State Auditor Tim Keller landed strong in his bid to be Albuquerque’s next mayor, sweeping up just under 62 percent of the vote last night in an election with large turnout for Albuquerque — 29 percent. Keller ran a largely positive campaign, emphasizing along the way grassroots support for his campaign. The only candidate in the race who went for public financing, he raised 6,000 small donations of $5 early in the year to qualify for public funding. He noted in his victory speech the positive nature of his campaign, saying he had “rejected division.”
His positive campaign overcame negative ads charging he was soft on sex offenders and numerous ethics complaints filed by his political opponents. As a publicly financed candidate he was in the middle of the pack financially, in what was the most expensive mayoral race in Albuquerque, ever.
Amber Wallin, Kids Count director for New Mexico Voices for Children, flashed up a photo on a screen during her presentation to childhood advocates and elected leaders in Las Cruces for the first Southern New Mexico Kids Count conference on Thursday. Anyone of a certain age would recognize the black and white photo of a motley bunch of kids in baseball uniforms: The Bad News Bears. Wallin said people in New Mexico were tired of being those Bears, tired of hearing the same old stats: 49th in child well-being, 50th in education, 49th in community and family. Some were tuning out, becoming numb, or throwing up their hands because it didn’t seem like there was anything they could do to change the situation. What is her answer to that? “Policy matters,” she said.
Sometimes it can seem like the state’s high poverty rate and lack of good-paying jobs conspire against New Mexicans. The thought crossed my mind as I began reading a 70-some-odd page report made public this week by the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee. The document, which was made available during a legislative hearing in Santa Fe, examines the cost of New Mexico’s two-dozen non-tribal colleges and universities and there’s some eye-popping information sprinkled throughout. In particular, this paragraph caught my eye:
Students at Central New Mexico Community College and New Mexico Junior College had loan default rates near or above 30 percent for at least two consecutive cohort years. Should these two institutions fail to keep their default rates below 30 percent, nearly 15 thousand students at the institutions risk losing access to approximately $37.3 million in federal financial aid. I began wading through the report after reading an Albuquerque Journal story that hit some of the report’s highlights.
Gaining access to public information can often be a contentious process for journalists or other members of the public, even when government employees charged with providing access have the best intentions. A daylong class next week offered by the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (NM FOG) aims to help those seeking and providing public information better understand laws and recent court opinions concerning access to public information. And for attorneys, the class provides required continuing legal education credits. “The continuing legal education class the foundation offers is a great resource for records custodians and attorneys who have an obligation under the law to provide public information,” said NM FOG Executive Director Peter St. Cyr.
The Affordable Care Act and its Medicaid expansion will live on following the death Sept. 27 of congressional Republicans’ last-ditch effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, but uncertainty remains for thousands of families in New Mexico whose children are covered through the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Congress allowed funding for the program to expire over the weekend. CHIP, which began under the Clinton administration, covers children from lower- and middle-income families who make too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to buy private insurance. CHIP covers 9 million kids in the U.S.
According to estimates from the state Human Services Department, more than 11,300 children in New Mexico are covered under CHIP, and if Congress does not appropriate money for the program the state would have to come up with $31.2 million to keep the program going, said Abuko Estrada, a staff attorney for the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty who works on health access issues.
We’re so proud of the work our friend and former colleague Sandra Fish did for New Mexico In Depth, including the Openness Project, a special website at opennessproject.com that made it easier for New Mexico voters to follow the money in elections. She was honored for that work by another great organization that works for government transparency here, the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government.
Criticism of a massive undercover drug- and gun-crime sting spilled into the Albuquerque mayoral race last week, when candidates were pressed about a 2016 federal law enforcement operation that netted a disproportionate number of black people. It was a serious question, made all the more serious by the man asking: Joe Powdrell, a longtime local activist past president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which sponsored the Sept. 8 forum. The operation has drawn community and legal scrutiny for alleged racial profiling and for scooping up many who did not fit the “worst of the worst” profile trumpeted by federal officials after New Mexico In Depth investigations. Picking up on the alleged racial targeting, Powdrell asked the candidates “where your head is at in terms of this biased policing.”
Only three of the seven candidates who attended the forum addressed the sting directly.
The number of New Mexicans without health insurance has dropped by half since 2011, according to a U.S. Census report released Tuesday. Fewer than 1 in 10 New Mexicans had no health insurance in 2016 compared to 2 in 10 in 2011.
Two more behavioral health providers are contesting in state court how much, if anything, they owe the state of New Mexico for allegedly overbilling Medicaid, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported this weekend. The appeals are the latest in the drawn-out unraveling of the case Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration made in public four years ago when it charged 15 behavioral health organizations with potentially defrauding the state’s Medicaid program.
New Mexico incarcerates a higher percentage of inmates in privately run, for-profit prisons than any other state, according to a new analysis from the Sentencing Project. More than 42 percent of people imprisoned here were being held in one of the state’s five private prisons at the end of 2015, according to the analysis, which is based on figures from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).