Workers and guards outside an El Paso mobile morgue during the COVID-19 pandemic. Claudia Silva/New Mexico In Depth
It felt surreal pulling into the cemetery next to the University Medical Center of El Paso. Large trailers with doors flung wide open are lined up outside the medical examiner’s office tucked away just down the street. The trailers house rows of shelves holding the overflow of those who have died of COVID-19. As Texas has reached over 1 million cases, the border city of El Paso has become a hot-spot, some calling it the new New York, with one of every 20 to 30 people estimated to be positive.
As the situation has worsened the city’s prisoners have been asked to help handle the dead.
New Mexicans woke up on Wednesday not knowing who their next president would be. We’ll stay tuned to that nailbiter of a race, which appears will be decided in a few key states. New Mexico isn’t one of them. It handily voted for Biden, but that was never in serious doubt. While Americans don’t know who will be president, one thing closer to home became clear after Tuesday night: New Mexico’s state senate will shift to the left, potentially opening a path in the Legislature for long stymied Democratic initiatives. Democrats increased their majority in that chamber by one seat in an election that saw New Mexicans turn out in record numbers — 915,376 cast ballots, shattering the previous total of 833,000 set in 2008. More significant, though, is a shift within the makeup of the parties, with a slate of more progressive Democrats replacing longtime incumbents in both parties. As uncertainty looms over womens’ right to make their own choices regarding abortion, joining the Senate will be Democrats who have pledged to repeal a long-dormant ban on abortion in state law.
In the wake of a “progressive wave” in June’s Democratic primaries that swept out of office a group of powerful incumbent Democrats, the state Senate will look very different come January. The wins could help progressive Democrats advance key initiatives, like tapping the Land Grant permanent fund for early childhood programs or getting rid of a criminal abortion law on the books since the 1960s.
But first, the victorious challengers must win on Tuesday or other closely contested seats largely within the Albuquerque metro area must flip if Democrats want to strengthen their 26-16 advantage in the chamber.
New Mexico In Depth identified 10 Senate districts in which the difference between registered Democratic and Republican voters is below 4,000. We then charted out candidate spending for each race, as well as the level of in-kind contributions for each candidate. The in-kind contributions reflect spending by party leaders on behalf of the candidates, who then included the value of that spending in their own campaign reports. Four of the districts have been in Democratic hands prior to 2020, while six have been held by Republicans.
As is the case every year, the month or so before election day is one of the busiest of the year for both political contributions and spending. Voters begin to tune in, early and absentee voting starts, and candidates make their final pitches to the electorate. Political action committees (PACs) and other groups spend considerable amounts to influence election outcomes. This year, even with a raging pandemic, those dynamics have held. Here are the top 20 groups raising money during the Third General Reporting Period, which covered October 6th – 27th. Political action committees or independent expenditure groups have raised an aggregate sum of $8.3 million since June.
This year’s rematch between Democrat Xochitl Torres Small and Republican Yvette Herrell in New Mexico’s second congressional district is one of the most closely-watched in the nation, generating tensions within the state’s oil and gas industry and tens of millions in outside spending. Roll Call has identified Torres Small as one of the 10 most vulnerable House incumbents up for re-election this year. The respected Cook Political Report rates the race as a tossup.
At this point, candidates and outside groups have spent a combined sum exceeding $30 million. Spending in 2018 approached $14 million, in a year when across the country record spending was recorded. According to Matt Reichbach at the New Mexico Political report, the New Mexico record occurred in the 2006 race for New Mexico’s 1st congressional district seat, at $14.8 million.
It’s late in the evening when I’m able to reach Yasmin Cervantes. She tells me she’s feeling nervous because she’s never done an interview before. We both chuckle. I reassure her that we’re just having a conversation about her experience. She chuckles again and begins to tell me about her day.
As my Dad packed his bag for his next trip, we talked about how coronavirus had affected his work. A truck driver that keeps food on tables, toilet paper in bathrooms, and medicine on shelves, he has a crucial role in an economy battered by the coronavirus.
When the pandemic first hit and panic buying cleared grocery shelves, there was a moment when the value of those who drive through the night to deliver important goods across the country came into national focus. But largely, it’s an unseen role.
My pandemic experience has been vastly different than his as city ordinances advised me to stay home and only go out when necessary. But I’ve been wondering, what is life like when you’re an essential worker who has to be on the road during a pandemic? Dad started folding his shirts as he mentioned one of the most basic challenges for him: eating. So accessible at home, food is nearly impossible to find while on the road.
Dining rooms at restaurants have been closed for a while, which means he can’t order food.
Roslyn K. Pulitzer drew her final breath holding the ungloved hand of Kay Lockridge, her partner of 36 years, on the morning of Thursday, April 30, at the University of New Mexico Hospital’s intensive care unit in Albuquerque.
“Roz knew I was there, although she couldn’t talk because of her breathing apparatus and mask,” Lockridge said. “She winked at me and squeezed my hand.”
Women’s rights activist and photographer Roslyn K. “Roz” Pulitzer holding a T-shirt with text from the proposed Equal Rights Amendment. Pulitzer died of COVID-19 in April 2020. Image: Shelly Moore. Pulitzer was the first Santa Fe resident to die of COVID-19, according to the New Mexico Department of Health.
A coloring book developed to encourage people to return their census forms.A coloring book to encourage Native Americans to fill out the census / Courtesy of New Mexico Native Census Coalition
While 99 percent of homes on the New Mexico side of the Navajo Nation have received their “Update Leave” census packet–a specific form with an identification number that is geo-tagged to the person’s home–four tribes in the state have yet to allow census workers to begin dropping the packets door to door because of COVID-19 concerns.
Jicarilla Apache and the Pueblos of Zia, Pojoaque and Acoma have hired tribal members to drop packets at doors but haven’t started the training necessary to begin the work, Census officials said Tuesday during a media briefing.
The door-to-door packet delivery is designed to target rural and hard-to-reach homes. In August, census workers will begin doing in-person visits to homes that haven’t returned the packets. But how that will work in tribes that have yet to start the drops at the door remains unclear. The deadline to complete the census is October 31.
“They are in lockdown right now, that’s why we are not able to progress,” said Cathy Lacey, the U.S. Census Regional Director in Denver that oversees the operation in New Mexico tribes. “It could be that we’re never able to get on (these particular tribal lands) and do our Update Leave operation and we are in talks right now that we absolutely have to get on in order to do our non response follow up operation.”
Because tribal residents are encouraged to wait until they receive their packet, these communities have some of the lowest census returns in the nation.
Protesters of the police killing of George Floyd organized a protest caravan in Albuquerque, NM, May 28. Credit: Shaun Griswold
This story was published by Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts. New Mexico In Depth is an investigative, nonprofit newsroom that occasionally republishes stories that have particular relevance to New Mexicans. Don’t miss out, sign up to receive our stories soon after they’re published. Every weekday morning, mental health clinician Carleigh Sailon turns on her police radio in downtown Denver and finds out who she can help next.