We are digesting the news this week that investigators at the Attorney General’s office suspect Democratic House Majority Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton of Albuquerque funneled almost a million dollars of public money out of Albuquerque Public Schools, her employer, to benefit herself.
To learn that a trusted champion of under-served communities and one of the most powerful lawmakers in the state may have orchestrated a long-running scheme to grab a slice of public money for herself, is *really* *sad* *news*. We are holding out hope that it’s not true, not one more tragic episode in the annals of corrupt New Mexico leaders. The investigation is laid out in a 32-page search warrant, centered on discoveries of money from a company with a sole source contract with the school district going to organizations or businesses she appears to have substantial control over.
Buried among the details in the damning search warrant is $50,000 in state capital outlay money that in 2007 Williams Stapleton directed to the New Mexico Office of African American Affairs to purchase and equip vans for the African American Performing Arts Center at the State Fairgrounds in Albuquerque. In a 2008 email between Williams Stapleton and Expo New Mexico, she explained the vans were for programs at the center. Their upkeep would be the responsibility of the Charlie Morrisey Education Center and a company called Robotics Learning Management Systems.
The search warrant makes the case that the Charlie Morrisey Education Center is an organization that Stapleton had substantial influence over, and that she directed capital outlay money to it.
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.
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.
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.
Ida and David Garcia outside their home, less than a mile away from the Newman Power station, in Chaparral, New Mexico. Image: Claudia Silva. When Ida Garcia looks out the kitchen window during cool mornings, plumes billowing from a power plant less than a mile away in Texas obscure her view of the broad Chihuahuan desert skies and expansive vistas. During hot summer days the plumes disappear but she still worries.
“We see that plant everyday,” said Garcia of the Newman Power Station that sits between Chaparral, New Mexico and El Paso, Texas. “We see how all this smoke comes out from the stacks… We know that it’s not just steam.
Four candidates hope to fill New Mexico’s first congressional district seat vacated by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland this March. But voters had little say in who’s on the ballot.
That fell to a few hundred party insiders who picked candidates, one of whom will emerge victorious on June 1 to represent roughly 690,000 New Mexicans in Congress. In New Mexico, the organizing committees of political parties select their candidates for special elections, and this year’s process created a spectacle for both Democrats and the GOP. On the Republican side, a state senator offered to run two weeks before the selection and won the insider vote. On the Democratic side, candidates sought to get their supporters elected to their party’s selection committee, then garner support from a majority of those 200 insiders.
Early this year, five of Gallup, New Mexico’s 16 water wells stopped producing water, including two of its biggest. After a few days of maintenance, two worked. The other three were out of commission for more than a month. Had it happened in summer, the city might have asked residents to dramatically reduce use. “I’m not in crisis mode,” said Dennis Romero, Water and Sanitation Director for the City of Gallup, but “it could go to crisis mode very quickly.”
The shortage isn’t wholly surprising — 20 years ago, the city decided it could limp along on aging groundwater wells with dropping water levels until a new water project began delivering San Juan River water in late 2024.
Government transparency is more than good, it’s essential. The dark corners of government make it difficult for the people (as in, all of us) to exercise our right and our duty to ensure those we elect are governing in our best interest.
In a cash-strapped state like New Mexico, transparency in how elected officials spend public money is even more important. For that reason, we applaud the publication of a list of how individual lawmakers spent public infrastructure funds under their control. Lawmakers have long resisted making that information public, but finally relented this year after sustained public pressure. We’ll be able to see the so-called capital outlay spending of individual lawmakers from now on.
In popular mythology, New Mexico is a “tricultural” state–– one where Hispanic, Anglo, and Native American communities live in relative harmony, an exemplar for the rest of the nation. But the persistent myth leaves out other groups with long histories in the state, appearing in state-produced documents as recently as 2019. Then, there were contentious remarks at a very public forum this February that led Black leaders to call for a formal statement from the Legislature denouncing the remarks. At a legislative hearing to confirm Veteran’s Service Secretary-designate Sonya Smith, a Black woman, Sen. Greg Baca, R-Belen, noted that 2.6% of New Mexico’s population is African American. He then asked Smith if she felt “comfortable adequately representing… cultures of white, Native, Hispanics.”
Black community leaders issued a statement characterizing Baca’s words as racist and calling on legislative leaders to issue a formal denouncement.
At the beginning of the pandemic, 80% of students in the Cuba Independent School District couldn’t connect online from home. Almost a year later, the problem is considerably smaller, said Tim Chavez, the district’s Technology Director. Because cell phone providers are the best way for people in the area to connect to the internet, Chavez said, the district equipped most students with a device to boost their signal for high speed internet and bought a subscription to satellite internet for the few homes out of cell phone range.
Still, there are “dead zones” that make remote learning a challenge for a few students.Those obstacles could disappear soon.
Lawmakers allocated $133 million dollars to broadband during this year’s legislative session, an infusion of money they say will help unlock federal dollars to close New Mexico’s yawning digital divide.
This week the Biden administration estimated more New Mexicans live in areas without broadband infrastructure or where there’s only one such internet provider than residents in most surrounding states. For a large slice of the public, and most students in New Mexico, the COVID-19 pandemic pushed a large chunk of life into a digital space. School instruction went online.