Flyover Country: Aerial tour of Carlsbad highlights oil and gas moving in on national park

The plane had wheeled back north toward the airport when the Carlsbad Caverns National Park Visitor Center came into view, perched on the tan heaps of a sloping escarpment that offers no clue to the dramatically sculpted caverns beneath. From the air, however, signs of another underground natural resource were plainly visible: well pads pock the horizon. The park overlooks a stretch of desert atop the Permian Basin, and I’m in a tiny, six-seat plane—including the pilot’s—to get a look at how the push for one resource could affect the other. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has proposed to auction mineral leases on 197 parcels in the area in September. Some of those 89,000 acres sit within a mile of the national park boundary, or encroach on Guadalupe Mountains National Park across the Texas state line.

Special interests still flock to incumbents in heated House primary races

Incumbents in four state House races that will likely be decided in next week’s primary show significant special interest support in Thursday’s final campaign reports, which reflect their contributions for most of May. If money tells anything about a political race, the reports also show two of the incumbents are being given a solid run for their seats. And while a third has an outsized bank account, her challenger has scooped up a lot more cash from individuals. New Mexico In Depth previously looked at the financial advantage incumbents have due to special interest support in the four Democratic state house races:

District 41: State Rep. Debbie Rodella versus Susan Herrera
District 46: State Rep. Carl Trujillo versus Andrea Romero
District 13: State Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero versus Robert Atencio
District 34: State Rep. Bealquin Gomez versus Raymundo Lara

The reports filed Thursday capture most contributions in May, in the wake of explosive sexual harassment allegations against Trujillo and an increasingly negative campaign waged by Rodella. Meanwhile, oil and gas interests on one side and progressive groups on the other stirred themselves in what had been a relatively quiet Albuquerque race in Roybal Caballero’s district.

Lessons governor candidates can take from education reform

When Gov. Susana Martinez was sworn into office nearly eight years ago, she had this to say about educating children in New Mexico: “Nothing we do is more indispensable to our future well-being or will receive more attention from my administration than guaranteeing our children a quality education.” New Mexico had received an “F” for K-12 achievement on a national education grading report. Fast forward eight years. As she winds down the final year of her second term, New Mexico earned a “D-” for K-12 achievement from Education Week’s Quality Counts report — and our overall grade actually sunk from a C to a D, dropping from 32nd to 50th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. There’s more to learn about that progress — or lack thereof — in trying to improve education in New Mexico, other than “it’s hard.” Turning around a system as large as public education is like turning an aircraft carrier.

Democratic candidates say they’d nominate the anti-Skandera if elected governor

The three Democratic candidates for governor met in a forum in Las Cruces this week to showcase their plans to change the direction of New Mexico, which has suffered what some economists have called a lost decade after the Great Recession — a period when New Mexico lost more than 50,000 jobs, wages stagnated and more families ended up on public assistance. The evening at the Rio Grande Theatre before a nearly full house was at times testy, with former media executive Jeff Apodaca taking a potshot at frontrunner Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham for skipping previous forums with her opponents in his opener, and lawyer and state Sen. Joe Cervantes calling out Apodaca on his lack of understanding about New Mexico’s water woes in the face of Texas vs. New Mexico and Colorado. But on the whole, the format kept crosstalk at a minimum, with no rebuttals allowed and candidates unable to directly question one another. The three Democratic hopefuls took on a wide array of topics, from legalizing marijuana (Apodaca: legalize, Lujan Grisham: legalize with safeguards, Cervantes: decriminalize), the behavioral health meltdown in the state, the state’s messy tax code, renewable energy plans, and education.

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.

NMID wins big in regional journalism contest

New Mexico In Depth notched two wins competing against the largest newspapers, radio and TV stations in the four-state region of New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Utah. The awards, part of the annual Society of Professional Journalists’ Top of the Rockies contest, were announced last week at the Denver Press Club.  

NMID’s Deputy Director Marjorie Childress won first place in the political enterprise reporting category for newspapers whose circulation tops 75,000 and large-market radio and TV stations. Her September 2017 story Realtors and developers give big money to ABQ mayoral candidates took the prize. Using data analysis, Childress examined campaign finance data and then did additional reporting to conclude the real estate and land development sector had given roughly $1 of every $4 raised in the Albuquerque mayoral race as election day neared.

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.