NM Senators welcome investigation into admin’s use of eminent domain for border wall

New Mexico’s U.S. Senators said an internal government watchdog will provide answers about how the Trump administration seized land to build a border wall between the United States and Mexico. Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee blocked an amendment one of those Senators, Tom Udall, introduced to the defense funding bill that would bar Trump from diverting money from military projects to fund the wall. In August, Udall and New Mexico’s other Senator, Martin Heinrich, signed onto a letter to the U.S. Government Accountability Office with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Dick Durbin of Illinois asking for an investigation into the use of eminent domain to take land for the border wall. All four senators are Democrats. GAO wrote to the four Senators last week saying they would begin the review the Trump administration’s eminent domain efforts. 

“At the current time we anticipate that staff with the required skills will be available to initiate an engagement in about three months,” the GAO official wrote.

$125 million in NM military projects being diverted to fund border wall

Two projects at military bases will see their funding sent to fund the construction of a border wall between the United States and Mexico. In all, the federal government is diverting the funds from 127 military projects totaling $3.6 billion toward the construction of the wall. The U.S. Department of Defense says the diversion will be temporary. The projects in New Mexico that saw their funding eliminated, at least temporarily, are $85 million for an Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) training facility for  at Holloman Air Force Base and $40 million originally slated for an information systems facility at White Sands Missile Range. U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, who represents the area and sits on the House Armed Services Committee, said she was “appalled at the Administration’s decision to divert military construction funds allocated for projects essential to our national defense to build a fiscally irresponsible border wall.”

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.

SCOTUS says Trump administration can’t add citizenship question to Census—for now

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Trump administration’s attempt to add a question to the U.S. Census inquiring about respondents’ citizenship—for now. The court released the ruling Thursday morning, on the final day of this year’s term. The high court instead remanded the question to a district court—and with the U.S. Census Bureau’s own deadline looming, there may not be enough time for the government to get the question added to the 2020 census. The question would depress Hispanic response to the census overall, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. The ruling, in which Chief Justice John Roberts was joined by the four liberal members of the court, says it did not believe the rationale the U.S. Commerce Department offered as to why it chose to add the question.

State preparing for a ‘full count’ in the next census

New Mexico faces challenges in getting a full and accurate count for the next census—and for receiving the federal funding that comes with it. So the state, and others, are getting ready in advance of the 2020 census. As part of the preparations, U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham traveled to New Mexico this week and met with stakeholders and public officials, including both U.S. Senators who represent the state. As part of his trip, Dillingham traveled with U.S. Sen. Tom Udall and local elected officials and stakeholders in a remote part of Los Lunas on Tuesday. The community was an example of a hard-to-count area of the state.

Tempests and fisticuffs: The history of NM’s open U.S. Senate races

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall announced last month that he will not seek a third U.S. Senate term. The attention quickly turned to who would be Udall’s replacement. So far, U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan has said he will run, and Attorney General Hector Balderas said he won’t. It’s easy for political reporters to get caught up in the races. But a look back in history can be instructive as well.

Udall will not run for reelection to U.S. Senate

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall announced Monday that he will not run for reelection to the  U.S. Senate in 2020, saying, “The worst thing anyone in public office can do is believe the office belongs to them, rather than the people they represent.”

He said in a YouTube video, with a transcript on Medium, that he feels in his final two years in office he will be able to “get so much more done to help reverse the damage done to our planet, end the scourge of war, and to stop this president’s assault on our democracy and our communities” without running a campaign for what would have been a third term. Related: Who might run to replace Tom Udall in the Senate? Since his election to the U.S. Senate in 2008, Udall has pushed for environmental legislation and for legislation to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. The announcement by Udall opens up a Senate race in a state that increasingly leans Democratic. Democrats won every statewide office and all three congressional seats in 2018 and hold majorities in both chambers of the state legislature.

Udall leads Senate effort to reverse Trump’s emergency declaration

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall is leading the bipartisan effort to overturn President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration. The New Mexico senator says the president overstepped his constitutional powers. Udall and Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins announced the legislation to block Trump’s national emergency declaration. In early February, Trump declared a national emergency to divert billions of dollars from the U.S. Department of Defense to construct a border wall. In a floor speech Thursday, Udall positioned the bill as not about the border wall, but about the powers that Congress holds over the disbursement of money.

Groundwater contamination devastates a New Mexico dairy – and threatens public health

For
months, Clovis dairy farmer Art Schaap has been watching his life go
down the drain. Instead of selling milk, he is dumping 15,000 gallons
a day – enough to provide a carton at lunch to 240,000 children. Instead of working 24/7 to keep his animals healthy, he’s planning
to exterminate all 4,000 of his cows, one of the best herds in Curry
County’s booming dairy industry. The 54-year-old second-generation dairy farmer learned last August that his water, his land, his crops – even the blood in his body – were contaminated with chemicals that migrated to his property from nearby Cannon Air Force Base. See all of NM Political Report’s coverage on PFAS contamination.

Poll: Low approval ratings for Martinez when she left office

Gov. Susana Martinez left office with low approval ratings, according to Morning Consult.

Meanwhile, both of New Mexico’s U.S. Senators’ approval ratings remained over 40 percent, with a high amount of voters with no opinion. The pollster found Martinez’s approval rating among all registered voters in her final three months in office was just 35 percent, while 49 percent disapproved of the Republican’s job performance. That was the ninth-highest disapproval rating among all 50 governors in the same time period. In her final year in office, Martinez’s approval rating remained in the mid-30 percent range. Senators

Martin Heinrich easily won re-election to the U.S. Senate in a three-way race in November, defeating Republican Mick Rich and Libertarian, and former New Mexico governor, Gary Johnson.