Q&A: Cervantes touts relationships, understanding of state to improve kids lives in NM

New Mexico In Depth is speaking with the candidates for New Mexico governor on the issues of early childhood, child wellbeing and education in New Mexico. State Sen. Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces is one of three candidates seeking the Democratic nomination. He is a lawyer and small business owner in southern New Mexico. This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. Sylvia Ulloa: What would early childhood education in New Mexico look like in a Cervantes administration?

Emails show prosecutors misled public about plea deal with former Martinez Cabinet secretary

Assistant District Attorney Joshua Boone wanted to reassure his boss. A political blogger was raising questions in early February about why the DA’s office had agreed to plead Ryan Flynn’s aggravated DWI charge, leveled after a May 20, 2017, traffic stop, down to careless driving. Flynn, one of the state’s most influential power brokers, was Gov. Susana Martinez’s former Environment Department secretary, and now heads up the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association. In a Feb. 8 email, Boone told Bernalillo County DA Raúl Torrez he believed the case against Flynn could clear an initial legal hurdle.

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.

NM In Depth wins 10 awards from Press Women’s Association

The work of New Mexico In Depth reporters, editors and Fellows has been recognized with 10 awards from the New Mexico Press Women’s Association, including stories that have explored the real-life consequences for DACA recipients of the Trump administration’s policies and whether young people are leaving the state because of a lack of opportunities. Also garnering awards were articles examining the effect of money in the Albuquerque mayor’s race and a look at the city’s urban Indian population three years after two homeless Native Americans were killed in a vicious attack. “We’re extraordinarily proud of our showing,” said NMID Executive Director Trip Jennings, citing in particular the honors three of NMID’s Fellows — Xchelzin Peña, Melorie Begay and Robert Salas — won in the contest. All three are the first recipients of NMID’s Fellowships. NMID started the program in 2016 for journalism students and recent graduates of color at the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University.

It’s a steep hill to climb for women running for state office

Kim Olson, the Democratic candidate for Texas agriculture commissioner, has been driving across the Lone Star State for the past year, spreading the message about the importance of farming and handing out wildflower seeds. “Some candidates have push cards or business cards, I don’t have any of that. I just have my seed packet and it has all my information printed on it,” said Olson, a farmer, Iraqi war veteran and retired Air Force colonel from the small city of Mineral Wells about 80 miles west of Dallas. “They are Texas native wildflowers, because I’m a beekeeper and my tag line is ‘Wild for agriculture.’”

This article is reprinted with permission from the Center for Public Integrity.Olson, 60, is part of a women’s movement that in the past year has harnessed the power of female protesters angered by the 2016 presidential election and transformed it into political ambition up and down ballots nationwide. Already nearly 500 women have shown interest in running for Congress in this year’s midterm elections, twice as many as compared with the same time in 2016, according to the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University.

Countless archaeological sites at risk in Trump oil and gas auction

SAN JUAN COUNTY, Utah – A steep rock ledge, known locally as Ruin Point, stands sentinel over public lands rich with Native American antiquities preserved from the sands of time. More than 700 years ago, ancestral Puebloans incised images of mountain sheep into sandstone faces now visible from dusty roads carved into canyons. Pieces of red and black-on-white pottery are scattered about snowy mesas, along with ancient corncobs and stone tools. Cliff houses wedged into crevices hide in plain sight, the blocks and mortar used to craft them blending seamlessly into steep stone walls. Now, the 13,000-year-old historical record of Native Americans who inhabited the outskirts of two national monuments near the Colorado-Utah border is facing an unprecedented threat.

New institute aims to strengthen Native influence

A newly formed institute hopes that by synthesizing indigenous wisdom with hard-won knowledge of how American institutions work it can become a powerful advocate and resource for New Mexico’s Native American population. The Native American Budget and Policy Institute, formed in late February at the Tamaya resort on the Santa Ana Pueblo, aims to create a dynamic dialogue drawing from both traditions. Using a network of academics, policy makers and tribal elders, the Institute wants to strengthen the influence of Native Americans in policy making at the local, state and potentially federal levels. The goal is to “create the kind of balance” that allows native peoples to “become architects of policy, the architects of laws where they are necessary” — all toward improving the lives of Native American children and their communities, said Regis Pecos, a former governor of Cochiti Pueblo and one of the Institute’s founders. The Institute’s 11-member governing council seems to embody that vision.

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?