Lobbying influence game largely in the dark

A reporter sits at her desk looking at a spreadsheet. The rows and columns show the spending lobbyists reported to the Secretary of State’s Office for the first five months of 2019, which includes the 60-day legislative session.  She wants to tell a story about what that spending bought. But there’s only so much to glean, because so much isn’t reported. That was me the other day.

Police Watchdog raises concerns over State Police ‘Surge’ in ABQ

A member of Albuquerque’s official police watchdog group is questioning the tactics and results of the recent “Metro Surge Operation,” in which 50 New Mexico State Police officers flooded the city ostensibly to help fight violent crime. “This is the perfect atmosphere, the perfect storm for civil rights violations, and it completely undermines the serious energy people have invested in police reform in Albuquerque,” Chelsea Van Deventer of the Albuquerque Police Oversight Board told New Mexico In Depth earlier this week. Homicides and non-fatal shootings have gone up in Albuquerque in recent months, including the high-profile murder of a University of New Mexico baseball player outside a Nob Hill bar last month. In response, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Mayor Tim Keller, both Democrats, agreed on the “surge,” with Keller’s office saying publicly the operation would focus on “targeting violent crime in Albuquerque.”

The results, according to a KOAT-TV story, have not matched the stated goal. The station reported 452 arrests by State Police during the operation; 300 people were arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor crimes.

After initial bump, CYFD proposes tighter eligibility for child care help

When NM In Depth reported on a settlement earlier this month in a lawsuit against the Children Youth and Families Department over its policies on child care assistance, a big money question was left hanging. CYFD agreed to temporarily bump initial eligibility for child care subsidies to families earning up to 200% of the federal poverty level, from 150%, but the department would need supplementary funding if it was going to keep it at that level. Part of the settlement with OLÉ and the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty also said the department needed to come up with new eligibility rules within 90 days, and give the public a chance to weigh in. This week the department posted those proposed changes — taking eligibility to apply for assistance to just 160% of the federal poverty level. Those who already have the benefit would continue to keep it until they reach 200% of FPL.

Judge sees progress in state efforts on Medicaid, SNAP

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Gonzales laid out the stakes in a long-simmering lawsuit over the Human Services Department’s record of denying food stamp and Medicaid benefits to eligible New Mexicans during a status hearing Thursday at the federal courthouse in Las Cruces. U.S. District Judge Kenneth Gonzales

He’d visited the HSD office on Utah Street in Las Cruces where he had looked over cases with a front-line worker there. One client was a single mom with two kids under 6. She’d lost SNAP benefits because she had not submitted documents that apparently were already in the system. Then her family lost Medicaid benefits, even though they weren’t up for renewal, because of the decision on food stamps — something that violates federal rules.

NMID wins top honors in regional, state journalism contests

New Mexico In Depth collected six awards – two first-place and four second-place – in a regional journalism contest that pit it against the largest newspapers, radio and TV stations in New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Utah. The honors, part of the annual Society of Professional Journalists’ Top of the Rockies contest, were announced last week at the Denver Press Club.  

NMID took first place in the legal enterprise and education enterprise reporting categories, according to SPJ. In the former, Jeff Proctor and Justin Howarth won for a three-story collaboration between NMID and the Santa Fe Reporter, Santa Fe’s alternative weekly newspaper, beating out the Salt Lake City Deseret News newspaper and Westword, an independent news outlet in Denver, for top honors. The series examined how an influential New Mexico powerbroker might have escaped a drunken driving charge in Albuquerque and disclosed that prosecutors had misled the public about a plea deal with the former Cabinet secretary in Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration.

Long legal road ends in conviction for ABQ black man swept up in federal sting

Three deputy U.S. Marshals helped Yusef Casanova change out of his dark-colored suit, striped tie and white dress shirt and fitted him with a set of handcuffs after his long legal fight ended Thursday afternoon in an Albuquerque courtroom. Hours earlier, a jury of nine women and three men had convicted the 46-year-old after a four-day trial. The jurors deliberated for less than two hours before finding Casanova guilty of distributing more than five grams of methamphetamine, illegal possession of a firearm by a felon and failure to register a sawed-off shotgun in a national database. Casanova will face 10 years or more in federal prison when Senior U.S. District Judge James Parker sentences him in about three months. Casanova plans to appeal the conviction.

NM Corrections Dept. gets interim secretary; search for permanent boss continues

A cabinet secretary for the New Mexico Department of Corrections remains one of the few holes in Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s leadership team as she approaches the end of her fourth month in office. Alisha Tafoya Lucero was named interim Corrections secretary on April 9. The first-term Democrat thought she’d filled the post in late January when she named Julie Jones, former boss of the Florida prison system. But Jones backed out in late February, citing “unexpected personal issues in my life that prevent me from being able to move to New Mexico.”

Jones would have succeeded David Jablonski, who served as Corrections secretary from November 2016 through Dec. 31, 2018, former Gov. Susana Martinez’ last day in office.

NMID’s Trip Jennings receives NM First award for excellence

NMID Executive Director Trip Jennings

New Mexico In Depth Executive Director Trip Jennings has received the Spirit of Journalistic Excellence award from the nonpartisan, statewide public-policy organization New Mexico First, an organization known for convening town halls around the state to build consensus on pressing public issues. “New Mexico First is proud to recognize lawmakers, journalists and community leaders who put the people of New Mexico first and work to find good solutions to the challenges we face,” said former state senator Cynthia Nava, selection committee chair, in a news release. “This award shines the spotlight on hard-working role models who put good policy or fair coverage above partisan politics.”

“I’m humbled by the award,” Jennings said, “which is both an honor and a reminder of the necessity of journalism that is both vigorous and thoughtful, and that grounds public debates in people’s lives and the communities they live in rather than the fickle winds of partisan politics.”

Trip started his career in Georgia at his hometown newspaper, The Augusta Chronicle. Since then he’s worked at newspapers in California, Florida and Connecticut. Trip moved to New Mexico in 2005 and has worked for the Albuquerque Journal, The New Mexico Independent and the Santa Fe New Mexican covering everything from political corruption and how political decisions are made to the challenges confronted by those without political power when they seek change.