WED: Jacob Candelaria resigns from New Mexico Senate, + More
Jacob Candelaria resigns from New Mexico Senate; Maestas wants his seat - By Patrick Lohmann, Source New Mexico
State Sen. Jacob Candelaria announced Wednesday he would be resigning from the New Mexico State Senate, leaving two years before his term was slated to end.
Candelaria, who recently left the Senate Democratic caucus amid fights with leadership, had previously announced he would not seek re-election in 2024. He previously told Source New Mexico he was leaving so that he could start a family with his husband.
“After 10 years in the legislature, I’m content,” he said in December. “I feel proud of the work I’ve done and what I’ve achieved and tried to contribute to the state. So for me, it’s really closing a beautiful chapter of my life so that another one can open.”
In the last year, Candelaria clashed frequently with Senate leadership, including over redistricting. In Senate floor debates late last year he accused “elites” of diluting the voting strength of Hispanic residents in his Westside Albuquerque district. Candelaria, first elected in 2013, changed his party affiliation late last year from Democrat to independent.
“I cannot follow down a road which asks me to betray the people that elected me, that asks me to betray my integrity, just to vote for a map that partisan elites think is the best,” Candelaria said at the time. “I won’t do it.”
Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, a Democrat, is hoping to take Candelaria’s seat. His district is also in the Westside. He is running unopposed for re-election in District 16.
Because Candelaria’s and Maestas’ districts are both fully contained in Bernalillo County, the County Commission has authority to appoint replacements. Maestas will submit an application to the commission shortly, he said in a brief interview Wednesday, and, if he’s chosen, the commission could appoint Maestas’ replacement soon after.
It could all happen in the next few weeks, he said. The Commission meets Tuesday.
Maestas said he has the experience required to pick up the Westside’s interests in the Senate.
“We represent the same neighborhoods. … In terms of community leaders, capital outlay, and responding to constituents, we really don’t make distinctions between the district lines here on the Westside,” he said.
He credited Candelaria for his effective use of capital outlay money for big infrastructure projects in the district, like the Interstate 40 and 98th Street interchange.
“He got us to do these million-dollar projects, which I think will be – in addition to fantastic lawmaking – his local legacy.”
Wolf known for genetic value found dead in New Mexico - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press
Environmentalists are pushing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to do more to protect Mexican gray wolves after one of the endangered predators was found dead in southwestern New Mexico.
The Western Watersheds Project is among the groups that have been critical of the agency's management of wolves in New Mexico and Arizona, saying illegal killings continue to hamper the population. However, the Fish and Wildlife Service says there have been fewer wolves found dead this year than in previous years.
The agency also pointed to a revised recovery plan for the wolf that was released in early October. The agency was under a court order to revamp the plan to address the threat of human-caused mortality as one of the ways to increase survivability for wolves in the wild.
Federal officials said they could not provide any details about the circumstances of the latest death since it was an ongoing investigation. It's rare that such investigations are ever closed.
Environmentalists described the male wolf recently found dead near Winston as one of the most genetically-valuable Mexican wolves in the wild. It had been released in 2018 after being born in captivity and then cross-fostered into a wild wolf den as part of an effort to increase genetic diversity.
The wolf and its mate were captured near Reserve in 2021 and relocated with pups to Ted Turner's Ladder Ranch in 2021. That move spurred a legal fight, with ranchers saying they were not notified by the federal government of plans to establish the new pack.
The Ladder Ranch has worked with the Fish and Wildlife Service for years, providing a site for captive wolves and other endangered species projects through the Turner Endangered Species Fund. Across Turner's vast land holdings, that work has ranged from breeding endangered Bolson tortoises to providing habitat for endangered black-footed ferrets and gray wolves in the northern Rockies.
For more than two decades, the effort to return Mexican gray wolves to the U.S. Southwest has been fraught with conflict as ranchers have complained about having to scare away wolves to keep their cattle from being eaten. Many have said their livelihoods and rural way of life are at stake.
Environmentalists say the reintroduction has stumbled as a result of illegal killings, management decisions and challenges stemming from the region's year-round cattle calving season.
Greta Anderson, deputy director of the Western Watersheds Project, said she noticed the male wolf was missing when officials released the latest public map.
"The good news is that wolf #1693 was able to successfully father two litters of pups, which is a testament to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's willingness to leave him in the wild in 2021 and 2022," she said in a statement. "The bad news is that his ability to continue to contribute to the overall diversity of the wild population was tragically cut short."
North America's rarest subspecies of gray wolf, the Mexican gray wolf was listed as endangered in 1976 after being pushed to the brink of extinction. From the 1960s to the 1980s, seven Mexican wolves — believed to be the last of their kind — were captured and the captive breeding program was started. Wolf releases began in the late '90s.
The wild population has seen its numbers nearly double over the last five years, with the latest annual census finding nearly 200 Mexican wolves in New Mexico and Arizona. There also are a few dozen in Mexico.
Secretary of State’s Office combats unbased fears of election fraud as more early voting locations are set to open this weekend - Megan Gleason, Source New Mexico
Expanded early voting starts on Saturday, Oct. 22, which means more polling locations will open up in New Mexico counties. There are about two and a half weeks left of early voting.
Voters can cast their ballots at their county offices or the new additional voting locations, a list of which can be found here.
Early voting goes through Saturday, Nov. 5 with varying hours at each site. People can call their county offices to check on polling locations and hours. Polls will open again on General Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 8 from 7 a.m. to 7 pm.
Not all counties may open additional sites, Secretary of State spokesperson Alex Curtas said. “This is at the discretion of the counties, if they have staff and if they have the need for it,” he said.
CASTING A BALLOT BY MAIL
New Mexicans can also vote with an absentee ballot, and the last day to request one is Thursday, Nov. 3. It can be submitted by mail, ballot drop box or in-person at a county clerk’s office or polling location in your county.
There are measures in place to maintain voting integrity, Curtas said, despite unfounded fears from some about fake election results.
For mail-in ballots, there are protections in place like matching signatures, Social Security information and online absentee ballot tracking, he said.
Anyone trying to vote with a ballot that’s not their own will be prosecuted, he added.
“Voter impersonation like that, it’s a high-risk, low-reward thing because you really can’t change the outcome of an election, and you’re going to be convicted of a felony,” Curtas said.
People can register to vote at any polling location in their own county and vote on the same day.
Some people had unbased fears about voter fraud through same-day registration in the primaries over the summer, but Curtas said there’s no evidence that same-day registration has been abused or led to illegal election interference. The voting systems are all connected, so nobody can vote more than once, he said.
“As soon as you vote, it’s in our system,” Curtas said.
Curtas encouraged people to work the polls, which he said helps combat misinformation. Designated individuals can serve as election challengers or watchers during early voting and on Election Day.
“The best way to kind of learn about voting is to go work the polls, because you will then see all the processes that are in place, all the safeguards that are in place, that kind of thing,” Curtas said. “That, I think, will dissuade a lot of people from their misinformed views about the lack of security in our elections.”
Northern NM fire victims say they need help now, even with $2.5 billion on the way - Patrick Lohmann, Source New Mexico
About 200 victims of the biggest fire in state history packed a high school lecture hall in Mora on Monday night, many of whom say they need immediate help even as a massive compensation program is on its way.
Many of the folks affected by the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire, which burned 340,000 acres of northern New Mexico forest land and destroyed more than 500 homes, expressed gratitude about the prospect of being made whole, eventually. Congress recently passed a $2.5 billion fund aimed to pay victims of a fire the United States Forest Service started earlier this year, a result of two escaped prescribed burns.
But that historic windfall is still months away, U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez told those in the overfull room where many stood for the duration of the meeting, lining the walls at Mora High School.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has until mid-November to publish rules for the program, and then there will be at least a few weeks of public comment. After that, the agency will have six months to evaluate claims before cutting a check.
In the meantime, roads in the flooded burn scar have turned to “soup,” one attendee said. One woman said she urgently needs money to pay for her son’s mental health care, which greatly suffered because of the fire. Small ranchers are footing the bill for fencing and repairs. Others need housing, food, firewood, hay for their cattle.
“There isn’t one person in this room who is OK, maybe if you’re not from here,” said one Mora resident, the grandmother of small children, concerned about young people’s mental health “But we’re all – we’re all – suffering.”
When it eventually arrives, the Hermits Peak-Fire Assistance Act will seek to pay back the full economic cost of damages, including homes lost, business revenue destroyed, mental health care costs, losses in property value and more. The bill was enacted in late September, earlier than once feared, as part of the congressional continuing resolution.
FEMA will stand up a completely new office to oversee the compensation program, including paying for navigators to help victims get through the application and calculate what they are owed. Victims will have two years after the office is set up to file a claim.
But much is still up in the air about how FEMA will run the program. For one, FEMA will determine whether to hire an independent claims manager, which some local advocates are calling for.
And it’s not yet clear how many people will be hired and what will be put in place to ensure the navigators or administrators are from New Mexico.
Local hiring is a priority, Leger Fernandez said, and so is including public comments during FEMA’s rule-making phase.
Those aspects should help ensure the program is designed to best help victims in northern New Mexico, where 200-year-old acequias nourish farmers and ranchers, and where many don’t have the types of documents FEMA usually requires before approving a claim.
Those are hurdles FEMA has struggled to overcome in the aftermath of the fire. The agency is limited to the amount it can pay in damages, and Congress is working on reforming the agency to better prepare for and respond to wildfires.
FEMA representatives were also at the meeting, and they took questions from an often angry audience. Agency officials took down names and case numbers to help those with issues.
“First thing I want to say is that I know every one of you right now are very frustrated,” said Gerard Stolar, FEMA’s coordinating officer for the New Mexico response. “And you’re angry at the federal government. I understand it. The people that work for me… understand it. We have an opportunity to get it right.”
State Rep. Roger Montoya (D-Velarde) questioned Stolar about delays in getting FEMA trailers to help an ongoing housing crisis in the region. It looks to him, he said, like FEMA can quickly deploy trailers in other disasters, but he hears from three to four constituents a week who are crashing on couches or can’t find adequate shelter as a long winter looms. It’s been six months since the fire started, he pointed out.
“Why are people waiting so long for those trailers?” Montoya asked, drawing applause.
FEMA told Source New Mexico in September that it had approved housing for 21 residents, but they were still waiting for a place to stay. Stolar said Monday that the agency does have trailers but is having difficulty hooking up any temporary housing to utilities like running water. He said the agency is meeting this week with state officials to figure out whether sites at local parks might work for 10 to 15 more trailers.
“But I don’t have a date certain on that right now,” Stolar said. “The challenges here in northern New Mexico, as you know, are very significant.”
Judge's ruling puts restrictions on New Mexico Civil Guard -Associated Press
The New Mexico Civil Guard has been barred from publicly acting as a military unit without authorization or assuming the role of law enforcement by using organized force at public protests or gathering, according to a newspaper.
The Albuquerque Journal reported Tuesday that District Court Judge Elaine Lujan also has banned such activity by the group's directors, officers, agents, employees, members and any of their successor organizations and members.
Lujan granting a motion by Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez, who told the Journal that the decision, "fundamentally represents a victory for the rule of law….We're trying to prevent violent extremism."
A lawsuit alleged members of the New Mexico Civil Guard violated state law by exercising or attempting to exercise the functions of a peace officer without authority and have organized and operated as a military unit without having been called to military service by the governor, according to the Journal.
The newspaper said the governor has exclusive authority under the state Constitution to call on the militia to keep the public peace.
Voter turnout for midterm elections in NM already strong - Albuquerque Journal, KUNM News
With Election Day fast approaching on Nov. 8, and expanded early voting set to begin Saturday, voter turnout for the 2022 midterm elections in New Mexico is already strong.
The Albuquerque Journal reports that 23% more voters have cast their ballots than at this time four years ago. As of Monday, 19,700 ballots had been cast. That includes in-person voting at county clerks’ offices and absentee ballots that voters mailed or dropped off.
Republicans have seen the highest uptick in early voting turnout, with over 40% more votes cast compared to a similar point in the 2018 midterm elections. That said, Democrats still account for the majority of voters who’ve had their voices heard so far.
The Journal reports that it’s unknown whether this higher-than-usual turnout will persist through early voting or on Election Day itself.
NBCU News Group seminar highlights unusual education effort - By David Bauder Ap Media Writer
Leaning into education aggressively and uncommonly so for a media organization, NBC News is making its leaders available to students this week for a one-day digital seminar on how to succeed in the news business.
The second Next Level Summit being held Tuesday is part of NBCU Academy, a nearly two-year-old initiative that also includes jobs, journalism training videos and partnerships with some 45 colleges and universities.
The effort is aimed primarily, but not exclusively, at students from diverse backgrounds. Cesar Conde, chair of the NBC Universal News Group, said in 2020 that his goal was to have a company workforce that was at least half women and half people of color.
The presidents of NBC News, MSNBC and CNBC are all participating in Tuesday's summit, speaking on how students can help meet the demand for digital and streaming content. Other panels include using social media for newsgathering and new technology in sports coverage.
NBC Universal committed to $6.5 million in funding for NBCU Academy when it was announced at the beginning of last year.
The aim is to grow journalists, said Yvette Miley, who runs NBCU Academy as senior vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion at the news group.
"You can't just sit in the back end of the pipeline and wait for students to come out of it ready to go," Miley said.
NBC helps develop courses and conduct workshops at participating schools. The network funds scholarships and has hired 11 young journalists for a two-year "embed" program — all of them from diverse backgrounds.
Since Conde announced his goals, 48% of the news group's new hires have been people of color, and 63% are women. Conde said Monday he's also looking to build a staff with more differences in geography, socioeconomic status and experiences.
Jose Diaz-Balart, Tom Llamas, Chuck Todd and Kristen Welker are among the NBC News personalities who have filmed video tutorials on such subjects as interview techniques and how to deal with sources. They're available for any educator to use.
MSNBC President Rashida Jones is among the executives who make themselves available for mentoring.
Jones said she went to college wanting to become a print reporter, because she thought the only jobs available in television news were on-air reporters. She quickly learned about other roles, such as producing, which she was doing for a local station in Norfolk, Virginia, before she even finished school.
"Every time I speak to students I think of the 17-year-old version of myself and what I wanted to learn," Jones said.
Her central advice: Prepare, even over-prepare, for interviews and new jobs so you aren't surprised by what comes your way.
At the University of Missouri School of Journalism, NBC helped conduct workshops on diversity and investigative reporting for high school students this past summer, said dean David Kurpius.
Students respond positively to advice from experts — some of whom they recognize — who are currently working in the business, he said.
"I think these attract students and more new employees who are very much going to be the future leaders in this industry and that's very important," he said.
Through the academy, NBC is also helping fund documentary projects, sending out guest lecturers and offering career coaching. A journalism boot camp was conducted at the U.S. Open golf tournament, Miley said.
She also issued a challenge.
"We have an opportunity to lead in this space and I certainly hope other companies find their way into this space," she said.