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MON: Two NM House races go to automatic recounts, + More

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Jordan Gale
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Oregon Capital Chronicle
Election office employees put away sample ballots during the conclusion of a ballot counting demonstration at the Multnomah County Elections Office in Portland, Oregon on Tuesday, October 25th, 2022. Photo by Jordan Gale

Two NM House races go to automatic recounts - Austin Fisher, Source New Mexico

Preliminary results in two races for seats in the New Mexico House of Representatives were so close that by law they must be recounted.

The relative strength of the two major parties in the House remained the same after the midterm elections on Nov. 8, with Democrats and Republicans each losing one seat to the other.

But in both House District 68 on Albuquerque’s Westside and District 32 in the southwest corner of the state, the margin of victory was less than 1%.

In legislative races, an automatic recount is required when the canvas of returns shows that the margin of victory is less than 1% of the total votes cast, according to state law.

The canvas process pretty much begins right after the election happens, said Alex Curtas, spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s Office.

It’s a layered process with multiple groups within the process to maintain accountability and credibility of the results.

The county governments canvas the returns from the voting precincts in their counties, and produce a canvas report. Once they’ve done that, they submit that to the county board of canvas, a role of the county commission.

The canvas boards can start meeting no sooner than six days and no later than 10 days after the conclusion of the election, Curtas said.

The larger counties, Bernalillo and Doña Ana, get more time to produce a canvas report, Curtas said, about 13 days.

The county canvas boards don’t do any certification, Curtas said.

“They are approving the report of the canvas, then all of those reports come to us at the Secretary of State,” Curta said.

The Secretary of State’s Office does a canvas of those canvases, Curtas said, and then the New Mexico Canvas Board will meet on Nov. 29, he said.

That day the state canvas board will certify the results, making the results official.

Then, if there is a need, the state canvas board will order automatic recounts, or any recounts, that need to happen.

“We have to have official results before we can even do a recount, for example, because before we have official results, we don’t know what the actual margin of victory was,” Curtas said.

Immediately after the state canvas board issues those notices of automatic recount, state law requires the county-level canvas boards to order their county clerks to bring together a recount precinct board.

Those recount boards would then recount and re-tally the ballots, and then produce a recount certificate, which would then go to a canvassing board. That canvassing board would then recanvas the results and must follow the recount instead of the original results, which then could result in changing the outcome of the election.

ALBUQUERQUE’S WESTSIDE

There were 11,254 votes total in District 68 on the Westside of Albuquerque, where the margin between the two candidates was just over one quarter of one percentage point.

Democrat Charlotte Little is a small business owner and former tribal administrator from San Felipe Pueblo. She received 5,642 votes, or 50.13% of the vote.

Her campaign website states “we need leaders in Santa Fe who will stand firm for guaranteed, affordable health care for all New Mexicans.”

Republican Robert Moss is a tax attorney and health care startup investor. He got 5,612 votes, or 49.86% of the vote.

His number one issue is education, according to his campaign website. He is calling to “break apart the Albuquerque Public School district,” and that “local school districts, elected by the community, should be dictating most of their districts’ policies.”

SOUTHWESTERN NEW MEXICO

There were 7,529 votes total in District 32, which includes parts of Luna, Hidalgo and Doña Ana counties. On election night, the margin of victory between the two candidates was about half of one percentage point.

Republican Jenifer Jones is a registered nurse from Deming. She secured 3,786 votes, or 50.28% of the vote.

During legislative sessions, Jones works in the office of Sen. Crystal Diamond (R-Elephant Butte), according to her campaign website.

The website touts her lifetime membership in the National Rifle Association, and shows a photo of her with NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre. It states that if elected, she would “fight to protect Second Amendment rights in District 32 and all of New Mexico.”

Her grandfather was a Luna County commissioner, and her mother was Luna County Clerk, according to her campaign website.

Democrat Candie Sweetser is a former TV broadcaster from Deming. She picked up 3,743 votes, or 49.71% of the vote.

Her campaign website touts an endorsement from the National Rifle Association’s Political Victory Fund. It states Sweetser has “a proven record of fighting to protect our Second Amendment rights.”

This story has been corrected to reflect that District 32 is in southwest New Mexico.

Study: Half of New Mexico job training grants fall short - Associated Press

Taxpayer-funded incentives aimed at expanding private employment and investments in New Mexico sometimes create fewer high-quality jobs than projected, and money is not consistently clawed back for unfulfilled promises, state program analysts announced Monday.

The report from the budget and accountability office of the Legislature gauges the effectiveness of state incentives that underwrite job training, as well as infrastructure investments for businesses that expand locally or relocate to New Mexico.

State lawmakers have approved about $350 million in funding to the two incentive programs since 2016. Businesses have not grown as much as projected for about half of the job-training grants and one-third of the infrastructure grants, the evaluation says.

New Mexico has robust employment associated with energy, tourism and film, but its economy also is among the most distressed in the nation, with a rate of poverty that exceeds all but a handful of states.

The new study notes that the state Economic Development Department has improved accountability somewhat by switching from up-front grant payments to a series of payments as business employment and expansion goals are met.

But the agency also declined or did not attempt to reclaim more than $4 million in incentives from companies that failed to meet obligations.

Economic Development Secretary Alicia Keyes says that base wages have increased under the incentives programs in recent years, and that dozens of companies are responding to voluntary requests for more detailed reporting on wages, job growth and grant expenditures.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham was elected last week to a second term even amid criticism from Republicans about her handling of the economy.

New Mexico's job-training grants can reimburse a company for up to 1,040 hours of wages paid to a new hire for as long as six months.

That program is not available to several industries, including retail sales, construction, farming, mining, health care, casinos and tourism.

US outlines effects of withdrawing land from oil drilling - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

The U.S. Interior Department's plan to withdraw hundreds of square miles in New Mexico from oil and gas production for the next 20 years is expected to result in only a few dozen wells not being drilled on federal land surrounding Chaco Culture National Historical Park, according to an environmental assessment.

Land managers have scheduled two public meetings next week to take comments on the assessment made public Thursday.

The withdrawal plan was first outlined by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in 2021 in response to the concerns of Native American tribes in New Mexico and Arizona that development was going unchecked across a wide swath of northwestern New Mexico and that tribal officials did not have a seat at the table.

In addition to the proposed withdrawal, Haaland — who is from Laguna Pueblo and is the first Native American to lead a Cabinet agency — also committed to taking a broader look at how federal land across the region can be better managed while taking into account environmental effects and cultural preservation.

Indigenous leaders and environmental groups reiterated this week that the broader look would be a more meaningful step toward permanent protections for cultural resources in the San Juan Basin.

The environmental assessment bolsters that argument since it notes that the proposed withdrawal would not affect existing leases and that much of the interest by the industry for future development already is under lease or falls outside the boundary of what would be withdrawn.

The Bureau of Land Management has estimated, based on 2018 data, that not quite 100 new oil and gas wells likely would be drilled over the next 20 years within the withdrawal area. It's estimated that less than half of those likely would not be drilled if the withdrawal were approved.

With only a few dozen wells expected in the area, natural gas production for the area would decrease by half of 1% and oil production could see a 2.5% reduction.

However, the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association argued that even though the withdrawal would not affect leases on Navajo land or allotments owned by individual Navajos, those leases essentially become landlocked by taking federal mineral holdings off the board.

Navajo Nation officials have made similar arguments, saying millions of dollars in annual oil and gas revenues benefit the tribe and individual tribal members Some leaders have advocated for a smaller buffer around Chaco park to be protected due to the economic implications.

The industry group said there are more than 418 unleased allotments in the buffer zone associated with over 22,000 allottees.

Environmentalists say the potential development for the withdrawal area represents just a fraction of the 3,200 wells overall that the region could see over the next two decades.

Mike Eisenfeld of the San Juan Citizens Alliance has been monitoring and protesting development throughout the region for years. He said Friday that the larger issue is the expansive area beyond the withdrawal zone and that federal land managers need to evaluate requests for permitting within Haaland's bigger "Honoring Chaco" initiative.

"We think that requires extensive consultation on protecting this region from industrialization of the landscape," he said.

In June, the All Pueblo Council of Governors traveled from New Mexico to Washington to urge the Interior Department to finalize its proposal to protect the Chaco area, arguing that public land management should better reflect the value of sacred sites, cultural resources and traditional stories that are tied to the region.

A World Heritage site, Chaco Culture National Historical Park is thought to be the center of what was once a hub of Indigenous civilization with many tribes from the Southwest tracing their roots to the high desert outpost.

Within the park, walls of stacked stone rise up from the canyon bottom, some perfectly aligned with the seasonal movements of the sun and moon. Archaeologists also have found evidence of great roads that stretched across what is now New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado.

Alec Baldwin sues to 'clear his name' in movie set killing - Associated Press

Saying he wants to clear his name, Alec Baldwin on Friday sued people involved in handling and supplying the loaded gun that he was using when it fired, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during a 2021 filming accident in New Mexico.

Baldwin filed a cross-complaint in Superior Court in Los Angeles alleging negligence against some of the people sued by a script supervisor, Mamie Mitchell. Among other things, it seeks a share of any damages that Mitchell may win from the people Baldwin names and asks that they pay for any damages assessed against him.

Mitchell was standing behind Hutchins, who died shortly after being wounded during setup for a scene in the western movie "Rust" at a film set ranch on the outskirts of Santa Fe on Oct. 21, 2021.

Mitchell sued Baldwin, who was a producer on the film, the production company and many others involved for assault and negligence.

In his cross-complaint, Baldwin says that while working on camera angles with Hutchins during rehearsal for a scene, he pointed the gun in her direction and pulled back and released the hammer of the gun, which discharged.

The shot fatally wounded Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza in the shoulder.

The actor said neither he nor Hutchins knew the weapon contained a live round.

"This tragedy occurred on a movie set — not a gun range, not a battlefield, not a location where even a remote possibility should exist that a gun would contain live ammunition," the lawsuit said.

Baldwin has maintained he was told the gun was safe and that he did not pull the trigger. But a recent FBI forensic report found the weapon could not have fired unless the trigger was pulled.

"More than anyone else on that set, Baldwin has been wrongfully viewed as the perpetrator of this tragedy. By these cross-claims, Baldwin seeks to clear his name," the actor's lawsuit says.

Baldwin's cross-complaint says he has lost opportunities and been fired from jobs because of the shooting and also "has suffered physically and emotionally from the grief caused by these events."

New Mexico's Office of the Medical Investigator determined the shooting was an accident. However, prosecutors are reviewing the shooting to determine whether criminal charges should be filed.

In April, New Mexico's Occupational Health and Safety Bureau imposed the maximum fine of $137,000 against Rust Movie Productions and distributed a scathing narrative of safety failures, including testimony that production managers took limited or no action to address two misfires of blank ammunition on set prior to the fatal shooting.

The company is challenging the fine.

Baldwin's lawsuit alleges negligence by armorer Hannah Guttierez-Reed; prop master Sarah Zachry; first assistant director and safety coordinator David Halls, who handed Baldwin the gun; ammunition supplier Seth Kenney and his company, PDQ Arm & Prop, which also supplied prop weapons for the production.

All have previously denied responsibility for the fatal shooting.

In October, Hutchins' family announced they had agreed to settle another lawsuit against the actor and the movie's producers, and producers said they aimed to restart the project in January.

A lawyer for Ms. Gutierrez-Reed, Jason Bowles said he was reviewing Baldwin's lawsuit. Attorneys for other defendants did not immediately respond to requests for comment, the New York Times reported.

A phone message left by The Associated Press seeking comment from Bowles wasn't immediately returned Friday night.

US border agency leader resigns amid wave of migrants - By Mike Balsamo, Colleen Long And Elliot Spagat Associated Press

The head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection has resigned from his job leading the nation's largest law enforcement agency as agents encounter record numbers of migrants entering the U.S. from Mexico.

Chris Magnus submitted his resignation to President Joe Biden on Saturday, saying it had been "a privilege and honor" to be part of the administration.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden had accepted Magnus' resignation. "President Biden appreciates Commissioner Magnus' nearly forty years of service and the contributions he made to police reform during his tenure as police chief in three U.S. cities," she said.

Two people who were briefed on the matter told The Associated Press on Friday that Magnus was told to resign or be fired less than a year after he was confirmed. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to address the matter publicly.

Magnus's removal is part of a larger shakeup expected at Homeland Security as it struggles to manage migrants coming from a wider range of countries, including Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. This comes as Republicans are likely to take control of the House in January and are expected to launch investigations into the border.

Migrants were stopped 2.38 million times at the Mexican border in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, up 37% from the year before. The annual total surpassed 2 million for the first time in August and is more than twice the highest level during Donald Trump's presidency, in 2019.

The Los Angeles Times was first to report on the ultimatum. In a statement to the newspaper, Magnus said he was asked by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to step down or be fired.

New Mexico man convicted of trying to kill a woman in 2020 - Associated Press

A New Mexico man could face up to 50 years in prison after being convicted of injecting a woman with heroin and throwing her off a bridge into the Rio Grande in February 2020.

Authorities said the woman survived by floating down the river to get to a riverbank and seeking help at a nearby home.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported that 47-year-old Brenton Rael was found guilty Thursday by a Rio Arriba County jury after a three-day trial in Tierra Amarilla.

He was convicted on charges of kidnapping, attempted murder, battery, assault, robbery, conspiracy and being a felon in possession of a firearm and acquitted of tampering with evidence.

Rael, of Petaca, was one of three suspects accused of kidnapping the woman, drenching her in bleach, drugging her to make her death look like an overdose and then tossing her into the river near Española.

According to the New Mexican, the three suspects allegedly knew the woman because she was friends with someone who had stolen drugs from Rael.

His sentencing hearing hasn't been scheduled yet, but prosecutors told the newspaper that Rael could get more than 50 years in prison.

Rael's two co-defendants both pleaded guilty to reduced charges prior to his trial. One got an eight-year prison term and the other is facing a prison sentence of between four and eight years.