As immigration debate rages, private prison operators spread cash to NM pols

Two of the nation’s largest private prison companies have given nearly $33,000 to New Mexico’s congressional representatives and state lawmakers over the last year and a  half, a review of campaign finance records by New Mexico In Depth shows. The two operators — the GEO Group, Inc., and CoreCivic, which have maintained a major presence in New Mexico for decades — have come in criticism over the years from immigration attorneys and advocates for warehousing immigrants under multiple presidential administrations. The focus has sharpened as the nation debates the Trump administration’s stepped-up immigration enforcement policies at the border. Across the country the two private prison operators have spent considerable money to influence government policy and have made sizable profits from detaining immigrants in their facilities, according to the Migration Policy Institute. The Institute is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank in Washington, D.C. dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide.

Lujan Grisham’s Delta Blues: Guided tour through 2017 high-risk pool bill

By now, you’ve seen Politico’s story on Democratic gubernatorial frontrunner Michelle Lujan Grisham and her affiliation with Delta Consulting, an entity that administers a little-known state health insurance program. If you haven’t, it’s a worthwhile read. Published this week, the story repeatedly mentions legislation — House Bill 316 — that New Mexico In Depth analyzed during the 2017 legislative session. The Politico story frames the legislation, which stalled late during last year’s session, around Lujan Grisham’s past business association with Democratic state Rep. Deborah Armstrong, who heads up the Legislature’s House Health and Human Services Committee. Lujan Grisham and Armstrong were principals in Delta Consulting, which is contracted by the state to run the New Mexico Medical Insurance Pool.

On MLK and systemic racism 50 years after his assassination

Every April 4, I play U2’s “Pride (In the Name of Love),” to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The song runs through a series of historical figures who paid deep sacrifices, including Jesus, and ends recounting King’s assassination in Memphis on April 4, 1968. At the time of his death, King was making common cause with poor black sanitation workers striking for better pay, and was planning a protest march later in the year in Washington, D.C., for his Poor People’s Campaign. As I played “Pride” this week, I wondered what King might make of our country had he lived. Today, according to the Associated Press, rates of incarceration for African Americans across the country are worse than in 1968. Our public schools are experiencing a wave of resegregation.

NM assistant secretary for Indian education ousted

The state’s assistant secretary for Native American education is claiming she was unfairly forced out of the New Mexico Public Education Department earlier this month. In a two-page letter sent this week to the state’s tribal elders and obtained by New Mexico In Depth, Latifah Phillips said she “was approached with a termination letter with no explanation or any known documented reasoning, and then presented with the opportunity to resign.” (To read the full text of Phillips’ letter, click here.)

Phillips chose to be fired. She described her decision as “a small act of protest to the unfairness of this action.”

A spokeswoman for the Public Education Department did not respond to requests for comment on Phillips’ firing. Attempts to speak to Phillips about her letter were unsuccessful, too. 

The department’s website still lists Phillips as the assistant secretary for Native American education. It also lists her as a member of the Tohono O’odham nation.

Governor vetoes tribal priorities, provoking strong words from Native lawmakers

Gov. Susana Martinez struck more than $2 million meant for the state’s tribal communities from the state’s budget using her line-item veto authority, a New Mexico In Depth review found. Another nearly $200,000 for educational programs meant for blacks, Latinos and Native Americans attending University of New Mexico also was eliminated. The vetoes provoked a strong reaction Thursday from two of the Legislature’s half a dozen Native lawmakers. “It is reckless and irresponsible that Governor Martinez would single out these critical investments in our Native communities that are in serious need,” House Democratic Caucus Chair D. Wonda Johnson, D-Church Rock, said in a press release Thursday.  Johnson is Navajo.

Sine die: Bipartisanship was buzzword but not everything was kumbaya

The final legislative session of Gov. Susana Martinez’s tenure passed into history Thursday. What a difference a few months makes. Last May, state lawmakers were in crisis dealing with a yawning budget gap and no money for the state’s universities and colleges or the Legislature after Martinez vetoed that money. A special session restored funding to those two areas. But state lawmakers were testy with one another and the governor.

Governor takes credit for surplus brought by oil and gas rebound

A flyer that reads like an election-campaign ad for Gov. Susana Martinez hit Albuquerque mailboxes this week, praising her no-new-taxes stance throughout eight years, especially during 2017’s state budget crisis. “Instead of punishing taxpayers with higher taxes, Governor Martinez has cut taxes 37 times, vetoed more than a billion dollars in tax hikes, and cut wasteful government spending. She has put our fiscal house in order the right way. Now the state has a budget surplus of $300 million,” the flyer intones. It goes on to suggest the governor’s hard anti-tax stance led to thousands of new jobs.

Legislators strike middle path between Martinez, Judiciary with crime bill

An early showdown of the 30-day legislative session in Santa Fe spotlighted the competing narratives over one of the state’s most pressing issues: a precipitous rise in crime in Albuquerque and other New Mexico cities. New Mexico has risen to the top of national lists marking property and violent crime rates in American cities. Crime is up. It’s a painful fact, one that has found no disagreement among lawmakers, judges and Gov. Susana Martinez. But how to solve it?

Las Cruces Dream Team rallies to urge DACA deal now

A group of individuals in neon orange t-shirts stood in the Las Cruces downtown plaza Friday afternoon singing “Olé Olé Olé Olé,” a Mexican chant usually heard at soccer games. This time, however, the singers changed the lyrics. “Olé Olé Olé Olé… Dream Act! Dream Act!”

State public finance fund seriously depleted, Secretary of State tells lawmakers

Say you want to run for a spot on the state Supreme Court or New Mexico Court of Appeals. How about a seat on the Public Regulation Commission? Candidates for New Mexico’s two top courts and its utility commission are eligible to apply for public dollars to finance their campaigns through the New Mexico Voter Action Act. But in 2018 those dollars won’t stretch far, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver told state lawmakers Wednesday. That’s because it’s dramatically underfunded.