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WED: Cowboys for Trump cofounder appeals ban from public office, Lawmakers to weigh harassment investigations, + More

Cowboys for Trump
Morgan Lee/AP
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AP
FILE - In this May 12, 2021, file photo, Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin, the founder of Cowboys for Trump, takes in the view from his ranch in Tularosa, N.M. In a written order obtained by The Associated Press on Feb. 16, 2022, the Denver-based U.S. 10th District Court of Appeals declined to reverse a lower court ruling upholding requirements that Cowboys for Trump register as a political committee in New Mexico and possibly disclose information on expenditures and contributions.

Cowboys for Trump cofounder appeals ban from public office - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

A New Mexico politician and Trump supporter who was removed and barred from elected office for his role in the U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021, is attempting to appeal that decision to the state Supreme Court.

Cowboys for Trump cofounder and former county commissioner Couy Griffin on Tuesday notified the high court of his intent to appeal.

The ruling against Griffin this month from a Santa Fe-based District Court was the first to remove or bar an elected official from office in connection with the attack on the U.S. Capitol building that disrupted Congress as it was trying to certify President Joe Biden's 2020 electoral victory.

Griffin was previously convicted in federal court of a misdemeanor for entering the Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, without going inside the building. He was sentenced to 14 days and given credit for time served.

Griffin has invoked free speech guarantees in his defense and says his banishment from public office disenfranchises his political constituents in Otero County.

He was barred from office under provisions of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which holds that anyone who has taken an oath to uphold the Constitution can be barred from office for engaging in insurrection or rebellion. The provisions were put in place shortly after the Civil War.

A flurry of similar lawsuits around the country are seeking to use the provision to punish politicians who took part in Jan. 6.

Griffin says he continues to act as his own legal counsel in the case.

"Honestly I have felt very abandoned by many," Griffin said.

Conservative activists aligned with Griffin have urged supporters to file disciplinary complaints against the judge who barred Griffin from office.

Griffin, a 48-year-old former rodeo rider and former pastor, helped found Cowboys for Trump in 2019. The promotional group staged horseback parades to spread President Donald Trump's conservative message about gun rights, immigration controls and abortion restrictions.

This year, Griffin voted twice as a county commissioner against certifying New Mexico's June 7 primary election, in a standoff over election integrity fueled by conspiracy theories about the security of voting equipment in the Republican-dominated county.

NM lawmakers to weigh harassment investigations in the Roundhouse next week - Shaun Griswold, Source New Mexico 

The harassment complaint filed against Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto might’ve stalled, but the effort to reform how these things play out could be starting soon.

Next week, legislators will be in Santa Fe for a public meeting of the interim Legislative Council Committee, composed of 36 elected officials from the state Senate and House of Representatives.

Rep. Damyon Ely (D-Corrales) said he is preparing a presentation for that meeting addressing several problems with the Roundhouse anti-harassment policy, and that could start discussion of adding transparency to the secret investigatory process and granting people who file accusations the opportunity to talk publicly.

A lobbyist pushing for an expansion of voting rights this year brought a complaint against Ivey-Soto of sexual harassment, groping and bullying shortly after the session concluded. Others came forward publicly with similar stories. The case is apparently over, but little is known about what the panel of lawmakers considering the matter debated or decided, and why.

Ely said he does not have specific insight into how the four-person panel of Ivey-Soto’s peers voted after they were presented with the findings of an independent investigator, “but just reading between the lines, I can guess what happened,” he said.

So he is drafting one proposal that could have an immediate effect — changing how a legislative panel examining harassment cases handles a tie. As it stands, the anti-harassment policy allows investigations to cease if the lawmakers weighing a complaint cannot break a tie vote.

“I knew this was a problem and that this has been around a while,” he said, “and it just needs to change.”

There has to be a way to break a tie, Ely said. He couldn’t offer more details on his proposal yet, he said.

The Legislative Council Committee can make this change without a full legislative process — where bills are introduced, go to committees, get voted on and then require a governor’s signature — because it would alter policy and not law, according to Ely.

Last week, Ivey-Soto (D-Albuquerque) wrote a column in the Albuquerque Journal announcing the investigation was over. This is where Ely first learned about the conclusion of the case, he said — and the message Ivey-Soto was truly sharing.

“When he said they didn’t find probable cause, that’s a term of art,” Ely said. And the way Ivey-Soto phrased it told Ely, “they didn’t make a finding, period.”

Because the votes are confidential, there is no way to verify that the complaint against Ivey-Soto stalled out because of a tie vote. In fact, the public only knows who was on the panel — two Democrats and two Republicans — because a copy of the investigator’s report was leaked to the press.

So far, no one involved except for Ivey-Soto has been able to speak about the case publicly.

That’s something Ely and others would like to see fixed.

Confidentiality is written into state law, so this change would have to go through the full legislative process after the session begins in January. Such a bill might also have to pass through the Senate Rules Committee, where Ivey-Soto is the chair.

In the meantime, Marianna Anaya, the lobbyist who brought the complaint, filed a lawsuit arguing that her First Amendment rights were violated because the confidentiality clause in the anti-harassment policy barred her from speaking publicly about her case.

When she first filed the complaint, she did write a letter detailing harassment she said she endured for years while interacting with Ivey-Soto. Those incidents were verified in the leaked investigator’s report, which also said there was sufficient evidence that Ivey-Soto violated the harassment policy twice.

The Legislative Council Committee meets Monday, Sept. 26 at 1:30 p.m. in the Roundhouse. Interim meetings at the capital are usually live-streamed.

Unlike the process outlined in the anti-harassment policy, it is open to the public.

New Mexico previously bused migrants during Trump years - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

When migrants overwhelmed cities and shelters in New Mexico in 2019, Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham moved several dozen of them by bus from border communities to Denver, where Christian congregations volunteered to provide shelter and aid.

Fast forward to 2022 and there is little, if any, talk of transporting migrants away from the border by Lujan Grisham — or Republican nominee for governor Mark Ronchetti.

Lujan Grisham and Ronchetti declined this week to answer questions about whether they would approve any new efforts to transport migrants from the border region of New Mexico to other states and under what circumstances.

Ronchetti, a former television meteorologist, has campaigned on promises to intervene against cross-border smuggling of migrants and illicit drugs by deploying soldiers and police to the state's border with Mexico. He also has denounced recently enacted laws that provide public benefits to migrants.

Still, that approach steers clear of the controversial campaigns by Govs. Greg Abbott of Texas and Ron DeSantis of Florida to ship thousands of immigrants from Texas to Democratic-led states and cities as they campaign for reelection.

"Governors in Texas, Arizona, and Florida are doing everything they can to bring attention to the border crisis created by Joe Biden and made worse by politicians like Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham," said Ronchetti spokesman Ryan Sabel in an email.

Ronchetti, who lost an open race for U.S. Senate in 2020, campaigned alongside DeSantis at an August rally in Carlsbad.

Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Maddy Hayden described Republican efforts to transport migrants as a distraction.

"Gov. DeSantis is using this opportunity to distract Americans from the fact that his far-right colleagues are trying to pass a national abortion ban, a position he supports," Hayden said in a statement Tuesday.

New Mexico in 2019 struggled to accommodate a surge in the number of migrants arriving from Central America, as immigration authorities dropped asylum seekers off at small border communities.

The governor's office at one point paid to bus several dozen migrants to Colorado. The state also sued federal immigration officials, claiming they were shirking their duties. The case was dismissed by a federal judge.

In August of this year alone, U.S. authorities stopped migrants about 29,000 times along the U.S. border near El Paso and New Mexico's 180-mile border with Mexico, amid a surge in immigration from Venezuela.

Deputies shoot kill suspect in SW Albuquerque shooting — KUNM News

Bernalillo County Sheriff's deputies shot and killed a man Tuesday afternoon in southwest Albuquerque.

In a press release, BCSO said deputies were flagged down about a suspicious person inside a vehicle.

When approached, Sheriff deputies say the suspect rammed three department vehicles before leading officers on a chase that ended when the suspect hit two civilian vehicles.

After the suspect exited the vehicle and "an unknown confrontation ensued" leading to "at least one deputy" firing an unknown number of times on the suspect, the press release says.

The suspect's name has not been released.

Michigan man arrested in stabbing of Taos High cross country runner — John Miller, Taos news

A Michigan man faces three felony counts after allegedly stabbing a student at Taos High School on Monday.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports Brandon Bryce McMillan of Midland, Michigan is being held without bond, facing charges of assault with intent to commit murder, along with other felonies

According to authorities, a teacher approached McMillan about being on school property, to which McMillan responded saying he was looking for his son.

The teacher turned and McMillan approached a student sitting on a bench nearby, telling the student he was his son.

The student replied “you’re not my dad” before McMillan brought a knife from behind his back and stabbed the student in the neck area before chasing him and stabbing him multiple times in the abdomen.

A parent and teacher were able to detain McMillan until state police arrived on the scene.

Police said in a court filing there appears to be no relationship between the student and McMillan.

All district schools used remote learning today and will return to class tomorrow.

Police have not released the victim’s condition, but in a joint statement from two different teachers unions, the student was said to be in stable condition.

Register to vote in the midterms online now or at the polls through Election Day — Austin Fisher, Source New Mexico

Tuesday marked National Voter Registration Day, a civic holiday meant to celebrate U.S. democracy and endorsed by election administrators.

“National Voter Registration Day is a non-partisan celebration of the right to vote and of having a voice in our democracy,” New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said in a news release.

Eligible voters can register or update their registration online anytime before early voting begins on Oct. 11.

And this year, for the first time, when eligible New Mexican voters show up to the polls both during early voting or on Election Day itself, they can register to vote or update their voter registration right before they cast their ballot, according to the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office.

Same-day registration was an option for early voters last year, but it was not available on Election Day proper. Lawmakers in 2018 rewrote the state’s election code in an effort to increase voter participation, including allowing same-day registration.

Same-day registration will be available at any polling location on Election Day and at participating early voting locations, according to the Secretary of State’s Office which recommends checking with your local county clerk.

At the end of August, 1,353,869 New Mexicans were registered to vote, out of about 1,498,000 eligible voters in the state. About 44% of registered voters in the state were Democrats, while 31% were Republicans.

Over 10,000 New Mexico voters used same-day voter registration this summer during New Mexico’s primary.

Climate-fueled wildfires worsen danger for struggling fish — John Flesher, Brittany Peterson, Associated Press

Biologist Bryan Bakevich unscrewed the top of a plastic bucket and removed a Rio Grande cutthroat trout that squirmed from his grasp and plopped onto the grassy bank of Middle Ponil Creek.

"He wants to go home," Bakevich said, easing the fish into the chilly, narrow stream — the final stop on a three-month, 750-mile (1,207-kilometer) odyssey for this cutthroat and 107 others plucked in June from another stream in mountainous northern New Mexico.

The state's largest wildfire on record had roared perilously close to their previous home, torching trees and undergrowth on nearby slopes. Summer monsoon season was approaching, and heavy rains could sweep ashy muck into the creek, clogging fish gills and smothering gravel bottoms where they feed and spawn.

State and federal crews rushed to the rescue, using electrofishing gear to stun and net as many cutthroat as possible. They were trucked south to Las Cruces and kept in tanks at New Mexico State University until Middle Ponil Creek was readied to host them.

Today, wildlife agencies in the southwestern U.S. consider missions like this essential as climate change brings more frequent and hotter wildfires, fueled by prolonged drought and tree-killing bug infestations. Particularly vulnerable are Rio Grande cutthroat trout and gila trout — rare species found mostly in small, high-elevation streams.

"With every fire, more of their populations are being affected," said Jill Wick, native fish program manager for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. "Their habitat is often gone, washed out of the creek. There's no place they can hide and cool off. Their food is decimated as well."

The danger is rising elsewhere. Tens of thousands of salmon, trout and other fish perished in August when a flash flood swept through a burn area in Northern California, sending a sludge plume into the Klamath River.

Trout numbers fell up to 80% in sections of Colorado's Cache la Poudre River after floods and mudslides in summer 2021, a survey found. The biggest wildfire in state history had burned 326 square miles (844 square kilometers) in that area the previous year.

LOCATION MATTERS

Fire isn't always bad for fish. Many species evolved to benefit from the "patchiness and diversity" wildfire brings to landscapes and waterways, said Dan Isaak, a U.S. Forest Service fisheries scientist in Idaho.

The one-two punch of fire and torrential rains is less common in northern regions. Ash tends to stay put through winter snows and seep into the ground or trickle into streams during spring thaws. It delivers nutrients for algae eaten by insects that become fish food. Burned trees topple into streams, creating pools and riffles for feeding and spawning.

But farther south, ever-larger fires incinerate so much foliage holding soil in place that heavy debris flows cause oversized algae blooms that can suffocate fish.

Their health also depends on surrounding features such as slope steepness, plant life and soil types, said Christopher Clare, a habitat protection biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. And, Clare said, climate change is heating streams, a problem worsened when fire robs banks of shade trees.

Rebecca Flitcroft, a U.S. Forest Service fish biologist in Corvallis, Oregon, has modeled danger that fire poses to spring Chinook salmon and bull trout in Washington's Wenatchee River system feeding the Columbia River.

While both species are imperiled, results suggest the trout are worse off because they occupy isolated, cold headwaters. Fire intensity there is higher than in lower portions of river systems preferred by Chinook for easier access to the Pacific, Flitcroft said.

Man-made changes to waterways and landscapes make it harder for fish to survive during and after fires, she said. Water diversions have shrunk habitat. Low levels caused by drought, plus culverts, roads and dams, prevent fish from fleeing to cooler spots.

"We're at a critical place right now with very intense fires, compounded with highly disturbed systems that don't allow for connectivity and movement," Flitcroft said.

CUTTHROATS IN TROUBLE

The Rio Grande cutthroat, New Mexico's state fish, has long been going downhill. Drought and dams have disrupted its habitat. Nonnative brown and brook trout, stocked for sport angling, compete for food. Introduced rainbow trout interbreed with the cutthroat, diluting its genetics.

Named after the reddish slashes beneath its lower jaw, the colorful cutthroat occupies about 12% of its historical range in New Mexico and Colorado, according to a 2019 study that predicted continued decline.

New Mexico had 92 Rio Grande cutthroat populations at the beginning of this year.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2014 rejected a petition to place the cutthroat on the federal endangered list but was overruled by a federal judge and is reconsidering. The nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity had sued for the designation, saying the trout was "barely hanging on."

But a listing could bring land-use restrictions that many would find unpopular, said Toner Mitchell, New Mexico water and habitat coordinator for Trout Unlimited.

"There's a risk of demonizing or villainizing the Rio Grande cutthroat," Mitchell said. "That could result in anything from vandalism to outright efforts to exterminate the fish, when by and large, longtime residents prize them."

Teams have rescued cutthroat and gila trout from New Mexico streams more than two dozen times since the late 1980s.

"Before these mega-fires, it might be one or two populations in trouble at one time," Wick said. "Now, it's two or three times as many."

Nine cutthroat streams were within this summer's Calf Canyon-Hermits Creek blaze, which began as two fires set to clear undergrowth but blew out of control, consuming more than 530 square miles (1,373 square kilometers).

Ash wiped out at least one stream's cutthroats. Trout were salvaged from three others. Among them was Rito Morphy, a twisting, tree-lined creek in the Sangre de Cristo mountain range.

Not all of 190 fish from there survived the stress of two road trips and a months-long stay in university tanks. But the effort kept most alive until a new habitat could be prepared in Middle Ponil Creek, about 58 miles from Rito Morphy.

That required poisoning rainbow trout in the stream section where the fish would be placed. "We want to make sure the cutthroat stay genetically pure," said U.S. Forest Service biologist Alyssa Radcliff.

It's ecologically important to preserve a rare strain of fish, Radcliff said. Another goal is making more available for anglers. "A lot of people were taken by their grandpas and their grandmoms to these streams to catch these fish," she said.

FREE AT LAST

On a recent sunny, windswept afternoon, a pickup truck stopped alongside a dirt road in Carson National Forest. Workers scooped cutthroats four to eight inches (10 to 20 centimeters) long from a large cooler into several five-gallon (19-liter) buckets, strapped them onto backpacks and lugged them through a meadow to the brush-lined, boulder-strewn creek.

When the buckets were tilted into the stream, the liberated fish darted about in the clear water and swished tails in the sandy bottom. Their new digs extended from the creek's headwaters to a wire-and-rock barrier 8 miles (12.8 kilometers) downstream to keep out rainbow trout.

It was a quick ending for a mission that lasted all summer, said Bakevich, the state's native fish supervisor.

"After doing all the hard work and coming here," he said, "this is the best part."

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Flesher reported from Traverse City, Michigan.

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Follow John Flesher on Twitter: @JohnFlesher.

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Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP's climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.