Couy Griffin is New Mexico’s fly in the ointment

Looking westward and north to Arizona and Colorado, New Mexico should count itself lucky three days after Election Day. Vote counting continues in those states. Here in New Mexico, no major disruptions marred Election Day and the vast majority of contests, including the governor’s race, slipped into history Tuesday night without any drama. Even the state’s marquee federal race, the 2nd Congressional District featuring Democrat Gabe Vasquez and Republican incumbent Yvette Herrell, with its potential national implications, ended quietly with Vasquez winning by 1,300 votes and Herrell conceding defeat. Otero County Sheriff David Black instructs former Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin to leave the room during Thursday’s county commission meeting.

Ivey-Soto spectacle reminds us state lawmakers can’t police themselves

The saga that humbled state senator Daniel Ivey-Soto this week is the kind of political theater that hypnotizes the chattering political class. A mixture of sexual harassment allegations and an unsuccessful coup against Sen. President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, with whom he has clashed, led Ivey-Soto to resign Thursday as chairman of the Senate Rules Committee before his colleagues could remove him. It was a very public drama that generated blaring headlines and gossipy conversations. Beyond all the hot takes and salacious titillation, however, it’s important that we not forget the institutional weakness that got us to this point. Skepticism has always swirled around lawmakers’ claim that they can police themselves.

Is Ronchetti ready for tough questions?

On Sunday, Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Ronchetti made me wonder whether he’s truly ready for the tough questioning that comes with running for public office — questioning that only gets tougher if you win a top political office.His campaign intentionally denied entry to a working journalist, Shaun Griswold of Source New Mexico, from a Carlsbad event in which Florida governor Ron DeSantis appeared for the former TV meteorologist and political newcomer.It’s not a good look for a candidate who aspires to a job that is rightfully an object of great public interest and scrutiny.What does his campaign’s decision suggest about Ronchetti should he become governor and how he might handle journalists who have questions that might be dangerous to his political ambitions? 

Would he blacklist them from briefings?This is a legitimate question. I’ve been blacklisted (which means, not informed of press briefings or given interviews) by both Democratic and Republican governors over the years for writing stories they considered critical. But those governors all waited until after they had won office before doing that to me. 

I’ve never been ejected from an event by a political campaign and I’ve covered gubernatorial campaigns for 20 years. We’re talking about events that help the public decide who they want to elect. They’re key to our democratic system, with the press playing an important role. 

What happened Sunday is disturbing and the public should be concerned.

The toxic legacy of uranium mining in New Mexico

ProPublica, a national news organization, published A Uranium Ghost Town in the Making yesterday, about an important topic many Americans, including New Mexicans, still know little about: the legacy of uranium in our state and the greater Southwest. The story focuses on the residents of the small northwest New Mexico communities of Murray Acres and Broadview Acres, near Grants, who continue to suffer the potential effects of a uranium mill operated by Homestake Mining of California. Those include decades of sickness, including thyroid disease and lung and breast cancer. Homestake processed ore from a nearby mine beginning in the 1950s in an area known as the Grants Mineral Belt, a rich deposit of uranium ore that runs through the northwest corner of New Mexico. Nearly half of the uranium supply used by the United States for nuclear weapons in the Cold War came from the region.

We all need to learn more about boarding schools and their legacy

This week the U.S. Interior Department released a 100-page report on the lasting consequences of the federal Indian boarding school system. You might recall last June Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo, announced the federal agency would investigate the extent of the loss of human life and legacy of the federal Indian boarding school system, a chapter of U.S. history many Americans know little to nothing about. 

This week’s report is the first of possibly many, and it deserves to be read by as many Americans as possible. 

Here are some of the investigation’s top-level findings:

Beginning in the late 1800s, the federal government took Indian children from their families in an effort to strip them of their cultures and language.Between 1819 and 1969, the U.S. operated or supported 408 boarding schools across 37 states (or then-territories), including 21 schools in Alaska and 7 schools in Hawaii. Of those 37 states, New Mexico had the third-greatest concentration of facilities, with 43, trailing only Oklahoma and Arizona.  The schools “deployed systematic militarized and identity-alteration methodologies to attempt to assimilate American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian children through education, including but not limited to the following: (1) renaming Indian children from Indian to English names; (2) cutting hair of Indian children; (3) discouraging or preventing the use of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian languages, religions, and cultural practices; and (4) organizing Indian and Native Hawaiian children into units to perform military drills.The Federal Indian boarding school system focused on manual labor and vocational skills that left American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian graduates with employment options often irrelevant to the industrial U.S. economy, further disrupting Tribal economies. 

Boarding schools in New Mexico got an early start.Two years after the first boarding school, the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, opened in 1879, the Presbyterian Church opened the Albuquerque Indian School (AIS) for Navajo, Pueblo and Apache students. Later, the school transferred to federal control.The Albuquerque Indian School merits several mentions in this week’s report, including five photos as I counted them of young Indigenous girls and boys in class, and of the building itself. 

Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Albuquerque Indian School, 1947-ca. 1964 (most recent
creator). (ca.

Critical race theory is a GOP bogeyman

Last weekend, Derek Matthews, the founder of the Gathering of Nations Pow Wow, asked GOP state lawmaker and GOP gubernatorial hopeful Rebecca Dow to pull a campaign commercial that talked about “critical race theory. Standing on a stage with Dow in front of thousands of Native people who had flocked to the Albuquerque event from all over North America and beyond after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, Matthews’s request hushed the crowd except for a smattering of clapping and whistling. Dow ignored Matthews and welcomed the Gathering of Nations attendees without responding to his request. It was an awkward moment. I want to join Matthews in asking Dow to pull the commercial.

Trump ally Couy Griffin pushes election audit in Otero County. Not all Republicans like it.

Otero County is the latest local front in a war that is dividing Republicans over the 2020 election. The County Commission in southeastern New Mexico has paid for a $50,000 study they call an audit of the county’s election results, provoking headlines after voters complained that volunteers who are going door-to-door quizzing them are asking them who they cast ballots for — a charge one of the organizers has denied. While the county commission has authorized paying for the audit, it’s not an official audit like the ones completed after each election by the Otero County Clerk, the Office of the Secretary of State or an independent firm contracted by the state agency. Leading the effort is a group called New Mexico Audit Force and an ally is Otero County’s most famous commissioner — Republican Couy Griffin, the Cowboys for Trump leader awaiting trial on federal criminal charges of entering and disorderly conduct in a restricted building related to the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Tribal Remedy Framework boosted with funding

With about 24 hours left in this year’s session, Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Albuquerque, was celebrating additional money earmarked in the state budget to help tribes take more control over educating their own children. 

“We’re walking out of the session with $35 million for the tribal remedy framework,” said Lente of the Sandia Pueblo. The tribal remedy framework is a set of goals negotiated and agreed to by the state’s 23 tribes going into this year’s session that would beef up tribal education departments and resources.In recent years tribes have demanded more control over educating their own children and have used the 2018 landmark Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico court ruling to buttress their case. That ruling found New Mexico negligent in providing a sufficient education to at-risk students, which includes Indigenous students.Indigenous students make up about 34,000, or 11% of New Mexico’s K-12 student population and they lag behind their New Mexico peers in reading, math, high school graduation and college enrollment. The Yazzie/Martinez decision suggested those outcomes mostly stem from decades of underspending and neglect by New Mexico, shattering the perception that blame rests on children and their families instead of on a systemic failure.Lente and others had sought more than $40 million in additional money for tribes, but the $35 million is a significant boost over previous years. For example, $15 million of the $35 million in the budget would go toward beefing up tribal education departments and is substantially more than the $5.25 million appropriated for this year, which ends June 30.

Historic revenue boosts public education dollars, but deep challenges remain

Lawmakers will appropriate a record amount of state money in 2022, thanks to unprecedented oil and gas production. Revenue to pay for year-over-year spending, versus one-time costs, in the fiscal year that begins July 1 is projected to go up by 11%, and most of that — 60% — is due to New Mexico’s dominant industry. 

We’ve been here before — entering a legislative session flush with cash with projections that an oil and gas boom will last years. But budget leaders at the Legislature know better, precisely because they’ve experienced first-hand the volatile roller coaster of the oil and gas industry’s notorious boom-bust cycles. 

A graph put together by the Legislative Finance Committee demonstrates the past turbulence aptly. 

Two years ago, in 2020, state lawmakers went on a spending spree due to robust oil and gas  production that economists and industry experts predicted would continue for a decade or more, only to return to Santa Fe a few months later to adjust spending after COVID-19 shut down the global economy. 

It was an extraordinary moment, one that demonstrated the wisdom of caution when betting on long-term strong oil and gas production. 

And, yet, this is where state lawmakers find themselves in January 2022 as oil and gas production has climbed to its pre-COVID peak. 

Despite aspirations to wean itself from over-reliance on fossil fuels, New Mexico continues to reap the benefits of oil and gas production, to the tune of $1.6 billion in new money. That’s the amount of dollars coming in for fiscal year 2023 over the expenses of this fiscal year, which ends June 30. 

The debate over how cautious to be is playing out in talks about the state’s public education. 

As the single-largest item in New Mexico’s state budget, public education commands a central role in every legislative session. 

This year is no different, except perhaps in the size of the windfall New Mexico is experiencing and how much cash Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the Legislature want to give public schools and classroom teachers. 

The Legislature’s budget arm, the Legislative Finance Committee, proposes spending $421 million more — 12% — over this fiscal year. The governor is in the same vicinity. 

Part of the reason for the intense focus is the state’s continuing attempt to right generational education inequities identified in a 2018 landmark court ruling that found New Mexico guilty of violating its responsibility to educate all children equitably. 

That generational inequity has contributed to differing education outcomes for groups of students by race or ethnicity, with fewer non-white students graduating than their White peers and performing poorer in reading and math proficiency. A consensus has emerged in recent years among policy makers that more should be spent to address these inequities.