As the state gradually reopens from its coronavirus closure, it’s not only nurseries, bike shops and clothing stores that must figure out how to do business while maintaining social distancing—county clerks across the state are conducting their first primary election during a pandemic. But the number of polling places has been slashed, mail service has been interrupted in some areas and voting advocates are concerned that there will be folks, especially in Native American communities, who could be left out. Indian country has been hit hard by COVID-19, as NMID reported in mid-May. Native Americans represent 58 percent of the state’s cases. As a result, many Pueblo and tribal governments have closed their lands to non-residents and established curfews in an effort to slow transmission of the virus.
Antennas and a satellite dish search for a signal on top of a house in rural Vanderwagen, NM, where there is not high-speed fiber or cable internet. Marjorie Childress/New Mexico In Depth
When the University of New Mexico announced March 19 that all spring semester classes would move online and all students should move out of the dorms, 21-year-old communications major Hannah John went home. But she couldn’t stay long. Tall Ponderosa pines are the major architectural feature of Vanderwagen, population 1,700. Sandwiched between the Navajo Nation and Zuni Pueblo along New Mexico’s western border, it’s about half an hour away from Wingate High School, a Bureau of Indian Education school, where John’s parents teach.
When coronavirus cases started popping up in New Mexico, Cherie Montoya and her team came up with a plan to adapt. Farm and Table owner Cherie Montoya and her partner, Danny Lopez
They came up with a Plan B, Plan C and all the way to Plan F, she said. It was important that her employees knew what would happen next as New Mexico began to follow other states into the pandemic crisis. So when the governor ordered that all food-service establishments should move tables 6 feet apart from each other, Montoya moved to Plan B, even though that meant her Albuquerque-area restaurant, Farm and Table, couldn’t seat nearly as many people. When the governor ordered all restaurants to close to dine-in customers March 18, Montoya switched to Plan C and began offering family-style dinner packages to-go.
See that howling coyote? We hired a local artist to draw this critter as a nod to the political cartoon Elkanah Tisdale drew in 1812, skewering Massachusetts’ then-governor, Elbridge Gerry, who had signed a redistricting bill designed to strengthen his party’s grip in the state Senate. More than 200 years later, Tisdale’s sketch of a menacing salamander remains the iconic image of a practice we didn’t have a name for until he penned it: gerrymandering. But state Senate District 39 looks more like a coyote than a salamander. It’s a creature that represents another aspect of what happens when sitting lawmakers draw their own districts.
The average lawmaker in America is a “white, male, Protestant baby boomer with a graduate degree and a business background,” according to an analysis by the National Conference of State Legislatures. In short, the establishment looks a lot like it always has. And the status quo is extremely difficult to change. Incumbency is the one thing that most certainly determines whether a legislative candidate will win. An incumbent who is good at raising money won 94 percent of the time, according to a national analysis of 2013-2014 legislative races conducted by The National Institute on Money in State Politics.
New Mexico has the widest gap in the country between the laws on the books and the way those laws are actually enforced. This week produced a twist on that storyline: a New Mexico Attorney General intent on enforcing the law but blocked by the New Mexico Legislature.
In New Mexico money from taxes on gasoline and diesel (along with a few other things) goes into a road fund that pays for road maintenance. But the gas tax hasn’t been raised since 1993. And that means less money for road maintenance because of inflation, and because many people are driving more fuel-efficient cars or simply driving less.
AG Hector Balderas has charged former state Sen. Phil Griego with fraud, bribery, solicitation, tampering with records and “violating the ethical principles of public service.” He’s also charged with defrauding other brokers out of what should have been their share of a commission. A judge will decide if there is enough evidence to bring the case to trial.
What could New Mexico politicians learn from MBA students at UNM’s Anderson School of Management? New Mexico in Focus visited a graduate-level business ethics class where some students are working on a project to design a good-government training for elected officials.