The New Mexico State Ethics Commission announced on Friday that PNM Resources, Inc, the state’s largest electric utility, was the sole funder of a dark money group called the “Council for a Competitive New Mexico,” giving the group almost half a million dollars. The nonprofit entity, founded in March 2020, spent over $130,000 on mailers and robo-calls in five state senate Democratic primary races last spring after receiving $470,000 from the utility, seeking to boost powerful incumbents while attacking their opponents. The disclosure by the Council for a Competitive New Mexico (CCNM) that PNM Resources had bankrolled its campaign sheds light on the increasingly active role the utility is playing in New Mexico politics.In 2018, the company intervened in two Public Regulation Commission (PRC) races, spending $440,000 to try to influence the outcome of those contests. The PRC is the state’s main regulatory agency for public utilities. In August, a separate dark money group called the “Committee to Protect New Mexico Consumers” spent over $260,000 advocating for a complete overhaul of the PRC, leading some to suspect that PNM helped fund that campaign as well.
The Luna County Detention Center holds 590 inmates at maximum capacity. As of Wednesday morning, just over 200 people were locked inside the jail in Deming, about 30 miles north of the Mexican border. Shauna Smith, a 43-year-old mother who has been incarcerated there since October, said the inmate population has been steadily thinning since the coronavirus pandemic began sweeping across New Mexico in early March. The county of roughly 24,000 people has seen just 347 tests for COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus, with three positive results as of Wednesday, according to the state Health Department. Like so many other jails and prisons around the state, few of those tests were performed at the Luna County Detention Center — four inmates and three staff members, all of whom were negative.
New Mexico In Depth welcomes reporter Shaun Griswold to our team beginning next week. Shaun is Pueblo from Laguna, Jemez and Zuni, and grew up in Albuquerque and Gallup.
He brings a decade of print and broadcast news experience to our team. He’s covered Rocky Mountain fire seasons, local police reform, and, as he is sure to note, the Denver Broncos and Kendrick Lamar.
We’re thrilled by the opportunity to work with Shaun, thanks to Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities through its reporting corps. Report for America is an initiative of the nonprofit news organization, The GroundTruth Project. He joins 225 reporters placed by the program in 162 newsrooms around the country, from a pool of more than 1,800 applicants.
For New Mexico In Depth, Shaun will focus on issues important to urban Indigenous people in Albuquerque, as well as tribal communities throughout New Mexico, including education, child welfare, and more.
“I’m excited to join the ranks of Indigenous journalists at Indian Country Today, Navajo Times, High Country News and every publication focused on expanding news for thriving Indigenous communities that demand coverage,” he says about this opportunity.
Native Americans compose 11% of the New Mexico state population, and Albuquerque is home to one of the largest communities of urban Indian people in the country.
New Mexico’s COVID-19 cases increased to 191 today, 17 people are hospitalized, one person has died. And now, the governor wants the U.S. Department of Defense to set up a staffed 248-bed combat hospital in Albuquerque.
Lujan Grisham wrote it’s “urgently needed” in a letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper because COVID-19 might overwhelm New Mexico’s medical facilities. That’s where New Mexico stands at the moment, and the combination of those stats, not to mention all the data and modeling that’s swirling around the internet, might make you anxious.
Many turn to data to help them understand the world. But the big problem with data about COVID-19 is the gaps. There are many.
Doña Ana county’s positive COVID-19 cases have jumped into the double digits — now at 13 — the third largest total after Santa Fe and Bernalillo counties. Las Cruces, the largest metropolitan area in Doña Ana county and southern New Mexico, has yet to declare a public emergency, however. That may change soon.
The city council is scheduled to hold a special meeting tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. to amend the Las Cruces Municipal Code to include a new article giving the mayor additional powers during an emergency. Mayor Ken Miyagishima said without that action, he’s hindered from taking emergency action.
“According to our city attorney, it’s not as clear or as concise as it should be to allow me to [take emergency action],” Miyagishima said in an interview.
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller declared a local state of emergency on March 18, when New Mexico was reporting 28 cases statewide. But Keller needed the city council to approve new powers for the mayor.
If passed tomorrow, the ordinance will allow Miyagshima to move forward with emergency actions without getting votes from the city council.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez sat at a desk with Chlorox handwipes as he announced through an online broadcast that the Navajo Nation was closed to outside visitors now that two Navajo people have tested positive in the Kayenta, AZ area.
There won’t be barricaded roads, but tourist areas are closed and he asked everyone to respect the sovereignty of the Navajo Nation by not visiting during what he called an unprecedented situation. “The best thing to do is stay at home,” he said.
In making the case for travelers to not come to the Navajo Nation, he noted that the first cases that emerged in New Mexico were from people who had traveled outside the state, bringing the “bug” home. He explained “bug,” saying was the best translation of virus in the Navajo language.
Nez emphasized rapidly changing conditions, noting that recommendations from the federal government first limited gatherings to under 100, but have lowered now to groups of 10. He urged people to pay attention and to follow the advice of leaders.
“We’re not closing down churches or ceremonies, but these are recommendations, just like we’re doing now, keeping 6 feet between us, rotating in and out of this room,” he said about how he and his colleagues were operating the press conference.
The two people who tested positive are in stable condition at hospitals in Phoenix. They are from Chilchinbeto, AZ, which is in Navajo County.
Dr. Loretta Christensen, chief medical officer for the Navajo area Indian Health Service, said extensive contact tracing is happening in Chilchinbeto to identify anyone who might have been exposed to the virus through contact with the people who tested positive so they can get tested.
In total, she said there have been over 100 people tested in Navajo area IHS facilities and they have results from about 20% of those.
In Albuquerque’s poorest neighborhoods where few grocers offer healthy produce, a cornucopia of subsidized fruits and vegetables for hundreds of families. In San Juan County, where more than one in 10 residents is diabetic, personalized classes to help participants reduce their risk of developing the disease by incorporating physical activity and healthy eating into their daily lives. And in Santa Fe County, where dozens of people die each year of drug overdoses, a facility where anyone with a substance abuse disorder can walk in to get sober, and then hopefully move on to treatment and recovery. What connects these otherwise disparate public health initiatives, and others around the state, is that they are supported, in part, by millions of dollars from the state’s nonprofit hospitals. It’s not simple generosity that motivates the largesse.
Albuquerque is home to one of the largest urban Native populations in the country. And yet you rarely see sustained, quality journalism about this community.That changes next year.Starting in June of 2020, New Mexico In Depth will embark on a reporting project that centers Albuquerque’s Native American population thanks to Report for America, a national program that pairs host newsrooms with ambitious reporters. NMID has been selected as one of RFA’s host newsrooms in 2020-2021. NMID proposed to cover a population that intersects with many of the complex challenges confronting New Mexico. There is much reporting to do – about resilience, about creativity, about a continuing effort to empower younger generations through culture and language retention. And, yes, about the thorny problems that disproportionately affect Native communities. New Mexico’s underserved populations deserve quality news coverage. This grant pays in part for a new reporter for this worthy project, about half of his or her salary and benefits. NMID must raise the balance.So here’s where you come in. We’re asking you to help us financially.
Creating New Mexico In Depth was an act of resistance. To a smaller local press corps. To politicians deciding what the story is. To the powerful defining the rules. And most importantly, to making sure the voices of people most affected by social issues are heard.
New Mexico lawmakers this week looked at a report that shows how much money escapes government collections due to tax breaks approved over the years. As lawmakers and the governor continue to examine how to reform New Mexico’s tax code, it’s timely.
Called a tax expenditure budget, the report details more than a hundred tax deductions, credits and exemptions, how long each has been on the books, why they were enacted, and whether they achieve their desired result. (Need a primer on what a tax expenditure budget is? See our special report in 2016).
While the report is the size of a small book and would take more than an afternoon to read, lawmakers complained it didn’t have enough information, per Dan McKay at the ABQ Journal.
And they’d have a point. There’s no data for some of the listings, and much of the report has limited usefulness for evaluation purposes. Many items have brief evaluation paragraphs with little information, or in some cases, simply the word “none.”
More information about how government policy is made and whether it’s meeting intended goals is always better than less.
Not only is this tax expenditure report incomplete, however, the data it contains isn’t as accessible to the public as it could be.
For example, if you go to the National Conference of State Legislatures website, you’ll find a nifty tool: a searchable database of tax breaks for every state.
More than a thousand New Mexicans in Albuquerque and Las Cruces protested inaction by the nation’s leaders on climate change Friday, joining in a day of action that swept through cities across the globe.
In Albuquerque roughly 1,500 climate protesters, young and old and from various backgrounds, began in Robinson Park at Central Avenue and Eighth Street where speakers motivated the crowd to fight for change and to demand no more delays. Protestors in Albuquerque turned out with signs and demands for the nation’s leaders to act on climate change Friday / Bianca Hoops for New Mexico In Depth
A sense of determinism rippled across the crowd as people urged the speakers on, including the city’s mayor, Tim Keller.
“For the first time in decades our city has to issue ozone warnings again,” Keller said in a raspy voice to a rapt crowd. “We have to tell children not to go to soccer practices because the ozone levels are too high if you have asthma. I am not making this up. It is because of climate change.