Serious Challenges in the 2021 Session

With the demise of “moderate” Senate Democrats in the 2020 election, New Mexico’s Legislature again shifts leftward. As New Mexicans turn their attention toward 2021 the state remains in the throes of COVID 19 and the virus shows no signs of letting up. Paul Gessing, President, Rio Grande Foundation

What does all of this mean for the 2021 Session? For starters there are real questions about the logistics of a 60-day session under COVID. A “Zoom” special session like we had in June is one thing, but a 60-day session is much different.

Fusion Voting in New Mexico: Bringing More Voters and More Choices Into Our Democracy

The New Mexico Legislature has made great strides in the last few years toward opening up our state elections to more voters. Same-day voter registration was passed in 2019, automatic voter registration was codified and they made it easier to vote absentee.  Historic turnout in 2020, especially among first time and younger voters is evidence these democracy reforms worked. 

Eric Griego, Executive Director of Working Families Party New Mexico

The 2021 session has several proposals that build on past success, including increasing access to polling sites especially in tribal communities, opening primaries to independent and minor party voters, and using ranked choice voting for certain elections. 

You may also hear about an important “new” proposal called “fusion voting.” While new to many, fusion voting has been used successfully in several states for centuries, before it was targeted by major parties for elimination. In the simplest terms, fusion voting is a system that allows multiple political parties to support the same candidate. Under fusion voting, a Democratic candidate nominated by the Working Families Party would appear on the WFP ballot line in the election, or similarly a Republican candidate endorsed by the Conservative Party would appear on their line. Fusion voting was a common practice in New Mexico in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  In 1896 the Populist Party in New Mexico endorsed Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate Harvey Butler Ferguson and the platform of the state Democratic party as well.  There were fusion candidates in Rio Arriba, Socorro, Sierra, Lincoln and Otero counties in the 1910 election.  In the 1916 elections, “Independents fused with Democrats in the counties of the Hispano north; the Progressive Party handed its delegates over to the Democratic nominating convention; and county Democrats effectively invited unhappy Republicans into their camp,” wrote Dr. Phillip Gonzales in the New Mexico Historical Review in 2015. 

But like in many other states, progress made under fusion was targeted for elimination as major parties made a play to consolidate power.

Absence of watchdog groups means lawmakers must proceed with caution

With news that the 2021 legislative session would be held virtually – with the public and lobbyists prohibited from being in the capitol building – it’s likely that legislative agendas are being adjusted. For interested citizens, lobbyists and state agencies charged with reporting to or suggesting reforms to the Legislature, the most important question may be how to participate in the upcoming session – in floor sessions, committee meetings, and with all important personal visits with individual legislators – in order to protect the public interest. Kathleen Sabo, Executive Director, New Mexico Ethics Watch

Because we have a citizen legislature, with short sessions and limited full-time and seasonal staff available to legislators, lawmakers often rely upon lobbyists to educate them about legislation, particularly complex legislation.  That element will also be missing. So, what do we wish for in the upcoming session and how do we accomplish it? The newly formed State Ethics Commission filled a void in state government.  Within the legislation enabling the commission (2019’s SB 668), not only is the commission required to submit an annual report to the Legislature and governor that includes recommendations regarding state ethics laws, the Legislature was specifically charged with making recommendations during this upcoming session on any changes to the Campaign Reporting Act, the Voter Action Act and the Lobbyist Regulation Act, “necessary for the efficient administration and enforcement of the provisions” of these acts.

Focus on Judicial Public Financing, Redistricting, Open Primaries This Session

This past year, Common Cause New Mexico—along with many other groups— spent the majority of our time ensuring that this historic pandemic did not deter New Mexico citizens from exercising their most important right: the right to vote.  For months, we worked with community partners to instruct voters on registration and absentee voting, worked with county clerks and Native American groups to ensure ballot access, ran a hotline, and fielded hundreds of election protection volunteers for the general and primary elections.  We are delighted with our state’s record (68%) turnout and our hats are off to all of the poll workers, election officials, community advocates, and especially, the numbers of engaged voters who made this happen. We hope that many of the policies that helped make voting easier this year will continue into the future. And now, onto the 2021 Legislative Session. Our first legislative priority is the expansion of public financing to district court judges. Currently, this voluntary system covers only the state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.  Expanding our currently successful state program is the best way to ensure that our judges are protected from potential conflicts of interest.

Urban or rural, New Mexicans are united in push for progress

I’m a 12th generation Nuevo Mexicana (give or take a few generations). My family can trace their presence in this region from time immemorial to well before the time this land was Mexico, a U.S. territory and eventually the 47th state. I’m as New Mexican as they get. My blood type is red or green. I will argue the virtue of the New Mexico blue sky with anyone, any day.

Lawmakers Must Stabilize Revenue Streams and Send More Help to Struggling Families

James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children

We can build the kind of New Mexico we all want – one where jobs pay a family-sustaining wage and children receive a world-class education – but only when everyone does their part. That means having a stable and equitable tax system – one that asks the most from those who have the most and raises the money we need to make the investments in education, health care, infrastructure, and more that help drive our economy. It also means ensuring that our state government has the resources necessary to support families hurting the most during times of crisis. Thanks to crashing oil prices and overproduction here at home, it is clear that New Mexico does not have the kind of revenue stability that would help us sustain those investments in our people over the long-term. We cannot subject our educational system to the oil-price roller coaster and expect positive outcomes.

New Mexico lawmakers pursue big agenda while navigating checkpoints

New Mexico’s legislative session begins today against an odd backdrop of optimism,  uncertainty, and vigilance, all at once. 

Planning for a largely online session has long been in the works, with the public barred from the Roundhouse until the COVID-19 pandemic is brought to heel. Now, the Legislature finds itself launching a session grappling with the twin challenges of a deadly pandemic and the spectre of violence, and no one knows exactly how it will turn out.  

The Roundhouse has been abruptly fenced off in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection in the nation’s capitol and subsequent warnings by the FBI that armed protests may occur across the country in the lead up to the inauguration of President-Elect Joe Biden Wednesday. Only approved lawmakers, staff or others with specific credentials, like media, will be able to enter, through checkpoints. In Santa Fe, national guard and state police are out in force to handle armed protests and possible violence. 

Here’s a sneak peek at our special print edition, which will be published in newspapers around the state this weekend.

Lawmakers will again push for capital outlay transparency

Legislators will make another push this year to make public how individual lawmakers divvy up capital outlay money. 

New Mexico In Depth discovered back in 2015 that those decisions were exempt from the Inspection of Public Records Act, after submitting a request for a list detailing how lawmakers individually allocated infrastructure money that year. We wrote about what we’d found, and several lawmakers promptly introduced bills in 2016 to make information available to the public about how individual legislators steward capital outlay dollars. Here’s a recap of the issue:

Each year, the state Legislature passes a capital outlay budget that sends millions of dollars out to New Mexico communities to pay for infrastructure projects. To figure out how to spend that money, lawmakers divide the money three ways. The governor controls a third, state agencies control a third, and lawmakers control a third. 

How do lawmakers decide how to spend their portion?

Images show reality in El Paso that must be seen

Workers and guards outside an El Paso mobile morgue during the COVID-19 pandemic. Claudia Silva/New Mexico In Depth

It felt surreal pulling into the cemetery next to the University Medical Center of El Paso. Large trailers with doors flung wide open are lined up outside the medical examiner’s office tucked away just down the street. The trailers house rows of shelves holding the overflow of those who have died of COVID-19. As Texas has reached over 1 million cases, the border city of El Paso has become a hot-spot, some calling it the new New York, with one of every 20 to 30 people estimated to be positive. 

As the situation has worsened the city’s prisoners have been asked to help handle the dead.

New Mexico State Senate makes decisive left turn

New Mexicans woke up on Wednesday not knowing who their next president would be. We’ll stay tuned to that nailbiter of a race, which appears will be decided in a few key states. New Mexico isn’t one of them. It handily voted for Biden, but that was never in serious doubt. While Americans don’t know who will be president, one thing closer to home became clear after Tuesday night: New Mexico’s state senate will shift to the left, potentially opening a path in the Legislature for long stymied Democratic initiatives. Democrats increased their majority in that chamber by one seat in an election that saw New Mexicans turn out in record numbers — 915,376 cast ballots, shattering the previous total of 833,000 set in 2008. More significant, though, is a shift within the makeup of the parties, with a slate of more progressive Democrats replacing longtime incumbents in both parties. As uncertainty looms over womens’ right to make their own choices regarding abortion, joining the Senate will be Democrats who have pledged to repeal a long-dormant ban on abortion in state law.