Ethics proposal could double as business recruiting tool, supporters say

Voters could make New Mexico history tomorrow. Yes, the state likely will make U.S. history, too, sending the first Native American woman to Congress. But New Mexico could join more than 40 other states if voters approve constitutional amendment question No. 2 that would create an independent state ethics commission. Approval, which would come after more than a decade of unsuccessful attempts, might be viewed as New Mexicans’ response to the state’s long-suffering reputation for corruption.

What does your neighborhood say about children’s opportunity?

We want to make sure you don’t miss a fascinating new interactive map that shows how different neighborhoods in our cities and states compare when it comes to poor children moving out of poverty in adulthood. Called the Opportunity Atlas, the Census Bureau announced it in a blog yesterday in which its ambitions are stated clearly in the form of questions the project hopes to answer. “How do children’s chances of climbing the income ladder vary across neighborhoods in America? Where is opportunity lacking and what can we do to improve opportunity in such areas?”

Created by the Census Bureau in collaboration with researchers from Harvard and Brown universities, the project is squarely focused on children. But it turns the normal approach to tracking childhood poverty on its head by visualizing how poor children raised in a certain geographic area fare economically as adults.

Lawmakers get started on ethics commission enabling legislation

For a window into how legislation is made, few moments were more educational than a sparsely attended meeting Tuesday afternoon in a cavernous, mostly empty room on the University of New Mexico campus. On the surface, the meeting was congenial as two state lawmakers, legislative staff, attorneys and representatives of civic organizations hammered out the beginnings of draft legislation that would fill out the details of the state’s first independent ethics commission if voters give the go ahead in November. But beneath the amicable discussions there was a rematch of sorts, perhaps noticeable only to those aware of the contentious history surrounding the idea of an independent ethics commission. For almost 15 years, lawmakers offended by the notion that they needed anyone to watch over them squared off against other legislators who touted independent oversight as a way to restore public trust in government. Legislative opposition knew no political party, with both Democrats and Republicans chafing at the idea of an independent oversight body.

Historic court victory will influence election, 2019 legislative session

A jovial crowd shaded by large trees and within sight of an Albuquerque public school gathered Monday to celebrate a court ruling that many were hailing as vindication of what they had been saying for years. On Friday, State District Judge Sarah Singleton ruled New Mexico guilty of shirking its constitutional duty  to adequately educate at-risk students. The ruling, which represented a sound defeat for Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and her Public Education Department, is not the last word. The agency said late Monday it will appeal. “Unfortunately, the judge missed the boat with this ruling,” Public Education Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski said, adding that the state has invested in programs that “have been proven to improve student success.” 

But the possibility of an appeal earlier in the day wasn’t about to puncture Monday’s celebratory mood.

How do you solve the brain drain in New Mexico?

Searchlight New Mexico’s Amy Linn took a deep look this week at the state’s dismal record at persuading talented, educated young people to stay once they’re college graduates. The major stumbling block? There are plenty, but the one that appears to elbow all the rest out of contention for first-place honors is jobs, or, more precisely, the lack of them. To open the story Linn tells the story of an accomplished young man from Farmington who graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2014 with ample experience in his chosen field.  But he couldn’t find the “right job,” so he moved to Ventura, California, to pursue a career.

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 past 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 for 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.