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.

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.

New Mexico House Rep. urges federal statute to protect state cannabis laws

With New Mexico’s 30-day 2018 legislative session moving quickly along, it’s unlikely legislation related to cannabis will get much traction. Mainly because the short session is crammed full of budget related items. Nonetheless, one state representative – Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park – has introduced a House Memorial that makes a statement about recent federal actions related to cannabis. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions “reinstated a policy of imprisoning medicinal cannabis users,” McCamley’s House Memorial 5 states. The memorial calls for the legislature to make a formal request of New Mexico’s congressional delegation to create legislation that protects New Mexico medicinal cannabis users from federal prosecution. “We in the legislature should advocate as strongly as possible that our federal representatives uphold our laws to protect our medicinal patients and move in to the 21st century,” McCamley said.

Education committees hear budget proposals, including potential teacher pay raise

There is only a $400,000 difference between what the governor’s office and the Legislature’s budget arm are requesting for the main category of public school funding (that’s the State Equalization Guarantee, or SEG funding, for you education wonks), but there are some interesting departures in the details. 

If you are a teacher, you are going to be really interested in those differences. Education Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski and analysts from the Legislative Finance Committee and the Public Education Department came before a joint meeting of the Senate and House Education committees on Friday to detail their budget proposals for fiscal 2019. For teachers just starting out or who just reached a new teacher level, there could be a $2,000 salary bump in your future if the LFC gets its way, plus a 1.5 percent cost of living salary increase. If the PED plan prevails in negotiations, all teachers will receive a 2 percent across the board salary increase, with other school personnel receiving a 1 percent cost of living increase. Then, exemplary teachers would be up for a one-time $5,000 bonus and exemplary high school math or science teachers would be eligible for up to $10,000.

NM legislators should protect working families

It’s been a rough few years for New Mexico’s working families. A stagnant economy has meant high unemployment, low wages and cuts to key programs that help families survive. But it appears the state’s economy and revenue picture
have begun to recover. With the current revenue outlook it is time the Legislature made New Mexico’s children and families whole. Those least able to absorb tax increases or cuts to basic services like health care should be protect-ed and prioritized in the 2018 tax and budget decisions being made.