Couy Griffin is New Mexico’s fly in the ointment

Looking westward and north to Arizona and Colorado, New Mexico should count itself lucky three days after Election Day. Vote counting continues in those states. Here in New Mexico, no major disruptions marred Election Day and the vast majority of contests, including the governor’s race, slipped into history Tuesday night without any drama. Even the state’s marquee federal race, the 2nd Congressional District featuring Democrat Gabe Vasquez and Republican incumbent Yvette Herrell, with its potential national implications, ended quietly with Vasquez winning by 1,300 votes and Herrell conceding defeat. Otero County Sheriff David Black instructs former Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin to leave the room during Thursday’s county commission meeting.

Ivey-Soto spectacle reminds us state lawmakers can’t police themselves

The saga that humbled state senator Daniel Ivey-Soto this week is the kind of political theater that hypnotizes the chattering political class. A mixture of sexual harassment allegations and an unsuccessful coup against Sen. President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, with whom he has clashed, led Ivey-Soto to resign Thursday as chairman of the Senate Rules Committee before his colleagues could remove him. It was a very public drama that generated blaring headlines and gossipy conversations. Beyond all the hot takes and salacious titillation, however, it’s important that we not forget the institutional weakness that got us to this point. Skepticism has always swirled around lawmakers’ claim that they can police themselves.

Lawmakers say alcohol on 2023 session agenda

Powerful state lawmakers are signaling their desire to address New Mexico’s worst-in-the-nation rate of alcohol-related deaths in the upcoming session, including by changing how alcohol is taxed. Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, chair of the influential Senate Finance Committee, said he supports raising statewide alcohol taxes, among the most effective measures for curbing excessive drinking. Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, agreed the state’s rates “are probably not at the level they need to be,” and raising them “should be part of the solution” to the state’s alcohol crisis. Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, chair of the House committee that crafts the state budget, acknowledged “we do not have the balance right” between businesses that profit from selling alcohol and people harmed by consuming it and said in the coming session she expected “legislation to come through that is going to cost money.”

In August, lawmakers on health, criminal justice, and economic committees voiced concern about New Mexico’s alcohol problems. Many attributed the flurry of interest to a New Mexico In Depth investigative series, which showed the state’s alcohol-related death rate has risen continuously for decades and is far above any other state’s. “I really didn’t realize how bad we were on alcohol deaths until I read all of those articles,” said Stewart.

Is Ronchetti ready for tough questions?

On Sunday, Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Ronchetti made me wonder whether he’s truly ready for the tough questioning that comes with running for public office — questioning that only gets tougher if you win a top political office.His campaign intentionally denied entry to a working journalist, Shaun Griswold of Source New Mexico, from a Carlsbad event in which Florida governor Ron DeSantis appeared for the former TV meteorologist and political newcomer.It’s not a good look for a candidate who aspires to a job that is rightfully an object of great public interest and scrutiny.What does his campaign’s decision suggest about Ronchetti should he become governor and how he might handle journalists who have questions that might be dangerous to his political ambitions? 

Would he blacklist them from briefings?This is a legitimate question. I’ve been blacklisted (which means, not informed of press briefings or given interviews) by both Democratic and Republican governors over the years for writing stories they considered critical. But those governors all waited until after they had won office before doing that to me. 

I’ve never been ejected from an event by a political campaign and I’ve covered gubernatorial campaigns for 20 years. We’re talking about events that help the public decide who they want to elect. They’re key to our democratic system, with the press playing an important role. 

What happened Sunday is disturbing and the public should be concerned.

The toxic legacy of uranium mining in New Mexico

ProPublica, a national news organization, published A Uranium Ghost Town in the Making yesterday, about an important topic many Americans, including New Mexicans, still know little about: the legacy of uranium in our state and the greater Southwest. The story focuses on the residents of the small northwest New Mexico communities of Murray Acres and Broadview Acres, near Grants, who continue to suffer the potential effects of a uranium mill operated by Homestake Mining of California. Those include decades of sickness, including thyroid disease and lung and breast cancer. Homestake processed ore from a nearby mine beginning in the 1950s in an area known as the Grants Mineral Belt, a rich deposit of uranium ore that runs through the northwest corner of New Mexico. Nearly half of the uranium supply used by the United States for nuclear weapons in the Cold War came from the region.

What new education secretary should know about New Mexico

Newly appointed Education Secretary Ryan Stewart, left, visits the Native American Community Academy in Albuquerque with the school’s founder, Deputy Secretary Kara Bobroff, on Aug. 13. (Public Education Department via Twitter)

If classroom teachers and education advocates could sit down with new Education Secretary Ryan Stewart, they would tell him to just listen. That’s the consistent message from two teachers at Las Cruces Public Schools – one who has taught for seven years, and another for 30 years, and two leaders of education nonprofits — one a member of the Transform Education New Mexico coalition of that formed out of the Yazzie Martinez education lawsuit, and another a former director of outreach in the Martinez administration’s Public Education Department. Stewart, who is African American, and was the regional director of a nonprofit that works to improve education for low-income and minority students, takes the helm weeks after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham fired Karen Trujillo from the post after just six months on the job.

Institute will take effort to combat child trauma statewide

Las Cruces City Councilor Kasandra Gandara is bringing together behavioral health, education, community organizing, child wellbeing and health groups in an effort to gather data on Adverse Childhood Experiences and use that information to combat childhood trauma. Tackling childhood trauma in a data-driven, community-based fashion went from an idea to an institute within the space of a year. Las Cruces City Councilor Kasandra Gandara knew from her years as a social worker at the Children Youth and Families Department that even front line workers in child protective services, faced with the hardest cases of abuse and neglect, were not aware of or trained in the theory of Adverse Childhood Experiences and the lifelong effects they have on health and learning. So when she read the book, “Anna, Age Eight: The Data-driven Prevention of Childhood Trauma and Maltreatment,” written by Katherine Ortega Courtney and Dominic Cappello, from research done at CYFD, she embarked on a mission to use data to prevent the heart-breaking instances of abuse she witnessed first-hand in Las Cruces and Dona Ana County. That project has grown swiftly.