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FRI: 1st debate highlights stakes in New Mexico race for governor, + More

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Republican challenge Mark Ronchetti will hold their first debate Friday, Sept. 30, ahead of the November election. Photos feature Mark Ronchetti at a 2020 U.S. Senate race debate and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham at her 2022 State of the State address.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Republican challenger Mark Ronchetti will hold their first debate ahead of the November election on Friday, Sept. 30. Candidate photos feature Mark Ronchetti at a 2020 U.S. Senate race debate and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham at her 2022 State of the State address.

1st debate highlights stakes in New Mexico race for governor - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

A former television meteorologist is making his case to replace the Democratic governor of New Mexico, as the candidates prepare for a live-broadcast debate on Friday night.

Republican nominee for governor Mark Ronchetti is campaigning on a law-and-order platform with proposals for annual tax rebates tied to oilfield production and a referendum that could ban abortion with limited exceptions.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is promoting her management of the economy and health care during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as her support for abortion access and expanded social programs, including tuition-free college for New Mexico residents and expanded access to preschool and no-pay child care.

The televised debate from KOB 4 takes place ahead of the Nov. 8 general election. Early voting begins Oct. 11 by absentee ballots that can be mailed and turned in by hand.

New Mexico has alternated between Democratic and Republican governors since the early 1980s. An incumbent governor last lost reelection in 1994.

Recent Republican losses at the ballot box have locked the GOP out of all statewide elected offices and the state Supreme Court, as Democratic majorities lead in both chambers of the Legislature.

Still, the November election for governor will be a test of Democratic resolve as the state grapples with economic whiplash from the coronavirus pandemic and concerns about a violent crime surge in Albuquerque and beyond

Ronchetti, who lost a 2020 bid for U.S. Senate to Democrat Ben Ray Luján, is advocating for a ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy with exceptions for rape, incest and risk to the physical health of the mother, suggesting that the Legislature schedule a statewide referendum on abortion restrictions.

Lujan Grisham, the state's third consecutive Hispanic governor, has cast herself as a staunch defender of access to abortion. In 2021, she helped legislators repealed a dormant 1969 statute that outlawed most abortion procedures as felonies. In August, the governor pledged $10 million to a clinic that would provide abortions and other pregnancy care.

On issues of criminal justice, Ronchetti has pledged to back police officers by restoring immunity from prosecution, while railing against the state's pretrial release system. A voter-approved constitutional amendment in 2016 made it harder to deny bail while defendants await trial.

The GOP nominee also has pledged to deploy soldiers and police to the remote international border with Mexico to combat illegal migration and drug and human trafficking, in a plan that echoes National Guard deployments by Republican governors in Arizona and Texas.

Lujan Grisham — also critical of the state's bail system — recently signed legislation to expand surveillance of criminal defendants as they await trial with 24-hour monitoring of ankle-bracelet tracking devices.

Lujan Grisham this year signed $500 million in tax rebates, reductions to taxation on sales and Social Security benefits, and a broad suite of crime-fighting initiatives.

Libertarian Party candidate for governor Karen Bedonie was not included in the debate.

Congress approves $2.5B in fire aid for New Mexico victims - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

Northern New Mexico residents on Friday celebrated the passage of a government spending bill that includes $2.5 billion in relief for those affected by a historic wildfire sparked earlier this year by the federal government.

U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, who represents the area charred by the wildfire, called it a "good down payment" on what ultimately will be needed to rebuild the region and restore trust.

The Democratic congresswoman began pressing for the financial assistance not long after the conflagration began, noting that the government bore responsibility and that coming up with matching money for disaster relief funds would be beyond the means of ranchers and farmers who lost their livelihoods.

"In this instance, you have the federal government saying it was our fault. We acknowledge it and the way we seek forgiveness is by providing compensation. And that is the beginning of the healing process," Leger Fernández said during an interview. "They are living up to their obligation to do what's right and pay compensation for the harm that they caused."

The largest wildfire in the state's history, the Hermit's Peak/Calf Canyon Fire blackened more than 530 square miles (1,373 square kilometers) in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Several hundred homes were destroyed and experts have said some of the environmental damage will take generations to repair.

Telephone poles and other communication infrastructure were destroyed. Some villages went without electricity for weeks, and grazing areas were flooded with ash and debris as summer rains pounded bare mountainsides after the fire.

For the region's economic hub — the community of Las Vegas, New Mexico — the fire put drinking water supplies in an even more precarious position. Drought and aging infrastructure already were problems, but debris flowing down the Gallinas River forced the city to seek emergency funding to install a temporary treatment system.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited with wildfire victims following a recent weekend of campaigning in New Mexico. She acknowledged that the federal government would need to do more to make residents whole.

The spending measure next goes to President Joe Biden's desk to be signed into law.

With the funding, FEMA will administer a program to fully compensate those who suffered personal injury or business, income and financial losses due to the fire.

Paula Garcia, who heads the New Mexico Acequia Association, said the approval marks historic action by Congress. She said many acequias — or traditional earthen irrigation canals — were damaged by the fire and post-fire flooding.

"While the losses are immeasurable, the legislation is a step towards rebuilding family homes, farms, ranches, and businesses in the hope that our legacy as land-based people will continue for our children and grandchildren," she told The Associated Press.

Many residents have voiced frustrations with federal emergency managers as they apply for aid, saying they don't understand the culture of rural New Mexico.

"The agency will need to up their game to manage this funding effectively for the benefit of our communities," Garcia said.

Netflix launches website highlighting NM filming locationsBy Nash Jones, KUNM News

If you ever wondered where scenes from Netflix series that film in New Mexico were shot, the streaming service has launched a website to help you find out.

Netflix launched the Netflix in Your Neighborhood: New Mexico site Friday. It features maps that pin locations of iconic scenes from series like Stranger Things 4, Army of the Dead and Daybreak.

In a statement, the streaming giant said the New Mexico site the first of its kind in the U.S. and that it provides users directions to get to the locations, along with nearby tourist attractions.

Users can search for locations for a specific movie or show, or look for any filming done in a particular area of the state.

The site includes locations in the Albuquerque and Santa Fe areas, along with Galisteo, Bernalillo, Los Lunas and Chama. The site will be updated as filming in the state continues.

Netflix says it spent more than $250 million on New Mexico productions from 2019 to 2021 and plans to spend another $1 billion in the next 10 years.

To mark the launch of NetflixNM.com, the company is hosting a Stranger Things-themed skate night Friday from 4-10 p.m. at Skate-o-mania in Albuquerque, which was featured in the show’s most recent season.

Albuquerque man, 12-year-old nephew accused of robbery spree - Associated Press

Authorities say an Albuquerque man and his 12-year-old nephew are behind a string of recent armed robberies at retail clothing stores.

Albuquerque police said Thursday night that Jason Pete Roper and his nephew were both taken into custody on multiple robbery-related charges.

Investigators say the boy was arrested at his school. Their questioning of him led them to arrest Roper.

According to detectives, Roper drove the boy in a Cadillac to various businesses over the past few months to rob them. They robbed or tried to rob five places, including three branches of Ross Dress for Less.

Roper has been booked on five counts of conspiracy to commit armed robbery, two counts of armed robbery, evidence tampering, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and abandonment or abuse of a child.

The boy is being held at the Bernalillo County Juvenile Detention Center for armed robbery, attempt to commit a felony and conspiracy.

While the police have identified the boy, the Associated Press is not naming him because he is a juvenile.

Cannabis expungement law changes may soon come - KUNM News, Albuquerque Journal 

A 2021 law overturning small-level cannabis convictions may soon see changes in the future.

As the Albuquerque Journal reports, Supreme Court Chief Justice Shannon Bacon said the law has placed a heavy burden on judicial staff, who have to sift through large amounts of criminal records to find out which should qualify to be slashed.

The state’s judicial branch will seek changes during the upcoming 60-day legislative session to put the responsibility of identifying cannabis-related convictions that qualify to be expunged on the individual, rather than the judicial branch.

Champions of the expungement law said last year that this would be another step to help New Mexicans running into issues finding housing and jobs because of cannabis offenses on their record.

Opponents argued the removal of these records leaves businesses with less options when hiring employees.

Heinrich says $2.5 billion in aid for northern NM fire victims major step in restoring region - By Patrick Lohmann, Source New Mexico

New Mexico’s senior United States Senator said he expects the $2.5 billion in compensation for victims of the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire will go a long way toward revitalizing a 500-square-mile section of northern New Mexico and life for those in it.

The United States Senate on Thursday voted to approve a short-term spending bill that funds the government and other priorities, including the billions for New Mexicans hurt by the biggest fire in state history. The bill is expected to sail through the House of Representatives and to be signed by President Joe Biden before the Oct. 1 deadline.

Heinrich, in a brief virtual news conference after the vote, said the compensation program is likely the biggest of its kind and was necessary given that the federal government was liable: The United States Forest Service, after all, ignited the colossal fire.

In the last days and hours of negotiations, he and other members of the congressional delegation worked to convince colleagues that it must be included and included now, instead of kicked down the road into other spending bills or legislation.

Even though he touted the $2.5 billion as a historic win for the victims, he said it’s possible it won’t go far enough. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is in charge of spending the $2.5 billion, estimated a full restoration might require $5 billion, Heinrich said.

“If we need to go back to our colleagues and future funding cycles, whether that’s at the end of the year, or in the coming appropriations bill, we’re not going to be shy about doing that,” he said. “But first and foremost, we need to get this setup well, and get the money flowing into the community.”

Once it is enacted, FEMA will have 45 days to establish rules and procedures. It could take several weeks after that to get the program running, Heinrich said, and he did not provide an estimate about when the first payments might be made.

“We’re going to be riding herd on that first 45 days to make sure that when they publish, it’s a program that makes sense for this particular community, because this funding is specific to this fire in these communities,” he said. “… We want to make sure this gets set up right to begin with, and then we want to start pushing the money out with the right safeguards.”

Many residents in the burn scar have complained about slow or inadequate responses by FEMA on a number of fronts, including acequia restoration, ongoing fire-related flooding, lack of housing, high denial rates and unnecessary bureaucracy. Heinrich said he thinks congressional oversight and this new program will finally give FEMA the right tools to compensate victims of the fire.

Heinrich has also co-sponsored a separate bill aimed at improving FEMA’s wildfire response.

Still, he said he is confident that FEMA will be able to administer the $2.5 billion effectively.

“FEMA doesn’t have a challenge spending resources. They have a cultural challenge around, historically, they weren’t really expected to incorporate the Western fire-then-flood scenarios into their disaster management,” he said. “And they still have a long way to go to prove that they can do that as well as we want them to, but they are also the only game in town.”

Kathryn Mahan believes her home in Las Dispensas was the first of more than 500 destroyed by the escaped prescribed burn that became the Hermits Peak wildfire in early April. She sought help from FEMA but was denied because the agency erroneously determined that her home was safe to occupy, even though it was only ashes and debris, among other incorrect reasons.

She eventually got the full compensation amount from FEMA – $40,000 – after a report by Source New Mexico and intervention by U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez.

Mahan told Source New Mexico that news of billions coming to her area was a big relief.

“That’s really exciting,” she said. “… We were trying to have faith that this would happen.”

She and her family were considering moving out of state to avoid the harsh winter in their temporary housing, which is not insulated. Some cash soon might keep them in New Mexico, she said.

“It’s not winter-ready,” she said. “So the idea that we could actually live there the whole time would be really exciting.”

She did have some trepidation hearing that FEMA is the lead agency.

“I’m not sure who else would administer it,” she said. “We would hope that they would be able to do this a little more smoothly than what happened before. Our first reaction wasn’t, ‘Oh great! They were so great to work with last time.’”

But she said she remains hopeful. It’s a quality she says many of her neighbors have shown over the last few months, despite the circumstances.

New Mexico Senate Rules Committee chair Ivey-Soto resigns - Associated Press

Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, who has been accused of sexual harassment and other inappropriate behavior, resigned his position Thursday as chair of the New Mexico Senate Rules Committee.

In a one-page resignation letter to Senate Democratic leadership, Ivey-Soto said he didn't want to be a distraction to the work of the Senate or harm it as an institution.

The letter didn't directly mention the allegations against Ivey-Soto, which he has vigorously denied.

Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart removed Ivey-Soto from his position as chairman of the New Mexico Finance Authority interim committee on Saturday.

She also wanted Ivey-Soto to step down from the Senate Rules Committee but didn't have the power to remove him from that post unilaterally.

Ivey-Soto's four-year term representing a portion of northeast Albuquerque runs through the end of 2024.

Stewart said she was "relieved and pleased" that Ivey-Soto stepped down.

"Today marks a difficult but important step in the right direction for the State Senate and our caucus," Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth said.

Groups: Retaliation after migrants report detention center - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

Migrants held by U.S. authorities at a detention center in rural New Mexico have endured retaliation rather than aid after reporting unsanitary conditions at the government-contracted jail, a coalition of civil rights advocacy groups said Wednesday.

A public letter signed this week by at least a dozen migrants within the Torrance County Detention Facility describes broken plumbing, insect infestations, insufficient access to medical care and rationed bottles of drinking water.

A companion complaint Wednesday to the office of civil rights at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security documents retaliation, including restrictions on access to legal representation and a falsified accusation of misconduct against an immigrant under the Prison Rape Elimination Act.

The new complaint adds to concerns raised in August by the coalition — which includes the American Civil Liberties Union, Innovation Law Lab, the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center and the El Paso, Texas-based Justice for Our Neighbors — drawing on information from interviews with scores of migrants at the center.

The Torrance County Detention Facility, privately operated by CoreCivic, is among about 130 detention centers used by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold migrants while their immigration cases are reviewed, though in many cases it allows people to remain free under monitoring.

Representatives for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not immediately return messages seeking comment. However, officials with CoreCivic disputed the allegations, saying the migrants were making false claims about conditions at the lockup.

Matthew Davio, a spokesperson for CoreCivic, said the detention center is monitored closely by ICE and is required to undergo regular reviews and audits to ensure an appropriate standard of living for all detainees. He also said ICE employs a compliance officer to ensure the detention center adheres to the agency's strict standards and policies.

Orlando de los Santos Evangelista, a 39-year-old construction worker from the Dominican Republic, told The Associated Press on Thursday that he stopped eating Monday with five other inmates to protest conditions. He said he ate reluctantly on Wednesday after jail officials threatened to force- feed inmates through a tube.

Jail officials said Thursday that no one had missed a meal.

De los Santos said detainees also fear being placed in a solitary cell that he called "the hole." He said the corridors at the detention facility smell of feces, and water enters his sleeping area through a broken window, soaking his bed and immigration paperwork.

The Dominican national said he arrived in the U.S. in June and was shocked to be transfer to a prison-like facility.

"The conditions are inhumane. I've suffered from verbal mistreatment and psychological torture," he said. "We ask that you listen to us."

A government watchdog in March cited unsafe and unsanitary conditions at the detention facility and suggested everyone held there should be removed and transferred elsewhere.

Those findings from the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General were based on an unannounced inspection in February. The findings were disputed by CoreCivic and ICE.

More recently, a 23-year-old Brazilian national held at the Torrance County Detention Facility was found unresponsive by staff on Aug. 17 and died several days later at a hospital in Albuquerque. The death is under review by ICE, while the ACLU says it appears to be linked to a suicide attempt.

U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury said the Torrance County Detention Facility within her district "has a long and troubled history" under private, for-profit management.

"I continue to stand with over a hundred of my House colleagues in opposition to the use of private for-profit contracts for immigrant detention and am continuing to monitor the situation closely," the congresswoman said in a statement.

Albuquerque Starbucks becomes first store to unionize in the state - By Megan Gleason,Source New Mexico

A Starbucks in Albuquerque became the first store in the chain to unionize in New Mexico on Thursday.

The National Labor Relations Board counted 10-7 ballots from workers in favor of unionizing at the Interstate-40 and Rio Grande location. This makes New Mexico the 34th state with a unionized Starbucks location.

Barista Jacob Sherwood has been working at that Starbucks for about a year and was one of the leaders of the movement to unionize. He said he’s seen the same issues afflicting everyone for as long as he’s been there, like losing work hours and inadequate pay.

So the store filed the union petition on July 11, despite anti-union actions that Sherwood said came from managers. He’s been targeted by managers and getting unfairly disciplined, he said, and has seen it happen to other union supporters at the store, too, even for small concerns like dress code.

There are multiple unfair labor practice complaints at this location that are pending review by the National Labor Relations Board.

“We’ve seen a lot of discrepancy between people who are actively out and vocal about being pro-union and people who aren’t really pro-union,” Sherwood said.

Naomi Martinez is a volunteer organizer with Starbucks Workers United, a collective of Starbucks workers organizing unions across the U.S., and a shift organizer at a store in Arizona. She confirmed the disciplinary actions union leaders endured at the New Mexico store, adding that managers were constantly watching the location and holding union-busting meetings.

Sherwood said workers that supported unionizing waited nervously for months to see if enough votes would come through while they thought their jobs were on the line.

“It’s really nerve-wracking, because you can clock in, and you don’t know if that’s going to be your last shift working at that place,” Sherwood said. “There were so many times where I was brought in, and I was just really, really worried that they’re gonna find something or trying to dig something up to fire me.”

Because of all the anti-union rhetoric, Martinez said it’s not surprising how close the vote was. But now that the vote is over and people don’t feel as scared, she said she thinks more people will warm up to being unionized.

“I think regardless of the vote, now that they’ve won, I think there’s a lot of room for them to grow together and become a lot more united, even if they did originally vote no,” she said.

The vote will get certified in coming weeks, Martinez said, and then the union will set a date for contract negotiations. There’s not a set timeline yet, she said, though they hope to get a date set this year.

A Starbucks spokesperson wrote that the store will respect the National Labor Relations Board process and bargain in good faith, and hopes the union does the same.

But Sherwood anticipates issues will continue until a contract is signed, he said. There needs to be legal accountability in place for these problems to stop, Martinez added.

“The bottom line for these higher-ups is always going to be profit, and you get so many top-down decisions that are being made with partner and corporate discussion,” she said. “And so for me, the bottom line to unionizing is that you have equal accountability to prevent them from making changes that your store isn’t OK with.”


Martinez said she hopes this sets off a movement of unionization across locations in the state.

“I really think that this first store in Albuquerque is going to start a second wave of excitement in the New Mexico area,” she said.

But Sherwood isn’t as sure. While he said he hopes other stores will follow suit, he met a lot of Starbucks workers with other union reps on a trip around town who were against unionizing.

“Whether it’s because they’re fed misinformation by Starbucks, or they don’t have the whole picture, it’s hard to really tell,” Sherwood said.

Another store in Santa Fe filed a petition to unionize in August but withdrew their application last week. There are still unfair labor practice complaints filed for the store. Martinez said the management of that store was displaying unlawful behavior and engaging in similar anti-union actions happening at the one in Albuquerque, and workers got overwhelmed.

“What the store in Santa Fe went through, it shows Starbucks’ blatant disregard for just the Constitution and democracy in itself,” Sherwood said.

As of Thursday, 243 stores across 34 states have unionized as part of the Starbucks Workers United movement. Sherwood said he hopes other stores at least start conversations about unionizing.

“It’s a really surreal moment,” Sherwood said. “I hope other people start talking about this.”

Senate passes stopgap bill to avert shutdown, aid Ukraine - By Kevin Freking Associated Press

Congress is moving quickly to avoid a government shutdown.

The Senate yesterday passed a short-term spending bill that would finance federal agencies into mid-December.

The legislation also provides another round of military and economic aid to Ukraine as it seeks to repel Russia's invasion.

Disaster assistance was attached to the stopgap bill, including $2.5 billion to help New Mexico communities recover from the Hermit's Peak/Calf Canyon Fire, the largest wildfire in the state's history; $2 billion for a block grant program that aids the economic recovery of communities impacted by recent disasters and $20 million for water and wastewater infrastructure improvements previously authorized for Jackson, Mississippi.

The bill finances the federal government through Dec. 16, giving lawmakers time to agree on a larger government funding package after the midterm election.

Assistance and money to help low-income families afford their heating bills this winter was also included in the bill, which now heads to the House for consideration.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate passed a short-term spending bill on Thursday that would avert a partial government shutdown when the current fiscal year ends at midnight Friday and provide another infusion of military and economic aid to Ukraine as it seeks to repel Russia's brutal invasion.

The bill finances the federal government through Dec. 16 and buys lawmakers more time to agree on legislation setting spending levels for the 2023 fiscal year. It passed by a vote of 72-25 and now goes to the House for consideration. All of the no votes came from Republicans.

As has become routine, lawmakers waited until the final hours before the shutdown deadline to act. But passage of a bill to fund the government was hardly in doubt, particularly after Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin agreed to drop provisions designed to streamline the permitting process for energy projects and greenlight the approval of a pipeline in his home state of West Virginia. Those provisions had drawn opposition from both sides of the political aisle.

Still, the bill merely puts off for a few months the maneuvering that will be required after the midterm election to pass a massive government funding package, as negotiators will have to bridge their differences over spending on hot-button issues such as abortion, border security and climate change.

The bill approved Thursday, with some exceptions, keeps spending at federal agencies at current levels through mid-December. The most notable of those exceptions is the more than $12 billion that will be provided to aid Ukraine, on top of more than $50 billion provided in two previous bills. The money will go to provide training, equipment and logistics support for the Ukraine military, help Ukraine's government provide basic services to its citizens and replenish U.S. weapons systems and munitions.

"Seven months since the conflict began, it's crystal clear that American assistance has gone a long way to helping the Ukrainian people resist (Russian President Vladimir) Putin's evil, vicious aggression," said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "But the fight is far from over."

Republican leader Mitch McConnell also voiced support for the Ukraine aid, while admonishing the Biden administration to get it out the door more quickly.

"Assisting Ukraine is not some feel-good, symbolic gesture," McConnell said. "It's literally an investment in our own national security and that of our allies."

Disaster assistance was attached to the stopgap bill, including $2.5 billion to help New Mexico communities recover from the Hermit's Peak/Calf Canyon Fire, the largest wildfire in the state's history; $2 billion for a block grant program that aids the economic recovery of communities impacted by recent disasters and $20 million for water and wastewater infrastructure improvements previously authorized for Jackson, Mississippi.

An additional $18.8 billion was included for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to respond to current and future disasters, such as Hurricane Ian, which hit Florida on Wednesday.

The bill would provide an additional $1 billion for a program that helps low-income households heat their homes. And it would transfer $3 billion from a Pentagon aid program to the State Department for continued Afghan resettlement operations.

Lawmakers also included a reauthorization of the Food and Drug Administration's user fee agreements for five years, which ensures the agency can continue critical product safety reviews and won't need to issue pink slips for thousands of employees working on drug and medical device applications.

One thing missing from the bill is the billions of dollars in additional funding that President Joe Biden sought to aid the response to COVID-19 and monkeypox. Republicans criticized the health spending as unnecessary. The White House said the money would have been used to accelerate the research and development of vaccines and therapeutics, prepare for future COVID variants and support the global response.

The bill's passage is the last must-do item on lawmakers' list before returning to their home states and districts to campaign before the mid-term elections that will determine which party controls the House and Senate over the next two years. Lawmakers were anxious to get out of Washington and focus on campaigning without the specter of a shutdown.

"The last thing the American people need right now is a pointless government shutdown," Schumer said.