High Stakes Race: Oil and gas industry and environmentalists square off over next governor

Take a look at most oil and gas infrastructure — wellheads, pipes and cylindrical storage tanks — dotting New Mexico oil and gas fields, and little seems to be happening. But use the right equipment and you can see gases, including methane, wafting into the air. Heading skyward with methane, the main component of natural gas and a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming, are royalties some say the oil and gas industry could be paying New Mexico. An April report from Taxpayers for Common Sense, a national budget and taxpayer advocate, analyzed federal leases through the Office of Natural Resource Revenue and estimated that the gas lost nationwide on federal lands in 2016 was worth $75.5 million. Half of the gas lost between 2012 and 2016 came from New Mexico.

High-profile DWI cases spotlight complicated world of legal conflicts

For the second time in a year, Albuquerque police officer Joshua Montaño found himself handcuffing a high-profile politico with ties to Gov. Susana Martinez. Montaño arrested state Rep. Monica Youngblood on May 20 on suspicion of aggravated drunken driving, first offense, after he believed she performed poorly on field sobriety tests at a DWI checkpoint on Albuquerque’s west side, then refused to take a breath-alcohol test. A year to the day earlier, on May 20, 2017, the veteran DWI officer arrested one of the state’s most influential political insiders, former Martinez Environment Department secretary and current New Mexico Oil and Gas Association President Ryan Flynn, on suspicion of DWI. Flynn’s case was dismissed; Youngblood’s is just beginning to wend its way through the courts. Given the Albuquerque Republican’s high-profile stance as a Martinez-friendly, tough-on-crime legislator, her unopposed victory in the June 5 primary election and calls for her to abandon her legislative seat, Youngblood’s arrest has kicked up a political stir.

See contributors to NM’s congressional races by employer and occupation

Curious about who’s supporting candidates for New Mexico’s hotly contested U.S. House races? New Mexico In Depth has compiled the data for you to sift through, or scroll through the numbers here.  

You can also explore the reports on the Federal Election Commission’s website. Here’s how the support for primary candidates in Congressional Districts 2 and 3 breaks down by largest occupational sector. We’ll update these numbers after the next report is filed in advance of the primary election on June 5.

Trujillo says “establishment” going after him; campaign records suggest that’s not the case

State Rep. Carl Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, has raised more money than any other state legislative candidate except for the chamber’s two top lawmakers — a majority coming from big industries, political action committees and professional lobbyists, groups often thought of as “establishment,” a review by New Mexico In Depth shows. Trujillo, a three-term Democrat, is fighting for his political life after a woman working for an animal rights organization on Wednesday accused him of retaliating against her several years ago by stalling legislation after she rejected his sexual advances. Laura Bonar’s allegations came in an open letter released Wednesday, five weeks before the June primary, and a week before early primary voting starts in the race for legislative District 46,which stretches from Santa Fe to Española. Whoever wins June 5 — Trujillo or his primary opponent Andrea Romero — will most likely represent the district in the 2019 Legislature, although it’s possible a write-in or independent candidate could prevail. In two emails sent in response to Bonar’s letter, Trujillo said he barely knew Bonar, and described her as a tool of the establishment who is cynically using the #MeToo movement as a political weapon.

New tools for following the money in New Mexico

It can be tough to figure out how private money influences government as it flows through the political process. Not only are there gaps in required reporting about money and gifts showered on politicians and elected officials, the data that is publicly available is often unwieldy to work with, found in hundreds of individual reports or in spreadsheets that may have both duplicative and missing data. One of our jobs as journalists is to make sense of it all, so that it informs our reporting on the political and governance process. At New Mexico In Depth, we’ve acquired skills and tools that help us crack open large sets of data, and we are able to work with talented data analysts and coders. But we also believe it’s super important for the public to be able to search data, bringing their own knowledge to bear on the issue of how money affects political outcomes.

Biggest industry political givers have clear partisan choices

Attorneys definitely want Michelle Lujan Grisham to be New Mexico’s next governor. They really like Hector Balderas, too. Oil and Gas folks? They prefer Steve Pearce. The two industry groups are the biggest givers to political candidates in this year’s election cycle, accounting for one of every seven dollars given, from statewide offices to county level campaigns, from November 2016 through this week, according to an analysis by NMID.

Compliance with ABQ lobbying rules falls way short

One way to cut through the din of constant political noise during an election is to look at the money flowing through the political system. Laws that require campaign and lobbying reports are meant to help the public learn about groups or people attempting to influence election outcomes through donations, or official decisions by spending money on elected officials once they’re in office. Those laws are only worthwhile, though, when they are followed. Take, for example, Albuquerque’s lobbying ordinance. It looks good on paper.

Sandra Fish wins FOG Dixon Award

We’re so proud of the work our friend and former colleague Sandra Fish did for New Mexico In Depth, including the Openness Project, a special website at opennessproject.com that made it easier for New Mexico voters to follow the money in elections. She was honored for that work by another great organization that works for government transparency here, the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government.