New Mexico Early Childhood Trust Fund flush with new revenue

New Mexicans who care about child well being and the state’s newest agency — the Early Childhood Development and Care Department — woke up to good news Friday morning.As you might remember, the agency launched a year ago with a trust fund valued at more than $300 million to help pay its way. Expectations were for the fund to grow to $1 billion over 10 years, if lucky. (The agency won’t directly tap into the fund to pay for expenses. Instead, the interest earned by the trust fund will help to finance the department’s spending.) So much for the low-ball projection. Word came Friday morning that the Early Childhood Trust Fund, as it’s known, is about to double, to nearly $650 million, thanks to booming tax collections and a strong recovery in the oil and gas markets following the COVID-provoked collapse of 2020. Nearly $335 million in excess cash — basically, surplus dollars from what the state took in over what it spent during the state fiscal year that ended June 30th — will flow to the trust fund.

Herrell must stop the anti-vaccine rhetoric; it’s not the time for politics

Republican 2nd District Congresswoman Yvette Herrell made news earlier this week for signing on to co-sponsor legislation that would withhold federal dollars from schools and universities that mandate COVID vaccinations before students, teachers, staff faculty can attend.  

Don’t fret. The bill will not become law. Filed by Republican Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, it has attracted 10 co-sponsors, all GOP lawmakers in a U.S. House controlled by Democrats. It’s “message” legislation that positions Herrell in the escalating cultural war over COVID. 

But it’s a dangerous time to play politics. The more contagious Delta variant is sweeping the nation as schools and colleges and universities are preparing to return for the fall term.

Democrat Manny Gonzales wants to be mayor. Republicans run his campaign.

Eight years ago, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, a Republican, cruised to re-election with almost 70% of the vote. Yet this year, with just three weeks left for a candidate to produce the 3,000 petition signatures necessary to get on the ballot, it seems likely there won’t be a registered Republican running for the job for the first time since 1974, when the city established its current system of government. But that doesn’t mean prominent Republicans don’t have a candidate to promote. Jay McCleskey—a formidable GOP strategist—is working for Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales, a Democrat aiming to unseat Mayor Tim Keller. 

McCleskey shepherded both campaigns of former Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and served as her chief strategist. He won the Albuquerque mayoral seat for Berry, twice.

Redistricting: Advocates want prisoners counted where they’re from, not incarcerated

Every ten years, the U.S. Census Bureau counts the population to determine how places have grown or shrunk, how people have moved, and how the composition of communities have changed.  

The consequences are large. New political districts from the local to the national level are formed based on the census figures. Some states pick up new congressional districts. Some communities gain or lose representation in their statehouses. The head count also determines how much money a community might receive from a range of government programs. 

Some say one practice of the census — counting prisoners as residents of the places they are incarcerated — results in an unfair transfer of political power away from those prisoners’ home communities.

New Mexico In Depth wins big in regional contest

Image source: Shaun Griswold, reporter, New Mexico In Depth. New Mexico In Depth won nine awards last month, including five 1st place finishes, in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Top of the Rockies contest, an annual competition that encompasses the states of New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Utah.The awards included stories produced in partnership with media partners. Another prize-winning entry was part of a national series that examined COVID-19’s effects on rural education in several states.New Mexico In Depth’s Bryant Furlow earned two 1st place awards working with Pulitzer-winning nonprofit newsroom ProPublica, which partners with state and local newsrooms. One story won the Public Service award for exposing a practice of automatically testing for COVID-19 and then segregating Native American pregnant women by one of New Mexico’s largest hospitals. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that state officials would investigate the alleged treatment at the Lovelace Women’s Hospital the day the story was published.Within days state investigators had found enough evidence of a violation of patient rights to draft a statement of deficiencies and, within weeks, to refer findings to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Months later, a federal agency affirmed those findings.

New Mexico largest electric utility bankrolled dark money group in 2020 election

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.

Modest sunshine still leaves campaign cash in shadow

Since New Mexico enacted a new disclosure law last year, more than $800,000 in political spending has been publicly reported by nonprofit groups that in the past would have remained largely hidden. It’s a change that Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver calls “a huge victory.” But Austin Graham of the Campaign Legal Center, which advocates for tighter regulation of money in politics, is more reserved: “What’s on the books in New Mexico is not the most cutting edge, but it’s undoubtedly a big improvement from the last decade.”

The New Mexico experience illustrates that improving the transparency of how campaigns are financed can be done, but making progress often requires incremental steps that take a lot of time. What has happened in New Mexico is an example of what states across the country must grapple with when they seek to slow the influence of money over their own politics, at a time when federal regulation of presidential and congressional elections has shriveled. 

An ocean of money still floats through the state’s elections while remaining out of public view — it’s spent on mailers and advertising that blanket television, radio and social media as elections near — because the new law didn’t strengthen donor disclosure requirements for political action committees.More than $4.8 million in spending on campaigns across the state this year came from PACs whose donations are very difficult if not impossible to trace to their original source, according to an analysis by New Mexico In Depth and The Fulcrum. That’s because their donors often are nonprofit groups or other PACs, so the only way to learn where the money originally came from is to find out the contributors to those other groups. Finding out who gives to nonprofit organizations — so-called “dark money groups” — can be next to impossible, because for the most part they aren’t required to identify their own donors.

Democrats and Republicans urge early voting to avoid the pitfalls of the primary

After the coronavirus pandemic and record turnout led to shuttered polling places and mountains of absentee ballots slowing the count in June’s primary election, New Mexico county clerks say they’re hiring more election workers and opening more places to vote in person for the general election. Still, there is anxiety about how the system will handle what many across the political spectrum are calling “the most important election of a lifetime.”  Most believe it will take longer in 2020 to know some of the winners, particularly in New Mexico’s hotly contested southern congressional district. And the presidential election, nationally, appears unpredictable as well. Across the country, political strategists who have been encouraging absentee ballots for months have recently shifted to pushing early in-person voting. In New Mexico, public officials and advocates have coalesced around a common mantra: Vote early and be patient while the votes are counted.

‘We sent 500 tests. They don’t answer calls’: Inside ICE’s coronavirus testing disaster

This story was produced by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization. Get their investigations emailed to you directly by signing up at revealnews.org/newsletter. Kathy Kunkel, secretary of the New Mexico Department of Health, was frustrated. She was getting reports the first week of May of horrifying conditions at the Otero County Processing Center, one of three U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities in the state. Detainees were responsible for disinfecting their own living spaces but weren’t getting adequate cleaning supplies.