Will long-term change follow protests?

Over the past three weeks, I’ve watched protests swell in cities across the country and Black Lives Matter attract millions of new supporters to their cause after the killing of George Floyd.U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, has walked with protestors. Confederate monuments are toppling and white childhood friends of mine from Georgia have signaled they want to learn about “systemic” racism. Even NASCAR has banned the Confederate flag. 

We’re experiencing a cultural shift, breathtaking in its pace. 

As agitation for change sweeps the United States (and the globe), it leaves many of us  wondering if today’s marches will lead to deep, substantive changes tomorrow in a centuries-old system that has demonstrated its resilience. 

Still, the passion one sees on the streets is hard to ignore. Protestor after protestor in TV, radio and newspaper interviews cite familiar reasons for turning out. 

Police brutality. Over-policing in communities of color.

COVID-19: The good, the bad and the uncertain as New Mexico eyes re-opening

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for the first time Wednesday revealed what marks the state of New Mexico might need to hit before it starts to reopen its economy, as state officials presented good news about progress in flattening the COVID-19 curve. But the reopening won’t be immediate. Lujan Grisham said she had decided to extend her stay-at-home order through May 15.  

Wednesday’s presentation followed that general outline, good news tinged with bad and a note of  uncertainty. 

Six more deaths were reported and McKinley County, the state’s current hotspot, had a per capita infection rate seven times larger than Bernalillo County, which has the largest number of positive cases.In contrast, for the first time, the state is no longer projecting a statewide shortage of hospital beds, with Santa Fe County, in particular, doing a good job in flattening the curve, said Dr. David Scrase, Lujan Grisham’s human services secretary.  

Dr. Scrase presented a slide showing how the COVID-19 curve is flattening in key New Mexico counties. “This is good news, we’re doing it right,” the governor said. If New Mexicans continue to stay the course, the state can get to a point where a methodical, careful re-opening could happen. Lujan Grisham announced the formation of an economic recovery council composed of 15 business leaders around the state, who will help inform the process of re-opening the state.

Friday’s COVID-19 update: Modeling the surge, handling the peak

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Friday told New Mexico that three more people have died from COVID-19, a total of 10 in the three weeks since March 11, the day the state identified its first positive case. Two were residents of a retirement community in Albuquerque. Meanwhile, the number of infections rose to 495, nearly a 25% escalation from the previous total, 403. It’s a striking rise, but “we are doing more testing,” the governor said, acknowledging a truism about an infectious disease: the more you test, the more you know. In other words, data is a good thing, a point the governor’s Human Services Secretary David Scrase returned to a few minutes later.

Officials predict dire consequences if state doesn’t practice social distancing

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Tuesday announced a fifth COVID-19 death in New Mexico, a Bernalillo County man in his 40s. 

That was just the beginning of the grim news. State officials, using what they called a more accurate model than one quoted widely in recent days from the University of Washington, said anywhere from 2,500 to 12,500 New Mexicans could die over the life of the pandemic. That is, if they don’t do a better job of social distancing.Lujan Grisham said repeatedly during Tuesday’s hour-and-a-half long press conference that New Mexicans had to improve their commitment to not going out in public and to mingle in groups of fewer than five individuals. Social distancing is the best weapon New Mexico has to fight COVID-19, the governor said, looking into the cameras broadcasting her warnings from the Roundhouse in Santa Fe. As of Tuesday, New Mexico had 315 confirmed cases out of more than 13,000 tested, according to the state Department of Health.  But many more cases — and deaths — are coming.

Coronavirus: Lessons learned to help us weather the current situation

Yesterday as I watched Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s news conference about Covid-19 via livestream I flashed back to 2003 when Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) was sweeping the globe. The moment strengthened an urge I’ve had the past few days to think about the lessons I learned more than a decade and a half ago.At the time of the SARS outbreak, I was working in Hartford, Conn. and already pondering how diseases spread. I’d spent late 2001 and early 2002 covering anthrax after a 94-year-old woman living 10 or so miles from our family was one of five Americans to succumb to the disease. I mention anthrax only because it introduced me to epidemiology, a branch of medical science that tracks infectious diseases.

Lawmakers: Budget excludes rural, tribal voices in education

Bernalyn Via of the Mescalero Apache tribe visited the Roundhouse on Fb. 10 to lobby lawmakers. Photo credit / Trip Jennings

As the annual legislative session races to an end Thursday, think of the New Mexico Legislature as an industrial-strength strainer. Only a portion of bills will pass through. But some lawmakers are saying too many bills being filtered out come from communities that are home to students identified in the landmark Yazzie Martinez education lawsuit as shortchanged in the state’s public schools.The House of Representatives and Senate may be wrangling over last-minute changes to the state budget, but raging behind the scenes is a debate over whether the spending plan is responding to the court order that demands New Mexico educate its at-risk students better.

Governor, lawmakers tussle over funding for Ethics Commission

Last year the debate over New Mexico’s first-ever Ethics Commission was about its day-to-day running and its independence. This year it’s about money. 

And the game is on. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham wants to give the state’s independent Ethics Commission a lot more operating money than lawmakers. She recommends nearly $400,000 to help the commission get up and running in its first few months of operation. The Legislature’s request is half that.

Public education issues will dominate session, with focus on at-risk students

A short exchange at Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s town hall last month captured the magnitude of the mission New Mexico is on as it seeks to remake public education. A mother, a recent transplant to Albuquerque from Gallup, told Lujan Grisham that school officials said her 8-year-old autistic daughter couldn’t learn Navajo. 

“Because it would confuse her,” the woman said, confessing the information hurt and angered her. 

“This has been going on for years and years and centuries with our culture,” the speaker said into a microphone so she could be heard by the crowd and those listening online. “I want her to learn who she is, where she came from and her identity and growing up and being proud of who she is.”The woman’s complaint could have been lifted from a 2018 court ruling that these days is forcing New Mexico to invest big in educating students who’ve historically gotten less. Noting federal and state governments’ forced assimilation of indigenous children over centuries, the late state Judge Sarah Singleton said the practice led to a “disconnect from and distrust of state institutions, such as public schools, where Native American values are not respected.”

Lujan Grisham acknowledged to the woman the state’s imperfect lurches toward improvement as New Mexico tries to overturn decades of policy and funding decisions to better educate at-risk students, most of whom are from communities of color.The state is struggling “to get the cultural and linguistic requirements of every student met” despite increasing funding for Native American students, the governor said. “The fact that we are not doing it for you means that we have to provide more support for your school, to you and to your daughter,” Lujan Grisham said before encouraging the speaker to meet with her Education secretary, Ryan Stewart, who sat a few feet from his boss on stage.  The moment showcased one New Mexico family’s obstacles and served as a reminder that stories such as these likely aren’t rare in a state where a majority of the state’s public school students qualify for at least one risk factor.  Lujan Grisham and state lawmakers return to Santa Fe this month with that reality in mind after pumping a half a billion additional dollars last year into the public education system, which takes up nearly half of the state budget. 

Claudia Sanchez, a fourth grade dual language teacher at at Mesquite Elementary, explains how to round numbers in Spanish this fall.

Budget Boom: 21st century ‘gold rush’ fuels long wish list for schools, infrastructure

We pick up where our story left off last year. As in 2019, we find New Mexico’s fortunes glittering in a 21st-century version of a gold rush in the oil-rich southeast as state lawmakers prepare for the 2020 30-day session. 

Policy makers will have about $800 million more in revenue than this year’s state budget to work with when crafting the state’s spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1. In an election year like 2020, it’s easier to partition a surplus than to cut programs and services, as state leaders discovered a few years ago in 2016 after a freefall in tax revenue forced painful choices. “We’re lucky to have the kind of revenues that are coming into the state,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham told an audience last month at an Albuquerque town hall.  

There’s always a “but,” however, and Lujan Grisham didn’t disappoint. After acknowledging New Mexico’s gilded economic forecast, she recited a backlog of needs..“Our roads aren’t safe.