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 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.

Martinez strikes $5M payback to school districts

New Mexico school districts that had hoped to put a little more cushion in their budgets managed to persuade a sympathetic Legislature, but couldn’t get it past the governor’s veto pen. When she signed the 2018-2019 budget on March 7, Gov. Susana Martinez struck a line through $5 million state lawmakers had set aside to repay some school districts  whose cash accounts had been swept by $40. 3 million to help fill a large budget gap in 2017. Martinez had called the cash accounts of school districts “slush funds.” State superintendents — who drove to the capital en masse during the session to lobby lawmakers for repayment — call them reserve accounts that are used to make large payments like annual insurance, as well as extras like giving teachers stipends to take students to science camp. School leaders said during testimony in Santa Fe that taking the cash out of their accounts had hurt their ability to deal with unexpected expenses.

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.

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.

Annual lobbying ritual during session tops $200,000

Lobbyists and their employers reported spending of $207,215 during the just-concluded legislative session. That’s just a slice of the total spending to influence legislation, as amounts spent under $500 won’t be filed until May. Many of the expenditures were on events or gifts that are almost rituals at this point, annual occasions where lawmakers are wined, dined, and feted. New Mexico In Depth found that 84 percent of the spending was made by companies and organizations that spent similar amounts on similar events or gifts in 2017. A few examples:

The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association (NMOGA) spent almost $28,000 for legislators at the Casa Espana Hotel in Santa Fe.

Legislative leader says dummy bills from now on are emergency bills

SANTA FE—State lawmakers on Thursday employed a rare procedural move to revive legislation that, it turns out, was only playing possum. Thursday’s action demonstrated why you can never say a bill is dead and how swiftly state lawmakers can pass a bill when they want. State lawmakers often speak of the sacredness of the legislative committee process, a check to rash decisions. However, “dummy” bills can be used as a workaround to that process, which is what happened Thursday. “Dummy” bills, which New Mexico In Depth wrote about Thursday morning — are quirks of the Legislature.

Dummy bills obscure how Legislature works

Lawmakers sometimes use “dummy” bills at the end of each legislative session to resurrect dead bills, to push through eleventh-hour measures or to respond to emergencies. But even veteran observers of New Mexico’s legislative process can find that “dummy” bills obscure an already opaque process. “Dummy” bills are usually—but not always—vehicles state lawmakers use after the deadline passes for introducing new legislation. Some legislators have expressed an interest in challenging the “dummy” bill process in the interest of shining more light on the legislative process. In an effort to pull back the curtain, New Mexico In Depth examined 116 dummy bills by searching for legislation titled “PUBLIC PEACE, HEALTH, SAFETY & WELFARE,” a dead giveaway of a generic —“dummy” bill.