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.

Debate over independent redistricting commission moves to Senate this year

Every ten years, the United States counts its people, tabulating where they live and who they live with, plus a range of factors about them, like their sex, race and ethnicity, age, income, and more. 

That census in turn affects people in significant ways, such as the once-a-decade process where local and state governments redraw political district boundaries based on how their population has changed. The goal is to ensure elected officials represent roughly the same amount of people. 

A Senate concept map, one of several the 2021 New Mexico Citizens Redistricting Committee voted to forward to lawmakers for consideration during the official redistricting process. This map-making process is called redistricting, and in New Mexico and most other states, at the state level it’s lawmakers who draw their own political district maps. 

But a coalition of advocates and civic groups, and some lawmakers, want voters to decide this November if an independent commission would do a better job than state lawmakers of drawing political districts in the future. 

A joint resolution sponsored by Sen. Leo Jaramillo, D-Española, and Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, would place the idea on the ballot during this fall’s statewide election. 

“I heard from New Mexicans from before I won the senate about how they thought a commission should be the one helping decide the district lines to make it fair for every New Mexican and every voting district,” Jaramillo said. 

Rep. Natalie Figueroa, who has championed the idea over several years, said there’s “a very direct conflict of interest in the legislators drawing their own boundaries for their own districts.” In order for the public to have faith in democracy, the Albuquerque Democrat said, there needs to be no question that lawmakers might create maps in a way that intentionally protects their own ability to get elected in the future. 

In 2019, in a New Mexico In Depth report on redistricting, experts said New Mexico’s redistricting system offered few constraints on how lawmakers choose to draw political district boundaries. After that report was produced, lawmakers created an independent committee to gather input statewide, and then create a series of maps to inform the Legislature’s redistricting process. The Legislature ultimately adopted maps drawn by legislators, and not those recommended by the independent committee.

New harassment allegations against lawmaker prompt call for state ethics commission to handle future complaints

Representatives of eight organizations called for a powerful state senator to resign Monday or for his legislative colleagues to remove him from office if he didn’t leave, in an open letter containing new allegations of sexual harassment and bullying.The accusations against Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto come a month after a lobbyist for Progress Now New Mexico, Marianna Anaya, accused the Albuquerque Democrat of sexually harassing her. Seven of the eight people accusing Ivey-Soto on Monday in the open letter were not named but gave the organizations’ permission to share their experiences, the letter states. 

After receiving Anaya’s complaint in February, legislative leaders opened an investigation into Ivey-Soto, adhering to a system where complaints against state lawmakers are kept confidential in a procedure overseen by other lawmakers. Ivey-Soto told New Mexico In Depth on Monday that he “will participate” in that investigation, but declined to respond to the specific allegations listed in Monday’s three-page letter, sent to state Senate leadership and media organizations. He also declined to respond to the allegations leveled against him last month by Anaya.One of the complainants in Monday’s open letter, Heather Ferguson, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico, isn’t satisfied with the current process in which lawmakers police themselves, saying it doesn’t build an atmosphere of trust. “Right now, when victims file a complaint they are turning it over to friends and colleagues of the lawmaker,” she said. “It’s a conflict of interest.” 

“It’s time for that space to be safe and professional for everyone,” Ferguson added, saying that anyone at the statehouse who abuses the power of their office should be held accountable.