Democracy Dollars proposal squashed by Bernco commissioners

The Bernalillo County Commission voted last night not to put a public financing proposal on the November ballot. The vote was 3-2 with Democrat Steven Quezada and Republicans Lonnie Talbert and Jim Smith voting against the measure. Almost 28,000 Albuquerque voters signed petitions to put the measure on the ballot, to fix a city public financing statute that was hobbled by a U.S. Supreme Court decision back in 2011. Quezada told the Albuquerque Journal he had too many questions about the proposal, and asked, “…why am I making a decision that the city councilors aren’t doing?” Talbert was more blunt, according to the NM Political Report.

Lujan Grisham wouldn’t appeal education lawsuit

School funding lawsuits are usually long legal slogs, but New Mexico’s timeline could be shortened by years. Late this morning, Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham was the first candidate for governor to say she would not continue a legal battle over whether the state is meeting its financial obligations to adequately educate children. And she called on current Gov.  Susana Martinez to not appeal a landmark judicial decision against the state last week. “For too long, our education system has failed our children, educators, families and communities, drastically undermining our economy and our public safety while straining our overburdened social services. Today, I am calling on Governor Martinez to publicly commit to not appealing the landmark education lawsuit decision,” said Michelle Lujan Grisham.

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.

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.

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.