in partnership with several other nonprofit organizations, found that 49 percent of Hispanics surveyed have $1,000 or less set aside for emergencies and 24 percent have $100 or less in savings. In addition, 48 percent have had their hours or pay cut since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. A group of 45 elected officials, including some from the state’s three largest cities of Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces as well as other cities and counties around the state, signed a letter sent to New Mexico’s congressional leadership Tuesday asking that all residents, regardless of immigration status, be included in the next federal relief bill. Migrants and refugees who lack social security numbers were left out of the federal relief CARES Act in late March.

After a long battle, the Gila River Diversion project comes to an end

After 25 years, $16 million dollars, and missing a key deadline, the Gila River Diversion proposal is now effectively dead. The Interstate Stream Commission voted 7-2 Thursday against supplying funding needed to complete an environmental impact statement required for the project. Critics of the project, including Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and conservation and environmental groups, cheered the vote. 

“This proposal is actually the fourth proposal to dam the Gila. We hope this is the fourth and last proposal,” Allyson Siwik, executive director of the Gila Conservation Coalition, told NM Political Report. 

Siwik boiled down her opposition to the proposal bluntly: “It’s expensive [and] the water is unaffordable.”

The proposal would have seen 14,000 acre-feet of water diverted each year from the Gila River for landowners to use in New Mexico. The state is entitled to that amount of water each year from the river as part of the 2004 Arizona Water Settlements Act.

SCOTUS DACA decision will help 5,800 New Mexico DACA recipients

About 5,800 recipients of legal protections for some young immigrants in the state got surprising, but welcome, news Thursday when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against President Donald Trump in his lawsuit against the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The 5-4 ruling allows the program under the Department for Homeland Security to continue. Put in place under the Obama administration in 2012, it allows individuals who came to the U.S. as children to gain temporary legal status so they can apply to college and professional jobs. According to a 2019 U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service report, 652,880 residents are enrolled in the program. New Mexico was one of the states that sued the federal government.

Land and Water Conservation Fund one step closer to securing full funding after Senate passage

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is poised to receive permanent funding after the U.S. Senate passed legislation Wednesday. The fund, created by Congress in 1965 to support public land management using offshore oil and gas royalties, will receive $900 million annually under the bill, marking just the second time since its creation that the program will be fully funded.  

The Great American Outdoors Act, which environmental groups are calling “a historic public lands conservation package,” passed the Senate Wednesday with what some have dubbed “rare” bipartisan support on a 73-25 vote. The bill was introduced earlier this year by Republican Senators Cory Gardner of Colorado and Steve Daines of Montana. New Mexico Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich both supported the bill and pushed initiatives to fully support the LWCF, which will pour millions into public lands across the state. 

“My father, Stewart Udall, helped enact this wildly successful program as Secretary of the Interior under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, and I’m glad the full promise of LWCF is finally being realized,” Udall said in a statement. He called the fund “one of the most successful conservation tools we have to protect and expand our public lands” and said it is “a historic game-changer for New Mexico and the nation.”

The fund “has helped preserve many treasured places in New Mexico — including the Valles Caldera, Ute Mountain, and Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge,” Heinrich said in a separate statement.

Members of congress want answers on $3 million contract for possibly substandard masks for Navajo Nation

Members of Congress from New Mexico and Arizona sought answers about a $3 million contract given to a former White House staffer to supply masks to the Navajo Nation. The masks may be substandard, as the Navajo Nation deals with the highest rate of COVID-19 cases in the country. “The IHS facilities serving the Tribe are in dire need of PPE to combat the virus and ensure medical personnel are protected from potential exposure,” the lawmakers wrote. “Accordingly, we’re also concerned by reports that the federal contract to supply PPE to the Navajo IHS Service Area was awarded to a company established by a former senior official in the White House with limited competitive bidding and no prior federal contracting experience.”

Update: Masks sold by former White House official to Navajo hospitals don’t meet FDA standards

The letter, led by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall and U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, requests a number of answers from Rear Admiral Michael Weahkee, the Director of the Indian Health Service. 

The Navajo Nation spreads across parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. As of Tuesday, Navajo Nation health officials had confirmed 4,842 COVID-19 cases and 158 deaths related to the disease.

Udall, Heinrich introduce long-awaited legislation to protect portions of the Gila River

U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich introduced legislation Tuesday that would designate portions of the Gila River as Wild and Scenic, after a “years-long” effort to protect what’s known as one of the country’s last wild rivers. 

The M.H. Dutch Salmon Greater Gila Wild and Scenic River Act would designate 446 miles of the Gila River and other waters in the Gila and San Francisco water basin as either wild or scenic, protecting those portions of river from future development. 

RELATED: A win for the state’s last wild river

Udall said they drafted the legislation with input from community members, private landowners, outdoor recreation enthusiasts, local fishers, farmers and ranchers. Udall said he and Heinrich  also worked with landowners and state agencies to identify where the designation boundaries should be. “We opened up that draft for additional feedback, to make sure New Mexicans have a seat at the table in helping determine the future of the Gila,” Udall said. “We have now introduced a strong piece of legislation that will protect the Gila, while ensuring that existing uses and planned projects, including grazing, recreation, restoration, and access can continue.”

Heinrich said the legislation is timely in a period of economic uncertainty caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The outdoor recreation industry was fueling some of our fastest job growth, particularly in our rural communities, just before the pandemic hit,” Heinrich said. “Roosevelt said conservation means development as much as it means protection, and he’s absolutely right.

Senators ask for more flexibility for states, tribal and local governments on COVID-19 relief funds

U.S. Senators want the Trump administration to remove what they call needless, bureaucratic restrictions on how states can use funding from coronavirus relief efforts. The Senators, including New Mexico’s Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, argued that state, local and tribal governments should be able to use funds from the CARES Act to repay lost revenue and help them balance budgets. The two joined 44 other U.S. Senators who signed onto a letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, which said that the administration added red tape that was not included in the law passed by Congress. “To avoid distracting states, Tribes, and localities from meeting the crisis at hand, the Treasury Department should publicly confirm that states, Tribes and localities may use these funds to maintain their essential services as the CARES Act clearly permits,” the letter states. States have seen their revenue plummet as many have issued stay-at-home orders and economic activity has declined.

Udall, other Senators want investigations over Trump administration’s COVID-19 response

The letter said that states around the country, including New Mexico, face shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), and says that a cohesive, national strategy is needed to allocate the equipment where it is needed.

The federal government had a stockpile of PPE and other medical equipment in the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS). The Trump administration moved oversight of the stockpile from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the Health and Human Services Department, under the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, in 2018. FEMA is in charge of distribution during a national emergency.