Independent, Transparent Redistricting Process among Common Cause Priorities for 2018 Session

The 2020 census may seem far away to most citizens, but partisans around the country are sharpening their pencils in preparation for the redistricting process that occurs every 10 years, based on a new census. In New Mexico, a special session will be held in 2021 and legislators will draw new legislative and congressional districts. What they come up with could give Democrats, Republicans or incumbents an edge for the next 10 years and determine funding priorities and state and federal law. Common Cause believes that this process should be done by an independent, nonpartisan commission, as it is in six other states. We will be prioritizing a constitutional amendment to authorize such a system and establish more neutral, transparent criteria, including public hearings.

Strengthen public access to government information

When I walked into the state capitol for the opening session of the New Mexico Legislature a year ago I didn’t need to stop and get a press pass. A month earlier, when the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government hired me as its new executive director, I told newsroom col-leagues I’d just won the job lottery. After working as a journalist on and off for decades, I boxed up reporter notebooks and the press passes I’d hoarded since my first assignment in 1977 and headed to the Roundhouse to defend New Mexicans’ right to know and to advocate for stronger Sunshine laws. For the first time in my professional career, I felt like I’d been dealt a winning hand. In fact, the deck was stacked in the public’s favor in 1978 when state legislators recognized each of us is entitled to almost all the “information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of public officers and employees.”

New Mexico’s information jack-pot 40 years later is still essential.

Talking early education with southern NM lawmakers

At its most idealistic, New Mexico’s citizen legislature system draws people with expertise and passion for their fields who serve so that they can make a difference for the state and for their constituents. That’s why I’m excited to talk with state Sen. Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces, and Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences, about early childhood education in New Mexico. It’s the kick-off of New Mexico in Depth’s Coffee Chats series in 2018 that will explore important issues with informal talks at venues across the state. The event will be at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Beck’s Coffee House in Las Cruces. And we’ll be broadcasting the talk live on our Facebook page.

NMID’s best 2017 stories: Criminal Justice, Child Welfare, Good Government

New Mexico in Depth highlighted the work of our fellows earlier this week, but there was a lot more going on in 2017. Here are just a few highlights. Criminal Justice:

Feds’ sting ensnared many ABQ blacks, not ‘worst of the worst’. After a 2016 drug sting, agents from the federal bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF) announced they had arrested over 100 of the ‘worst of the worst’ offenders in ABQ. Our story about one of those defendants, Yusef Casanova, explored that claim and found the sting captured a disproportionate number of black people and the ‘worst of the worst’ label is problematic.

Cleveland High School report card

Report praises NM’s school report cards as easy to access, read

I began looking for Cleveland High School’s report card with the simple Google search “New Mexico school report cards.” The first listing was School Grading – New Mexico Public Education Department. I followed the link straight to PED’s school grading portal. It was easy enough from there to get to the Rio Rancho school district and the high school. Clicking on the map marker (labeled with an A), I was able to bring up a link to Cleveland’s report card. Yep, it’s an A-grade school.

Keller sweeps high dollar race to be ABQ’s next mayor

State Auditor Tim Keller landed strong in his bid to be Albuquerque’s next mayor, sweeping up just under 62 percent of the vote last night in an election with large turnout for Albuquerque — 29 percent. Keller ran a largely positive campaign, emphasizing along the way grassroots support for his campaign. The only candidate in the race who went for public financing, he raised 6,000 small donations of $5 early in the year to qualify for public funding. He noted in his victory speech the positive nature of his campaign, saying he had “rejected division.”

His positive campaign overcame negative ads charging he was soft on sex offenders and numerous ethics complaints filed by his political opponents. As a publicly financed candidate he was in the middle of the pack financially, in what was the most expensive mayoral race in Albuquerque, ever.

Report looks at Higher Ed costs in New Mexico

Sometimes it can seem like the state’s high poverty rate and lack of good-paying jobs conspire against New Mexicans. The thought crossed my mind as I began reading a 70-some-odd page report made public this week by the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee. The document, which was made available during a legislative hearing in Santa Fe, examines the cost of New Mexico’s two-dozen non-tribal colleges and universities and there’s some eye-popping information sprinkled throughout. In particular, this paragraph caught my eye:
Students at Central New Mexico Community College and New Mexico Junior College had loan default rates near or above 30 percent for at least two consecutive cohort years. Should these two institutions fail to keep their default rates below 30 percent, nearly 15 thousand students at the institutions risk losing access to approximately $37.3 million in federal financial aid. I began wading through the report after reading an Albuquerque Journal story that hit some of the report’s highlights.

FOG class helps you request (or provide) public info like a pro

Gaining access to public information can often be a contentious process for journalists or other members of the public, even when government employees charged with providing access have the best intentions. A daylong class next week offered by the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (NM FOG) aims to help those seeking and providing public information better understand laws and recent court opinions concerning access to public information. And for attorneys, the class provides required continuing legal education credits. “The continuing legal education class the foundation offers is a great resource for records custodians and attorneys who have an obligation under the law to provide public information,” said NM FOG Executive Director Peter St. Cyr.