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TUES: Official recommends rejecting utility merger, New Mexico voters head to polls, + More

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Official says commission should reject New Mexico utility mergerAssociated Press

A state hearing examiner has recommended that a New Mexico regulatory commission reject the purchase of the state's largest utility, Public Service Co. of New New Mexico by Iberdrola, a large Spanish company.

Potential downsides of the merger outweigh the benefits, Ashley Schannauer, a hearing examiner for the Public Regulation Commission, said in a report and non-binding recommendation made public Monday.

Under the merger, Connecticut-based Avangrid and its parent firm, Iberdrola of Spain, would acquire PNM Resources and its New Mexico and Texas power subsidiaries.

If approved, Avangrid would acquire PNM in a cash transaction valued at $4.3 billion that would affect about 800,000 homes and businesses, including some 530,000 customers of PNM.

Schannauer's recommendation cited missteps and problems the merger proposal encountered, including incomplete responses and overly extensive confidentiality requests.

Joanie Griffin, a New Mexico-based spokeswoman for Avangrid, wrote in an email the company was "analyzing the decision and examining the pathways for moving forward to approval. … We remain committed to putting PNM customers first and utilizing Avangrid's and Iberdrola's financial strength and resources to help New Mexico meet its decarbonization goals more quickly and efficiently."

A commission spokeswoman, Sarah Valencia, did not immediately respond to an email asking when the commission will consider the merger.

If the merger is rejected by the commission, the company could submit a revised proposal. Also, the commission's decision can be appealed to the New Mexico Supreme Court.

Schannauer wrote that if the commission is inclined to approve the merger, changes should be made to a June 4 settlement agreement the companies reached with numerous organizations interested in the proceedings.

Former US diplomat Bill Richardson meets Myanmar leader - By Grant Peck, Associated Press

Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, on a humanitarian mission to strife-torn Myanmar, met Tuesday with the head of the Southeast Asian nation's military-installed government.

Myanmar's Information Ministry said Richardson held discussions with Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing about prevention and control of COVID-19. Also present were the ministers of foreign affairs, health and international cooperation, it said. The meeting was shown on the evening news broadcast of state television MRTV.

Richardson's mission was announced Sunday by his office, which quoted him as saying he is "visiting the country to discuss pathways for the humanitarian delivery of COVID-19 vaccines, medical supplies, and other public health needs."

However, his mission has also raised hopes that Richardson will seek the release of U.S. journalist Danny Fenster, who has been jailed in Myanmar for the past five months.

Myanmar's health care system is largely broken amid widespread resistance to the military's ouster in February of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. Medical personnel have been at the forefront of the opposition to military rule.

The situation is exacerbated by Myanmar's poverty and increasingly fierce fighting between the government and pro-democracy insurgents in various parts of the country.

"Governor Richardson believes that, in moments of crisis and instability such as this one, we must ensure that humanitarian aid is delivered to those most in need," his office said in a statement.

Detained journalist Fenster, who is from the greater Detroit area, is charged with incitement for allegedly spreading false or inflammatory information. The offense is punishable by up to three years in prison.

Fenster, managing editor of the Yangon-based online news magazine Frontier Myanmar, is also charged with association with unlawful associations, which carries a two-to-three year prison term. The U.S. government and media freedom organizations have been pressing for his release, as well as that of other journalists detained since the army's takeover.

Hobbs newspaper editor Todd Bailey dies at 49Hobbs News-Sun, Associated Press

Todd Bailey, editor of the Hobbs News-Sun, died Sunday of cancer. He was 49.

Bailey, who grew up in Hobbs, began his newspaper career there and returned to the News-Sun in 2012 after stints with the Santa Fe New Mexican and other newspapers.

Bailey was diagnosed with cancer in his left leg in 2020, leading to an amputation that fall. Just recently, he learned cancer had spread to his lungs.

News-Sun Publisher David Russell wrote in a front-page column that Bailey was surrounded by family when he died in the community that he loved and that loved him.

"If kindness and generosity and love from a community could heal, Todd would have been a healed man," Russell wrote. "Never was there a day that someone didn't reach out to him to offer encouragement or help. Never. Over the course of a year and a half. Never."

Russell highlighted the qualities that made Bailey a perfect fit for leading the News-Sun.

"He knew the issues. He knew the history," he wrote. "We could always bounce ideas off him. He wanted what was best for this area, the people, its institutions."

Bailey wrote Saturday on Facebook that he looked forward to the imminent arrival of his mother and other family members. "Unfortunately, I think God may be calling me home tonight."

Danielle Bailey McCrary wrote Sunday on her brother's Facebook page that their mother arrived in time to speak with Bailey before he died.

Plans for services are pending, McCrary wrote on Facebook.

New Mexico cities vote on retaining progressive mayors - By Morgan Lee and Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Voters in New Mexico's largest city and the state capital of Santa Fe were deciding Tuesday whether to reelect progressive mayors or to back more conservative challengers within the Democratic Party.

Tuesday's local elections are a preamble to statewide and congressional contests in 2022, when Democrats hope to prolong their hold on all statewide offices, including governor and majorities in the Legislature.

Tuesday marked the final day for in-person voting, with a 7 p.m. deadline for absentee ballots to arrive at voting centers, clerks' offices or drop boxes. The elections extend to city councils, school district boards and tax initiatives for local education spending.

As of 1 p.m., about 174,000 people had voted in person and by absentee ballot across New Mexico. About 224,000 votes were cast statewide in consolidated 2019 local elections — or 18% of registered voters.

In Albuquerque, first-term Mayor Tim Keller is confronting questions about his ability to contain crime with plans and programs that focus on the root causes, such as addiction and poverty.

His challengers include two-term Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales, who backed a move by then-President Donald Trump to send more federal law enforcement agents to Albuquerque. Eddy Aragon, owner of a conservative radio station, also is seeking the top job in Albuquerque, describing a city afflicted by crime and economic insecurity.

Concerns about crime came to a head this summer when Albuquerque surpassed a record for homicides within a calendar year, a tally that continued to grow in the days ahead of the election.

Affordable housing has been a leading issue in New Mexico's largest city, where Keller blamed the pandemic for a surge in homelessness.

In Santa Fe, publishing entrepreneur and Mayor Alan Webber has promoted his handling of coronavirus safety, pandemic aid and efforts to expand affordable housing. His progressive bent includes support for a pilot program that provides a guaranteed minimum income to parents attending community college.

Webber cast his ballot Tuesday at a polling site lined with pumpkins left over from an October church fundraiser. He posed for photos with supporters and dropped off doughnuts for poll workers.

Challenger and fellow Democrat JoAnne Vigil Coppler — a city councilor, real estate agent and Latina born in Santa Fe — is highlighting her long career in public administration, overseeing a state district courthouse and personnel divisions in city, county and state government.

She also has cast herself as a guardian of respect for the city's cultural traditions, in an election contest overshadowed by conflicts over historical monuments.

At one polling site Tuesday, students from a high school history class arrived. Among those old enough to vote, Joshua Durr, 18, said he favored Webber "because he's working on affordable housing and opioid addiction."

Separately, Fernando Rodriguez said he was drawn to Vigil Coppler's local roots in Santa Fe and painted the current mayor as an outsider.

"She's for the people. He's in it for himself," Rodriguez said.

Republican environmental engineer Alexis Martinez Johnson is running for mayor in Santa Fe as a political outsider, after losing a bid for Congress last year.

Albuquerque voters also will weigh in on a contested $50 million bond measure that would help pay for a new stadium. New Mexico United for All — a political action committee bankrolled by the New Mexico United soccer team — has been the biggest fundraiser and spender in the city election.

New Mexico imposes firearms ban at state Capitol building - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

Firearms are being banned at the New Mexico state Capitol building with few exceptions starting in early December, under rule changes approved Monday by leading Democratic lawmakers.

The changes reverse a live-and-let-live approach toward guns in the Statehouse that has endured for more than a century.

Until now, New Mexico has allowed the open and concealed carry of firearms in the building with no systematic screening for weapons at entrances, which are guarded by State Police when the Legislature is in session. Limited gun restrictions were put in place in recent years during the State of the State address and contentious hearings on gun bills.

The new prohibition on deadly weapons — also including various knives, brass knuckles and sharpened canes — takes effect Dec. 6, when legislators are scheduled to convene for political redistricting.

Democratic state Sen. George Muñoz of Gallup said the changes were a necessary response to new and unpredictable security threats.

"We need to tighten down the Capitol," said Muñoz, acknowledging that he has a concealed carry license. "It is the way the world is making us do things now."

The gun ban, drafted by Democratic Senate majority leader Peter Wirth of Santa Fe, applies to most people, including legislators and staff inside the Statehouse and adjoining annex offices. The new restrictions don't apply to certified law enforcement officers and uniformed armed service personnel, and additional exceptions can be granted by the House speaker and Senate president, positions currently held by Democrats.

Republican lawmakers said the gun ban would infringe on a bedrock state constitutional right to bear arms — that some see as form of free expression in itself — and called for a more thorough public debate and vetting.

The changes were approved by an 8-5 vote of a panel of leading lawmakers who oversee administrative, legal and security issues at the Legislature, with Republicans voting in unison against the changes.

Republican House minority leader James Townsend of Artesia said the proposal would unfairly deny legislators and staff the ability to defend themselves, compromising security in the process.

"We're not talking about Capitol security, we're talking about banning firearms," he said.

Senate majority leader Peter Wirth of Santa Fe, author of the new rules, acknowledged that he has felt frightened and intimidated by people carrying firearms inside the Capitol — and said his constituents have steered away from legislative hearings because of people openly carrying guns.

"There are places where firearms just shouldn't be part of the process and they shouldn't be part of free speech, and the Roundhouse is one of them," said Wirth, using a common nickname for the circular Capitol building. "Concealed carry is certainly not going to happen in the courthouse. ... There just are places where, as a policy decision, we make the decision that firearms are not in the mix."

Wirth said the Legislature is on firm legal ground in restricting firearms, noting that the state Supreme Court rejected a challenge to robust security precautions in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol in Washington and undisclosed security threats to the state Capitol in Santa Fe.

The state Capitol was cordoned off early this year by fencing, concrete barricades and military personnel in response to undisclosed threats.

Son of ex-lawmaker Steve Komadina fatally shot in Corrales - Associated Press

The son of former State Senator Steve Komadina has been identified as the victim of Corrales' first homicide in almost 20 years. 

Corrales Police Chief Victor Mangiacapra told KOAT-TV that 46-year-old Spencer Komadina was allegedly shot and killed Saturday by his roommate after they got in a fight at their home.

The suspect, 60-year-old Joel Ray, remains detained at Sandoval County Detention Center on suspicion of first-degree murder. It was not immediately known if he had retained an attorney.

Republican Steve Komadina represented a district in Sandoval County between 2001 and 2008.

According to authorities, it's the village of Corrales' first homicide since 2002.

Southwest investigates pilot who used 'Brandon' phrase - By Aamer Madhani Associated Press

Southwest Airlines said it's conducting an internal investigation after one of its pilots used a phrase that's become a stand-in for insulting President Joe Biden during the pilot's greeting to passengers over the plane's public address system.

The airline announced its investigation Sunday after The Associated Press reported the incident in a story about the growing use of the phrase "Let's go, Brandon," a euphemism in conservative circles for a vulgarity targeting Biden.

The pilot's use of the phrase drew audible gasps from some passengers on the flight from Houston to Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Friday. An AP reporter was on the flight.

Southwest Airlines Co., which is based in Dallas, said in a statement it would "address the situation directly with any Employee involved while continuing to remind all Employees that public expression of personal opinions while on duty is unacceptable."

"Southwest does not condone Employees sharing their personal political opinions while on the job serving our customers, and one Employee's individual perspective should not be interpreted as the viewpoint of Southwest and its collective 54,000 Employees," the statement said.

The phrase took off after an Oct. 2 incident at a NASCAR race in Alabama won by Brandon Brown, a driver who was being interviewed by an NBC Sports reporter.

The crowd behind Brown was chanting something, and the reporter suggested it was saying "Let's go, Brandon" to cheer the driver. But it became increasingly clear to viewers that the crowd was saying, "F—- Joe Biden." 

Some conservatives have pointed to the episode as an example of U.S. media covering for Biden. Since then, the phrase has been uttered on the House floor by a Republican lawmaker and used frequently by Biden critics on social media and at protests to slam the Democratic president.

New Mexico family seeks AG's help in deadly shooting case - Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

The family of a northern New Mexico man killed in September has asked the state Attorney General's Office to take over the case, saying they have concerns that the shooter is receiving preferential treatment because he is related to two judges from the area. 

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that David Griego called 911 after he shot John Serna, 66, and reported he had done so in self-defense. The 70-year-old Griego said during the emergency call that Serna was about to attack him and that he had done so several times in the past.

Griego stayed on the line with an emergency operator and applied pressure to a gunshot wound on Serna's chest until help arrived.

No charges have been filed, and attempts to reach Griego for comment were unsuccessful.

"We are wanting the process to be a little bit more timely," Serna's daughter, Sahra Martinez, said in a phone interview. "We're wanting a closer look and for more attention to be focused on this so we can get some answers."

Todd Coberly, the family's attorney, recently wrote to the Attorney General's Office, questioning the claim of self-defense and detailing a loss of confidence in 4th Judicial District Attorney Thomas Clayton.

Griego is the uncle of Judges Abigail Aragon and Michael Aragon, siblings who serve on the district court in Las Vegas, New Mexico. The court's executive officer Brenden Murphy declined on behalf of both judges to comment.

Coberly wrote that Serna's family is concerned Griego is "being given preferential treatment given his relationship to the Aragons."

The Attorney General's Office said it was aware of Coberly's request but that a district attorney's office normally would have to decline to prosecute to clear the way for the attorney general to take over. 

Clayton, the district attorney whose territory encompasses Mora, San Miguel and Guadalupe counties, said in a phone interview that Griego's relationship to the judges has no bearing on the case and that the investigation into Serna's death is ongoing.

"Many factors come into play as to what charges will be filed," Clayton said. "Sometimes it takes a period of time."

Griego told the 911 operator he fired three shots at Serna but said he believed only one of the bullets had struck him, in the chest.

Coberly said initial information from the state Office of the Medical Investigator revealed Griego also suffered a gunshot wound to the head.

Court records confirm the two men — who were neighbors in a small Mora County settlement called Ledoux — had been feuding for decades. Records also show the Aragons recently recused themselves from a lawsuit involving Griego.

'Rust' assistant director hopes for film industry changes - Associated Press 

The assistant director who handed Alec Baldwin the gun that killed a cinematographer says he hopes the tragedy prompts the film industry to "reevaluate its values and practices" to ensure no one is harmed again. 

David Halls released a statement to the New York Post, breaking his silence following the Oct. 21 fatal shooting of Halyna Hutchins and the wounding of director Joel Souza during production of the Western "Rust" in New Mexico. 

Halls said Hutchins was a friend and one of the most talented people he has worked with.

"I'm shocked and saddened by her death," he said in the statement. "It's my hope that this tragedy prompts the industry to reevaluate its values and practices to ensure no one is harmed through the creative process again."

Halls didn't provide any details of what he thinks might be reformed or how changes might have helped avoid what happened on the set of "Rust."

Concerns have been raised about Halls' safety record by colleagues on two previous productions. Halls has not returned phone calls and email messages seeking comment, and his attorney did not immediately return messages left Monday by The Associated Press.

Court records have provided details about the death of Hutchins on the set of "Rust" near Santa Fe. Authorities have said that Halls handed the weapon to Baldwin and announced "cold gun," indicating that the weapon was safe to use.

Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza said last week there was "some complacency" in how weapons were handled on the set. Investigators found around 500 rounds of ammunition — a mix of blanks, dummy rounds and suspected live rounds — even though the set's firearms specialist, armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed, said real ammo should never have been present.

Gutierrez Reed said through her attorneys that she didn't know where the live rounds came from and blamed producers for unsafe working conditions.

Souza told detectives that Baldwin was rehearsing a scene in which he drew a revolver from his holster and pointed it toward the camera, which Hutchins and Souza were behind. Souza said the scene did not call for the use of live rounds.

The investigation is ongoing, and authorities have said much work needs to be done before getting to a point where charges could be considered.

Hollywood professionals have been baffled by the circumstances of the movie-set shooting. It already has led to other production crews stepping up safety measures.

Navajo Nation: No COVID-related deaths, 21st time in 33 days - Associated Press 

The Navajo Nation on Monday reported 34 more COVID-19 cases, but no coronavirus-related deaths for the 21st time in the past 33 days.

The latest numbers pushed the tribe's totals to 36,867 confirmed COVID-19 cases from the virus since the pandemic began more than a year ago.

The known death toll remains at 1,487.

Based on cases from Oct. 15-28, the Navajo Department of Health issued an advisory for 58 communities due to uncontrolled spread of COVID-19.

"This week, the COVID-19 uncontrolled spread among Navajo communities continues to gradually increase and we must take more precautionary steps as we move toward holiday months," tribal President Jonathan Nez said in a statement Monday. "Please be safe, get vaccinated, wear a mask in public and continue to pray for our people and frontline warriors."

The tribe's reservation is the country's largest at 27,000 square miles (70,000 square kilometers) and covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.