Politicos who remove journalists from public events disrespect democracy

Over the weekend our former colleague, Sandra Fish, was kicked out of the Colorado statewide GOP assembly for doing her job. Sandra works for the Colorado nonprofit news organization, the Colorado Sun, which has gotten crosswise with the chairman of Colorado’s Republican party for fair but hard-hitting journalism. Her ejection has generated national headlines. 

But before Sandra worked for the Colorado Sun, she worked for New Mexico In Depth from 2014 through 2017, using her formidable data analyzing skills to report on hard-to-get-at issues such as New Mexico’s less-than-ideal process for funding brick and mortar projects around the state, the flow of money in politics and the role of lobbyists in lawmaking. 

Sandra Fish

To our knowledge, she is the only reporter to have spent months rifling through contracts to determine how much lobbyists working for public institutions in New Mexico collected from their employers over a period of time: $7.2 million in 2014-15. Because of lax New Mexico’s transparency laws, Sandra couldn’t do the same rifling to see how much private-sector corporations spent on lobbyists, a lack of disclosure that obscures how much is really spent on lobbying in New Mexico. 

Nearly a decade later, that secrecy is still intact.New Mexicans also can thank Sandra, in part, for the Legislature’s decision a few years ago to finally disclose how much each state lawmaker spends on brick-and-mortar projects. She broke the news in 2015 that state law prohibited disclosure of that information unless a state lawmaker consented to allowing the public to see how they individually spent public dollars. 

During her three years with us, Sandra’s reporting sometimes ruffled elected and public officials, some of whom complained.

Couy Griffin is history. Disinformation is not. 

With all the hand wringing focused on the twin threats of misinformation and disinformation this election year, the country got welcome news Monday: Couy Griffin can’t ever hold public office in New Mexico again. That’s thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court rejecting Griffin’s request to lift a lifetime ban on holding office placed on him by a New Mexico state district judge.You remember Couy Griffin? The former Otero County commissioner and Cowboys for Trump founder who participated in the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. The purveyor of wacky conspiracy theories and articulator of provocative statements such as “the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat.” The man who encouraged Otero County to part with tens of thousands of dollars to pay for what supporters called an audit of the county’s election 2020 results — even though Donald Trump won the county by more than 25 percentage points.That Couy Griffin.Griffin rose to national political fame for his theatrics, leading horseback caravans in support of the former president.Now he is famous for different reasons: He’s the only elected official thus far to be banned from office in connection with the Capitol attack, the Associated Press reported Monday.

Attorney general gets funding for proposed missing and murdered Indigenous people task force

This reporting was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Fund for Indigenous Journalists: Reporting on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, Two Spirit and Transgender People (MMIWG2T). Attorney General Raúl Torrez will have $200,000 at his disposal to create a new task force focused on the disproportionate rates at which Indigenous people experience violence and go missing. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham kept the funding allocated by lawmakers in the $10.2 billion state budget she approved today. It will be available in the next fiscal year starting in July, but it’s unclear if Torrez plans to use it. 

The Legislature unanimously passed a memorial last month calling on him to convene a group made up primarily of tribal representatives, survivors and affected families, and law enforcement officials to update a state response plan delivered in 2022 and provide legislative proposals for confronting what’s been identified as a national crisis. But memorials, unlike bills, don’t have the force of law. 

Torrez’s office hasn’t responded to New Mexico In Depth’s requests for comment about whether he plans to fulfill the Legislature’s request. 

Lawmakers introduced Senate Joint Memorial 2 in response to Lujan Grisham’s quiet disbanding last year of a task force dedicated to finding solutions to the crisis. 

The governor’s administration has argued the group finished its work and the state is now carrying forward its recommendations.

NM In Depth editors and reporters discuss 2024 legislative session outcomes

New Mexico In Depth reporter Bella Davis joined Executive Director Trip Jennings and Managing Editor Marjorie Childress on Tuesday for a chat about the 2024 legislative session, which ended Feb. 15. 

Childress began by reminding everyone that all bills passed by the Legislature are still subject to vetoes from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. Jennings added that the $10.2 billion dollar state budget and $1 billion dollar capital outlay legislation are subject to line item vetoes. That’s because they appropriate money and the state constitution gives a governor the power to eliminate words, passages and individual appropriations in any bill that spends state money. 

The audience asked what New Mexico In Depth was least happy about coming out of the session. “I’m upset that I don’t know more about how much money lobbyists spend on lawmakers,” Jennings said.

NM In Depth editors and reporters discuss government transparency, ethics and the Governmental Conduct Act

New Mexico In Depth editors held the third of five online chats about the 2024 legislative session last week. Professor of Practice of Journalism at the University of New Mexico, and occasional contributor to New Mexico In Depth, Gwyneth Doland, joined Executive Director Trip Jennings and Managing Editor Marjorie Childress to discuss government transparency, legislative modernization efforts, and the Governmental Conduct Act. Doland kicked off the conversation talking about the 14 students she takes to the Roundhouse every Wednesday and their experience thus far. “It’s interesting and cool to see things through their eyes,” she said, while noting that for newcomers, navigating the state capitol during a legislative session can be a lot to take in. 

The three discussed efforts over the past 15 years to make the statehouse more accessible and understandable, including webcasting, budget transparency efforts, and showing what is stricken or added through amendments lawmakers adopt to change legislation, and making bills easier to track. One step backwards Jennings mentioned is that certain areas of the capitol have been closed to the public, making it more difficult to reach lawmakers for a conversation.

New Mexico In Depth editors and reporters discuss education in second legislative chat

New Mexico In Depth editors held the second of five online chats about the 2024 legislative session yesterday. Indigenous Affairs reporter, Bella Davis, joined Executive Director Trip Jennings and Managing Editor Marjorie Childress to chat about education in general, and tribal education specifically. 

Childress mentioned that 42% of the proposed $10 billion state budget was earmarked for education. Education is “always a big ticket item,” said Jennings. Both mentioned low proficiency rates and low graduation rates as big educational challenges as New Mexico attempts to improve instruction for the 305,000 children enrolled in public schools around the state as well as move the state up the national education rankings. The backdrop to the conversation was the 2018 landmark Yazzie Martinez lawsuit, which found the state had violated the educational rights of Native American, English language-learners, disabled and low-income children. 

Davis went into detail about three legislative initiatives that would allocate public dollars to tribal education efforts, including bringing more teachers into the educational system from under-represented communities.

New Mexico In Depth editors chat about the state budget, public safety, and transparency

New Mexico In Depth editors held the first of five online chats about the 2024 legislative session yesterday. In a wide-ranging conversation, Executive Director Trip Jennings and Managing Editor Marjorie Childress covered the highlights of the first week, including Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s State of the State address which was disrupted by young protestors on three different occasions. New Mexico In Depth will host weekly conversations each Thursday at 12:30 during the 30-day legislative session that kicked off on Tuesday. 

Jennings and Childress, with 30 years or more combined reporting at the Roundhouse,  discussed the competing state budget proposals from Lujan Grisham and the Legislature at a time when New Mexico is swimming in money thanks to a historic surplus. A theme of the coming budget discussions between the governor and state lawmakers will center on how much to spend and how much to save, they said. New Mexico relies heavily on the volatile oil and gas industry to pay for services and programs, with more than 40% of the state’s spending every year underwritten by revenues generated by the industry.