TUES: Expert says Ronchetti has to walk a fine line on abortion as election nears, + More
Ronchetti has to walk a fine line on abortion as election nears, expert says – By Patrick Lohmann, Source New Mexico
New Mexico’s Republican candidate for governor emphasized in public comments that the overturn of Roe v. Wade is a chance for “measured dialogue” on abortion and that his position — that abortion should be banned after 15 weeks, with exceptions — is “a very reasonable position that most in New Mexico will support.”
That Mark Ronchetti is pointing to debate and consensus on the polarizing topic shows the balance he’ll have to strike if he wants to convince Democrats to vote for him, said Gabriel Sanchez, a University of New Mexico political science professor and pollster.
“He’s probably done some internal polling, and he kind of has an idea of where New Mexicans are at,” he said. “And he feels that he might not have much choice but to allow some wiggle room, to even move a little bit further to the left. But not too far.”
Sanchez said he hasn’t seen any polling of New Mexicans’ views on abortion since the Supreme Court ruling. But, generally, he said New Mexicans “are actually pretty progressive” when it comes to abortion rights, especially when it comes to cases of rape, incest or protecting the parent’s life.
A poll in mid-June by Public Policy Polling, commissioned by New Mexico Political Report, found that 55% of New Mexicans believed abortion should always be legal or be legal with some exceptions. Just 13% of the 642 New Mexicans surveyed said abortion should always be illegal, and 29% said it should be illegal except in cases of rape, incest or protecting the life of the person who’s pregnant.
That result is consistent with trends found by national pollsters in New Mexico in older surveys. The Pew Research Center, in its “Religious Landscape Study” conducted in 2007 and 2014, found that a consistent but a slim majority (51% in 2014) of New Mexicans believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
Ronchetti has pushed back against recent attempts by Democrats to paint him as fully anti-abortion. The state Democratic party has recycled statements from his recent United States Senate run and primary race that they say show he is against abortion in all circumstances.
For example, his old website from the primary race criticizes opponent Rebecca Dow for saying “we have to uphold Roe v. Wade” in a debate as an example of a “liberal” position she’s taken on issues.
And in the “abortion” section of his website for his Senate race, Ronchetti said life should be “protected at all stages” and then goes on to state that he opposes late-term abortions and that “unborn babies have souls, can feel emotions, and are every bit a human being.”
But Ronchetti spokesperson Enrique Knell said Ronchetti was simply calling out Dow’s hypocrisy in the first example and, in the second, said he was not referring to stages of pregnancy when he said “all stages.”
“He says life should be protected at all stages, referring generally to ‘life,’” Knell told Source New Mexico. “‘Stages’ in this context does not mean ‘trimesters.’”
Knell also said Ronchetti has been consistent in opposing late-term abortions and has not changed his position.
“Mark has always been clear and consistent on his position and the fact that he is pro-life. He has also consistently and adamantly stated that New Mexico should not be the nation’s late-term abortion capital, as it is right now,” Knell said. “As soon as the Supreme Court ruling was announced, Mark articulated a very clear position he will take as governor.”
Last week, Ronchetti was again forced to defend his abortion stance as moderate and in line with the values of New Mexicans after a fact-check by KOB. Pastor Steve Smothermon, in a recent sermon cited by the news outlet, told the congregation that Ronchetti had assured him that, if elected, he would push for a full ban on abortions in New Mexico.
“He said, ‘Listen: I just want to start with getting rid of partial-birth abortions in the whole state, …,” Smothermon said of his conversation with Ronchetti. “And he said, ‘But I can’t just go in and do it all 100% because we won’t ever get elected.’ He said ‘I just want to start.’ But his goal would be to end abortion in New Mexico. You say how do I know that? Because I talked to him for hours.”
Ronchetti’s campaign, in a statement to the news outlet, denied that Ronchetti had told the pastor that he wanted to end abortions in New Mexico.
Sanchez, the pollster, said it’s common for primary candidates across issues and elections to moderate their positions in the general election. When it comes to abortion, Ronchetti might be hoping to convince Democrats to vote for him by presenting a more moderate stance, especially if they have more pressing concerns, like the economy. Knell did not respond to a request for comment on whether the campaign thinks the economy will trump other issues this November.
Sanchez also anticipates that abortion suddenly being on the ballot in New Mexico wiill motivate Democrats more than Republicans to vote in early November, but he’s waiting to see if that means Republicans like Ronchetti will soften their positions on the topic to blunt that enthusiasm.
Pattern Energy acquires energy transmission line project - Associated Press
A California-based renewable energy developer announced Monday that it has acquired a transmission line project that will link its massive wind farms in east-central New Mexico with more populated markets across the West.
Pattern Energy already has invested billions in its infrastructure in New Mexico, and company officials said the SunZia transmission line will enable access to more than 3,000 megawatts of wind power that would be capable of meeting the needs of more than 2.5 million people.
Permitting for the line has been in the works for years. Once complete, the bi-directional high-voltage line will span 550 miles from New Mexico to Arizona.
Pattern Energy said it acquired the project from SouthWestern Power Group, a subsidiary of MMR Group, Inc. The price was not disclosed, but Pattern Energy said the transmission line along with the planned SunZia wind farm would represent an $8 billion investment.
Both projects are privately funded, according to Pattern Energy.
Construction is expected to begin next year, with the transmission line coming online in 2025 and the wind farm in 2026.
Pattern CEO Mike Garland called SunZia a "clean power superhighway."
"We are creating and implementing the largest clean energy infrastructure project in American history, demonstrating the vast potential of New Mexico's wind power and the regions' ability to bring large interstate infrastructure to reality," he said in a statement.
Once operational, up to 150 permanent staff will run and maintain the two projects.
Originally approved in 2015, the route of the transmission line was adjusted after military officials voiced concerns about the project affecting missions at White Sands Missile Range. Environmentalists also raised questions about the project's effects on birds and other wildlife.
Final government approvals are expected to be issued by next spring.
Reforestation Center aims to replant trees in northern NM burn scar - Megan Gleason, Source New Mexico
Over 80,000 acres of land are badly charred by the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire, and natural regeneration could take hundreds of years. To drop that timespan to just a decade or two, the New Mexico Reforestation Center wants to replant trees.
Owen Burney, director of New Mexico State University’s Forestry Research Center, proposed that the reforestation team could help significantly around the state — if New Mexico and the federal government help adequately fund their work.
Burney presented to the Economic Development & Policy Committee on Friday. The forestry group is still trying to figure out exactly how much funding would be needed from the state, but it could potentially range anywhere from around $500,000 to $3 million to get started, Burney told Source NM.
Fires limit natural regeneration opportunities, damaging layers of soil in a way that prohibits natural regrowth, Burney said. This is why people step in to plant seedlings in burn scars. The young plants grow in nurseries for about six months until they’re a little more than a foot tall, Burney said, and then are transplanted into the forests to mature.
The northern New Mexico burn scar needs anywhere from 12.5 million to 20.9 million seedlings to help regenerate severely burned areas, Burney said. But with so few seedling nurseries focused on the burn scar in northern New Mexico from the largest wildfire in recorded state history, he said regeneration could take hundreds of years.
The NMSU Research Center is the only local seedling producer for New Mexico and Arizona with a capacity for 300,000 seedlings annually, Burney said. The only other producer for New Mexico is the Forest Service’s Lucky Peak Nursery in Idaho, which has a capacity of 1.8 million seedlings per year, but he said they’re mostly focused on a different region of the U.S.
The goal for the New Mexico Reforestation Center is to produce 5 million seedlings annually, which is still short of the forests’ immediate needs but Burney said is “light years ahead of where we are.” With a certain percentage of the center’s seedlings dedicated to just the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon footprint, Burney said it would take around 12 years to grow the seedlings needed for recovery, aiming for the lower end of the estimate range — about 12.5 million.
MILLIONS IN FEDERAL AID COULD COME SOON
The center submitted a grant proposal to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for about $80 million, which would be used for the construction and beginning operations of the center. But recurring funds are still needed for faculty and staff positions, according to a fact sheet.
Burney said whether the group gets these funds will determine how much the center would need from the state. He anticipates they will find out if the center gets the federal funding sometime in the coming months.
Committee chair and Democratic Rep. Antonio Maestas asked how it would be possible for the group to produce millions of seedlings per year, comparing it to NMSU’s current capacity of 300,000. Burney said funding is essential. “That’s not going to happen overnight,” Burney said.
While the center is built and operations are organized at a physical site, Burney said they can at least start collecting seeds. “We can’t do any of this without seed,” he said.
State reforestation efforts should really start as soon as possible, Burney said, but it would likely be at least a decade before the center gets significant work done.
Republican Sen. Ron Griggs said reforestation shouldn’t be the immediate priority right now, and the errors of the U.S. Forest Service need to be addressed first. He warned that another wildfire disaster like this could happen again tomorrow with even worse results.
“The big evil is the United States Forest Service and their inability to work to improve the health of the forests,” Griggs said.
Burney proposed a number of economic benefits for the state if investments are made in reforestation, including the restoration of wildlife habitats, soils and plants as well as opportunities for commercial products like timber, and recreation such as fishing and skiing.
“Reforestation will benefit both market- and non-market-based values for the state,” Burney said.
Griggs voiced some concern about the ability to harvest burned trees, which is something he said the Forest Service doesn’t readily allow industries to do, resulting in a loss of the state’s sawmills.
A preliminary economic analysis by Highlands University predicts that over a 30-year period, there would be $1.25 billion generated in economic benefits from the center’s restoration if $482 million were spent on the effort.
And there’s another benefit, too: trees suck in carbon, Burney pointed out, which could help fight global warming. He said this is “the largest natural pathway to capture carbon and to mitigate climate change.”
“We know with all the seedlings that we need to plant,” Burney said, “there is an excellent opportunity for us as a tool to capture a ton of carbon through these reforestation efforts.”
Woman who shot at New Mexico deputies in 2018 gets plea deal - Associated Press
A woman accused of shooting at Bernalillo County Sheriff's deputies four years ago when she was being served a home eviction notice accepted a plea agreement Tuesday.
Albuquerque TV station KRQE reported Yvette Curry pleaded no contest to three charges of aggravated assault on a peace officer with a deadly weapon.
Curry was 55 years old at the time of the June 2018 incident.
Court documents show Curry and her husband divorced and the settlement stipulated the couple's home was to be sold with the profits divided.
But authorities said Curry refused to help facilitate the sale of the house and was given 30 days to vacate in May 2018.
Authorities said Curry would only talk with deputies through a window and then began shooting at them, which resulted in an hours-long standoff.
According to court records, Curry came out of the house at one point and pointed a gun in the direction of deputies.
One deputy fired back, hitting Curry in the arm, and authorities said she eventually was forced out of the home and taken into custody.
Prosecutors said as part of the plea deal, Curry will be released to a group home and must continue to take her medications.
Mississippi clinic ends challenge of near-ban on abortion - By Emily Wagster Pettus And Leah Willingham Associated Press
The Mississippi abortion clinic that was at the center of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade ended a lawsuit Tuesday in which it had sought to block the state from enforcing a law that bans most abortions.
Jackson Women's Health Organization dropped its litigation a day after clinic owner Diane Derzis told The Associated Press that she sold the facility and had no intention to reopen it, even if a state court allowed her to do so.
"If the clinic is not in a position to reopen in Mississippi, it no longer has a basis to pursue this case in the courts," Rob McDuff, a Mississippi Center for Justice attorney who was among those representing the clinic, said in a statement. Derzis said the clinic's furniture and equipment have been moved to a new abortion clinic she will open soon in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Court battles over access to abortion are playing out in multiple states following the Supreme Court's June 24 ruling, which gave states the authority to set their own laws on abortion. On Tuesday, West Virginia's only abortion clinic resumed scheduling patients for abortions, after a judge ruled in its favor. And new restrictions on some abortions were in effect in Indiana after a judge lifted a hold on them.
The Mississippi clinic — best known as the Pink House because of its bright paint job — stopped offering medication-induced and surgical abortions July 6, the day before Mississippi enacted a law that bans most abortions. Mississippi was one of several states with a trigger law that went into effect after the Supreme Court ruling.
The Mississippi trigger law, passed in 2007, says abortion is legal only if the pregnant woman's life is in danger or if a pregnancy is caused by a rape reported to law enforcement. It does not have an exception for pregnancies caused by incest.
On July 5, a state court judge rejected a request by the clinic's attorneys to block the trigger law from taking effect. The clinic appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court, citing a 1998 ruling that said the state constitution invokes a right to privacy that "includes an implied right to choose whether or not to have an abortion."
Because the clinic is dropping its lawsuit, the Mississippi Supreme Court will not issue a new ruling.
In West Virginia, Women's Health Center began scheduling patients for abortions for as early as next week after a judge on Monday blocked enforcement of the state's 150-year-old abortion ban. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said Tuesday that his office had filed a motion to the state Supreme Court asking for a stay to keep the ban in place while his office proceeds with an appeal.
"We believe it's critical to file for an immediate stay in light of this flawed decision and seek this emergency measure to prevent immediate loss of precious life," he said in a statement, adding that when "life is in jeopardy, no effort can be spared to protect it."
West Virginia's law, dating back to the 1800s, makes performing or obtaining an abortion a felony punishable by up to a decade in prison. It provides an exception for cases in which a pregnant person's life is at risk. Women's Health Center argued in court that the law was void because it had not been enforced in more than 50 years, and has been superseded by modern laws, including a 2015 law that allows the procedure until the 20th week of pregnancy.
Katie Quiñonez, Women's Health Center's executive director, called the judge's decision to block the law "a sigh of relief." The clinic has been posting on social media and is sending out information in an emailed newsletter to let people know they can once again schedule abortions.
But Quiñonez said operations won't simply go back to the way they were before the clinic had to shut down. She said the staff has been telling patients: "It's a moving target, things could change."
In Indiana, a law that bans abortions based on gender, race or disability was in effect Tuesday, a day after a federal judge lifted an order that blocked its enforcement. The law includes a ban on abortions sought because a fetus has a genetic abnormality such as Down syndrome. It was adopted by Indiana's Republican-dominated Legislature in 2016 and signed by then-Gov. Mike Pence. The law allows doctors who perform abortions in such cases to be sued for wrongful death.
Another federal judge has lifted similar blocks on abortion restrictions in recent weeks. The Indiana Legislature is expected to take action on additional abortion restrictions during a special session that starts Monday.
Meanwhile, an Indianapolis doctor who performed an abortion on a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio took the first step Tuesday toward suing Indiana's attorney general for defamation. Dr. Caitlin Bernard, an Indianapolis obstetrician-gynecologist who gave the girl a medication-induced abortion on June 30, filed a tort claim notice over what she says were false statements made about her and her work. The notice starts a 90-day period for the state to settle.
After the girl's abortion was in the news, Attorney General Todd Rokita told Fox News that he would investigate if Bernard violated any laws, though he made no specific allegations of wrongdoing.
A 27-year-old man was charged last week in Columbus, Ohio, with raping the girl.
Willingham reported from Charleston, West Virginia. Associated Press writers Tom Davies and Arleigh Rodgers in Indianapolis contributed to this report.
After passing US House, Hermits Peak Fire aid act won’t hit the Senate for weeks - Patrick Lohmann, Source New Mexico
A bipartisan effort to get more money in the hands of victims of the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire is on its way to the United States Senate after clearing the House on Thursday, but it won’t be considered again until at least September.
The bill is an effort to fully compensate those who lost homes or business due to the biggest fire in state history, one that began as a result of two errant Forest Service prescribed burns that then merged into a megafire. The blaze consumed more than 340,000 acres and destroyed several hundred homes.
Since then, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has provided immediate assistance to those who were displaced or suffered costs due to the fire. However, that assistance is limited, often to around $40,000 for people whose homes were destroyed. Plus, applicants and elected officials have criticized the agency for being too quick to deny applications.
The Hermits Peak Fire Assistance Act, introduced in May by U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez and cosponsored by a bipartisan group of New Mexico lawmakers, seeks to build on that FEMA money to make victims whole.
“Even as we grieve, we must rebuild from the intergenerational loss of homes and business, beautiful forests, and invaluable memories. This bill is an essential first step to provide full compensation for these losses so that the rebuilding can truly begin,” Leger Fernandez said in a statement.
It’s an echo of the Cerro Grande fire in Los Alamos in 2000, also caused by an escaped federal prescribed burn. In that case, Congress allocated additional money to FEMA to set up a specific office just for Cerro Grande victims and issued additional checks to individuals, businesses and governments.
The bill was folded into the $857 billion National Defense Authorization Act, though it does not establish a dollar amount specifically for Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon victims yet. The amendment to the bill passed by a vote of 277 to 150.
U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján said he’s optimistic the bill will pass, citing the fact that it has bipartisan sponsors.
But only time will tell, and even if it does clear this next hurdle, people in New Mexico will have to wait at least several months before it’s enacted.
Meanwhile, thousands are still reeling from the massive fire and the complications it caused. For one, floods are increasing in the burn scar during the monsoon season, adding further damage to landscape and communities. Many people suffering losses, including farmers and ranchers, are displaced while trying to navigate an alphabet soup of federal relief programs, often with limited success.
FEMA, for example, issued denials to about 30% of applicants so far, according to the latest figures.
When the Cerro Grande fire destroyed homes in Los Alamos, many of the victims were affluent, white employees of the national laboratories. The FEMA administrator at the time visited the small town personally to provide the county government there with $13 million, delivered with an oversized check and a handshake. A Republican senator from New Mexico, Pete Domenici, sponsored the legislation then.
FEMA set up a website at the time specifically for Cerro Grande victims, and it published news releases showing the amount distributed. The last update, from August 2001, shows the agency awarded $115 million to about 15,000 individuals, plus about $125 million more to businesses, local and tribal governments and for other mitigation. That was about 15 months after the fire.
FEMA’s most recent numbers show they’ve provided a little more than $3.7 million to more than 1,100 applicants, though it’s only been about three months since the fire began, and the agency is limited by law in what it can provide to applicants at this point.
Luján, for his part, is urging his Republican colleagues who served with Domenici to remember supporting the legislation back then, even though it’s 22 years later and a different disaster.
“Following the Cerro Grande Fire, Congress passed legislation to help New Mexicans recover and rebuild,” Luján said in a statement to Source New Mexico. “Now, we must do the same to help make New Mexicans whole that were affected by the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire. There was bipartisan support for the Cerro Grande Fire Assistance Act, and I’m confident that there will be strong bipartisan support for the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire Assistance Act.”
WHAT IT WOULD DO:
The bill, if it becomes law, would allow those with damages or losses to file an application within two years, and then the government will have up to six months afterward to determine if a claim is valid.
The total will be reduced by any insurance payments an applicant would have received up to that point.
Individual applicants can file claims for loss of property, a decrease in property value, damage to infrastructure “including irrigation infrastructure such as acequia systems” and any costs that result from lost subsistence through hunting, fishing, gathering firewood, timber, grazing or agriculture.
Businesses can also seek damages under the act, including for damage to inventory, business interruptions, lost wages and more.
As written, the legislation would also cover new flood insurance payments, flood or fire mitigation, debris removal, increased mortgage interest or loans provided by the Small Business Administration.
There is no cap on the amount a person or business can receive.
US investigates New Mexico helicopter crash that killed 4 - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press
Evidence indicates that a helicopter that crashed in northern New Mexico after helping fight a wildfire over the weekend descended at a fast rate, with the craft ending up mangled and in pieces after first hitting the ground upright, the National Transportation Safety Board said Monday.
The agency has completed its initial documentation of the deadly crash, but it will likely take weeks for investigators to determine the cause. Authorities were in the process of removing the wreckage from a remote area south of the community of Las Vegas to a secure location where it could be examined further.
The helicopter was carrying three people with the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office and a county firefighter when it went down Saturday evening while returning from its firefighting mission. County officials on Monday called the four men heroes.
"It is with a sad and broken heart that we think of the heroes we lost this weekend," Sheriff Manuel Gonzales and Fire Chief Greg Perez said in a joint statement. "The reality is that we will likely grieve this loss forever. Each of these heroes died doing what they loved, serving others. They paid the ultimate price, and we are forever grateful to these men for the love and passion they had as first-responders."
Gonzales and Perez both spoke at a news conference Monday afternoon, sharing details about the men and saying their focus now is on supporting the men's families and their grieving employees.
"It's with a heavy heart that we stand in front of you. This is has been a tragic 48 hours for Bernalillo County, and we all are at a loss," Perez said. "I'm trying to put words together to sum up what we're feeling, what we're experiencing. It's not possible."
Peter Knudson, a spokesman for the NTSB, said there is flight track information that investigators will review to get a better understanding of the path the helicopter was taking on its way back to its home base in Albuquerque. He also said there may have been witnesses, so authorities are asking anyone with information to come forward.
While it's common for afternoon and evening thunderstorms to circle New Mexico during monsoon season, it didn't appear there was any adverse weather at the time of the crash, Knudson said.
"But we will look at everything as part of the investigation," he said.
The weekend proved to be a deadly one for air travel. The NTSB reported numerous fatal accidents over recent days, including one Sunday in Nevada in which four people were killed when two small planes collided at North Las Vegas Airport.
In New Mexico, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham ordered flags to fly at half-staff through sundown Friday in honor of the first-responders killed in Saturday's crash.
Among them was Undersheriff Larry Koren, 55, a veteran pilot who had been with the the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office for more than two decades. He was part of a New Year's Day mission to rescue employees and a tram operator who got stuck while descending in the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway. He is survived by his wife and two sons.
Lt. Fred Beers, 51, also helped with that winter rescue and was among those killed in Saturday's crash. Beers, who had been with the sheriff's office for 13 years, left behind a wife and son.
Also killed were Deputy Michael Levison, 30, who had been with the sheriff's office since 2017 and had served in the New Mexico Air National Guard, and Bernalillo County Fire Department rescue specialist Matthew King, 44, who was a husband and father of two children.
Fellow law enforcement officers and firefighters lined highway overpasses as the men's bodies were brought to Albuquerque on Sunday. Many saluted as others held their hands over their hearts. Some also talked about how the men were always ready to serve beyond their jurisdiction.
"They went out there willingly and that takes a very special person to be that brave," Gonzales said Monday, adding that the air support team never turned down requests for help.
The crew had spent a few hours Saturday afternoon making water drops and moving equipment for firefighters battling a blaze south of Las Vegas. They departed the Las Vegas Airport around 6:30 p.m. just after refueling and it was less than 45 minutes later that they dropped off the radar.
Authorities did not say whether there was any radio traffic from the helicopter immediately before the crash.
Two New Mexico State Police officers were the first on the scene and attempted to render aid. Authorities did not say whether any of the crash victims were conscious when the officers arrived.
It has been a particularly severe start to the fire season, with the Bernalillo County crew just one month ago helping drop water on a wildfire that was sparked in a rugged area on the eastern edge of Albuquerque. With resources wearing thin across the region, municipal firefighters and first responders often have been assigned to help with the wildfire effort.