89.9 FM Live From The University Of New Mexico
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

TUES: New Mexico begins certification process for midterm election, + More

Otero County Commission
screen shot of Otero County livestream
Otero County Commissioners voted to certify election results from the 2022 midterm elections on Nov. 15, 2022, after initially refusing to certify local primary election results.

New Mexico begins certification process for midterm election - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

Midterm election results were certified Tuesday by at least three county commissions in New Mexico at the start of a once-routine process that in some locations has become a focal point for those voicing distrust in voting systems.

Among the decisions, Otero County's three county commissioners voted unanimously to certify Nov. 8 election results at a meeting in Alamogordo after a briefing by the county's top elections official.

The Otero County commission in June initially refused to certify primary election results while citing distrust of voting systems used to tally the vote — even though County Clerk Robyn Holmes said there were no problems. The commission reversed course on a 2-1 vote to certify the primary after Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver successfully petitioned the state Supreme Court to issue an order directing the local board to certify.

On Tuesday, Otero County Commission Chairwoman Vickie Marquardt commended the work of local election officials in the midterm election.

She said she still believes there are election problems in the U.S. but noted that county commissioners have limited oversight authority under New Mexico state law.

"We're basically like notaries," Marquardt said. "The county commission cannot remove the voting machines, we cannot demand a hand recount. ... And I know that you guys wish that it was in our authority. But it's not."

Commissioners in Socorro and Curry counties also voted unanimously to certify local election results.

Most of the state's 33 counties have until Friday to review any election discrepancies presented by county clerks and vote on certification. Those decisions are typically followed by a review of the state canvassing board, automatic recounts in close races and a post-election audit.

Attempts to delay primary results in a handful of New Mexico counties earlier this year have brought new scrutiny to a process that typically takes place quietly in the weeks after Election Day.

Partisan officials are involved in certifying elections in most states, something experts worry about after nearly two years of conspiracy theories falsely claiming the 2020 presidential election was stolen from former President Donald Trump. There is no evidence of widespread fraud or manipulated voting machines, and reviews in battleground states confirmed Democrat Joe Biden's win.

In Otero County in June, the dissenting vote against certification came from Couy Griffin, who was removed from office in September and barred from public office by a state judge for engaging in insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

The state Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to hear an appeal by Griffin of his removal and banishment from public office. Griffin and his attorney in the case could not immediately be reached for comment.

Griffin, a founder of the Cowboys for Trump, a group that has staged horseback parades to spread Trump's conservative message, said his vote against certification of the primary was based on his "gut feeling," but he didn't cite any specific discrepancies in the vote tally.

In the midterm election, voters in staunchly conservative Otero County favored Republican candidates by wide margins in statewide races for governor, attorney general and secretary of state. Democrats won every statewide elected office on the ballot and flipped a congressional seat in southern New Mexico.

Preliminary elections results show more than 60% of Otero County voters cast ballots for Republican candidate for Secretary of State Audrey Trujillo, who aligned her campaign with a coalition that seeks large-scale changes to elections administration.

NM Supreme Court throws out Couy Griffin’s appeal - By Austin Fisher, Source New Mexico 

Former Republican Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin failed to explain to New Mexico’s highest court how he would challenge his removal from elected office, so the court threw out his appeal.

The New Mexico Supreme Court on Tuesday issued a two-page order dismissing Griffin’s appeal of an earlier court ruling that removed him from his elected position and barred him for life from serving in elected federal and state positions.

The ruling marked the first time an elected official was unseated by court order as a result of participating in or supporting the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Tuesday’s dismissal affirms the ruling.

Griffin told the Supreme Court on Sept. 23 he would appeal the district judge’s ruling.

When someone appeals a ruling to the New Mexico Supreme Court, they must file a statement that accurately and concisely explains the legal issues in the case and outlines how the courts have handled similar appeals in the past.

However, all five justices of the Supreme Court wrote on Tuesday that Griffin “failed to file a statement of issues” ahead of the 30-day deadline under the rules of New Mexico’s court system.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is one of the groups that initially brought the case against Griffin. The judge’s ruling in September was the first time that a public official was barred from office under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, according to the organization.

Section 3 of that amendment prohibits anyone who has “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the government from holding elected office. The district judge cited Griffin’s participation in the Jan. 6 attack as an “insurrection against the Constitution.”

CREW’s Chief Counsel Donald Sherman said the state Supreme Court’s ruling is an affirmation that the 14th Amendment “can and should be enforced against all the Jan. 6 insurrectionists who took an oath to defend the Constitution, whether they are current or former officeholders,” he said. “Today is an important day for our democracy.”

New Mexico pays for empty buildings as remote work lingers  - Associated Press

Inspections have found that New Mexico is paying to maintain entire buildings and several building floors of unused office space as many state workers continue to telecommute from home in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.

The program evaluation from the Legislature's budget and accountability office was scheduled for discussion by lawmakers on Tuesday.

Unused building space costs the state up to $18 million a year, the inquiry found.

In one instance, an agency has no plan in place for a return to in-person work at a nearly empty facility with a $1.2 million annual lease.

Currently up to 38% of state employees work from home remotely on any given day.

The three branches of state government spend about $158 million a year on maintenance, utilities and rent for building and office space that spans across the equivalent of 380 football fields.

The study finds leased building space is especially costly to the state and its taxpayers.

Google to pay NM $5.2M for misleading consumers on tracking services - Sophie Nieto-Munoz, New Jersey Monitor

Nearly $5.2 million is headed New Mexico’s way after 40 states entered a settlement agreement with Google to resolve accusations the tech giant misled users into believing their location data was off while the company kept collecting that information.

Under the settlement, Google agreed to pay $391.5 million to 40 states, the largest multi-state privacy settlement with state attorneys general in history.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said, “New Mexicans deserve to move about their lives without companies like Google tracking their whereabouts—without their knowledge and consent—in order to turn a higher profit.”

New Jersey Attorney General Matt Platkin said the settlement holds Google accountable for its misleading conduct and requires the company to make meaningful changes to its business practices to protect consumers’ privacy rights.

“Digital platforms like Google cannot claim to provide privacy controls to users then turn around and disregard those controls to collect and sell data to advertisers against users’ express wishes — and at great profit,” Platkin said in a statement.

A Google spokesperson did not immediately respond for comment.

The investigation was spurred by a 2018 Associated Press story that found Google continues to track people’s locations even if they opted out. The AP reported that nearly two billion users who run Google’s Android software and millions more iPhone users who use Google apps had their location tracked through GPS, bluetooth, wi-fi, cell towers, and app activity.

The attorneys general investigated Google’s practices between 2014 to 2020, alleging the company violated state consumer protection laws that bar companies from intentionally deceiving and misleading users. The states claimed the search engine company confused users about the scope of location history setting and ways to limit Google’s location tracking in their accounts and devices.

Google agreed to be more transparent about how it collects location data, some of which the company says has already been done. Google now must explain when an account setting is on or off, clearly disclosing key information about location services and posting a popup directing people to a website to get more facts about what kind of location data gets collected and how it’s used.

The settlement also limits the type of location information Google can use and store and requires Google to be more user-friendly so people can easily disable location tracking, delete data collected, and set retention limits on their devices.

New Jersey was among a coalition of 10 states — including Pennsylvania, Florida, Oregon, and Tennessee — that led negotiations in the settlement. The final settlement was joined by 30 more states, including New York, Connecticut, Delaware, and Massachusetts.

It’s unclear how New Mexico or other states will spend the money. A spokesperson for Platkin didn’t respond to follow-up questions.

NM lawmaker, health care advocates aims to increase abortion care accessibility in Legislature - Megan Gleason, Source New Mexico

On the same day the Supreme Court issued its ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned federal abortion protections, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham stood in front of hundreds in Old Town Albuquerque and committed to protecting reproductive rights in New Mexico.

It set up the tone in her reelection campaign that focused on the issue, including a promise that she would try to get abortion protected by state law.

And after snagging another four years in office, she’ll be working alongside a Legislature that maintained its democratic majority in this year’s General Election, making it likely that legal protections for abortion could fall into place following the 2023 legislative session.

One lawmaker and some health care advocates say the state needs to prioritize legislation that expands access for patients and resources for reproductive services strained by an increase in out-of-state patients.

Rep. Linda Serrato (D-Santa Fe) said she’s creating legislation that would boost abortion access and protection for those giving and getting care. Just because abortion is allowed in the state doesn’t mean everyone can actually get it easily, she said.

“We have an opportunity to make sure that people have access to this type of health care for as long as possible, and so whatever we can do to expand access, increase protections for providers and patients, I think we should do,” Serrato said.

Details aren’t fully set in stone for Serrato’s legislation yet. She’s also working with Sen. Linda Lopez (D-Albuquerque), who sponsored the bill that repealed the state’s old abortion bans in the 2021 legislative session.

Lujan Grisham believes other lawmakers will also be up for the task of legally protecting abortion. When SourceNM asked Lujan Grisham last month if she plans to work with any legislators specifically to codify abortion, she said she doesn’t have anyone in particular in mind because she thinks so many will be up for the task. “I think we’ll have any number of legislators,” she said.

GOING BEYOND ROE V. WADE

Kayla Herring, spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said accessibility is one of the top issues to getting abortion care in New Mexico. That was true even before Roe v. Wade fell, she said, and the influx of patients coming in from states with bans has only increased wait times in New Mexico.

Herring said Roe was the bare minimum and didn’t offer enough protections for people of color and LGBTQ+ communities, which Serrato echoed.

Codifying abortion protections like Serrato’s wouldn’t be the same as codifying Roe v. Wade, something President Joe Biden said he’d do if Democrats keep control of the U.S. House and get more seats in the Senate — which is still unknown as election results keep rolling in. Instead, Serrato said legislation like this could offer even more protections than what Roe v. Wade did.

“In New Mexico, we’re going beyond what Roe set already, and we’re looking to make sure that when people do get their healthcare treatment, that they can — that they can actually get it — and when they go to their doctors or go to their providers, that they’re able to do so safely,” Serrato said.

Herring said although Roe codification could come later, the priority right now is dropping barriers to reproductive health care access for everyone in the state. She said there are still issues around inequitable access for people of color and those living in rural areas. There also aren’t enough healthcare providers in the state.

“I don’t think that you’ll see a codification of Roe v Wade because here in New Mexico we can have bigger and brighter futures where our families can create their own families in whatever way that will play for them,” she said.

NOT ENOUGH RURAL CARE, NOT ENOUGH HEALTH CARE WORKERS

Many of New Mexico’s reproductive health care centers are only in the state’s most populated cities. There is a lack of options in nearly all of the state’s rural areas.

This gap in coverage needs to be addressed, Serrato said.

She said she knew pregnant people whose doctors would tell them to stay at home for as long as possible before going to the hospital to give birth — something not possible for people in rural areas where there are no medical facilities anywhere near them.

“In many ways, the access that our New Mexicans need to the healthcare they need, it just isn’t there,” Serrato said. “And so ensuring that we are expanding that access, I think, is really critical at this point.”

Herring said Planned Parenthood and a number of other reproductive health care and advocate organizations — Bold Futures, the American Civil Liberties Union, Strong Families New Mexico and Strong Women United — are trying to figure out what rural communities, as well as people of color, need the most, so they can propose legislation supporting patients.

She said Lujan Grisham’s promise to allocate $10 million for a health center in Las Cruces is a step in the right direction. “Bringing access and comprehensive access to care for the southern part of our state will be a huge boost,” she said.

Another issue that stands in the way is the lack of health care workers. Herring said reproductive care, not just abortion care, is lacking all across the state. “New Mexico has been a health care desert for generations,” she said.

Herring said there need to be incentives for providers to come to New Mexico to give “not just reproductive health care, not just abortion care, but the full spectrum of care that our New Mexico communities and families need.”

Lowering the state’s maternal mortality rate

New Mexico’s average maternal mortality rate from 2015 to 2018 was 23.7 deaths per 100,000 live births, according to the N.M. Department of Health, nearly matching the national average. And rates for people of color are significantly higher, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Herring said this is something else doctors could address coming into New Mexico, “understanding what are unique issues in New Mexico for mothers.”

Serrato said some work has already been done to address the worker shortage, like the expansion of the opportunity scholarship. Enrollment in higher education institutions has since increased, and Serrato said this will allow more students to study in fields like nursing.

The lack of workers may also be partially solved on its own, Serrato said, as doctors look to work in places that allow abortion.

For instance, Jackson Women’s Health Organization leaders moved their facility out of Mississippi after the SCOTUS decision and into a space in southern New Mexico.

GETTING THINGS DONE NOW

Serrato said these moves to make abortion more accessible and protect providers and patients need to happen in the next two years in the Roundhouse before another election could change the Legislature’s political makeup.

“We want to make sure that people’s rights and access are offered as soon as possible,” she said.

She said she expects normal challenges to come up in the Roundhouse, with impediments like time or committee assignments, but that bills will ultimately get passed.

“I think people have seen what happens in a post-Dobbs world, and the real fear we’re seeing in our neighbors,” she said. “And I think that’s making people understand that when we’re looking at people’s rights to health care, right to access what they need, that kind of supersedes so much more.”

Voters showed up to the polls last week with abortion access in mind and elected reproductive health care champions, Herring said. Now, she said, action can start to get going.

“New Mexicans are ready for increased access to the full spectrum of reproductive health care, including abortion care,” Herring said. “And we’re working on making sure that all New Mexicans can access health care in their own communities.”

New Mexico pays for empty buildings as remote work lingers - Associated Press

Inspections have found that New Mexico is paying to maintain entire buildings and several building floors of unused office space as many state workers continue to telecommute from home in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.

The program evaluation from the Legislature's budget and accountability office was scheduled for discussion by lawmakers on Tuesday.

Unused building space costs the state up to $18 million a year, the inquiry found.

In one instance, an agency has no plan in place for a return to in-person work at a nearly empty facility with a $1.2 million annual lease.

Currently up to 38% of state employees work from home remotely on any given day.

The three branches of state government spend about $158 million a year on maintenance, utilities and rent for building and office space that spans across the equivalent of 380 football fields.

The study finds leased building space is especially costly to the state and its taxpayers.

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.

Cubans, Nicaraguans drive illegal border crossings higher - By Elliot Spagat Associated Press

U.S. authorities stopped migrants more than 230,000 times on the Mexican border in October, the third-highest month of Joe Biden's presidency amid growing numbers from Cuba, Nicaragua, Colombia and other countries.

Fewer Venezuelans came after the the Biden administration introduced new asylum restrictions on Oct. 12, but increasing arrivals from other countries more than offset that decline, according to figures released late Monday.

Authorities stopped migrants 230,678 times last month, up 1.4% from 227,547 in September and the highest since May, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said.

Cubans replaced Venezuelans as the second-largest nationality after Mexicans, extending the biggest flight from the Caribbean island to the United States since the Mariel boatlift in 1980.

Cubans were stopped 28,848 times, up 10% from September. Their presence is a major concern for U.S. officials, who arrived in Havana on Monday for talks with Cuban officials on migration.

Venezuelans were the third-largest nationality as flows diminished after Oct. 12, when Mexico began accepting Venezuelans who enter the U.S. illegally and are expelled under a Trump-era rule that denies rights to seek asylum on grounds of preventing spread of COVID-19. CBP said Venezuelan arrivals fell to about 300 a day by the end of October from about 1,100 before the new restrictions.

Nicaraguans were the fourth-largest nationality, closely behind Venezuelans. They were stopped 20,917 times, up 15% from September.

The numbers were released two days after the forced resignation of Chris Magnus as commissioner of the largest law enforcement agency in the United States. The former Tucson, Arizona, police chief had been on the job less than a year.

"Encounters of Cuban and Nicaraguan asylum seekers fleeing their authoritarian regimes continues to be at an historic high," said Troy Miller, acting CBP commissioner. "This reflects the challenge that is gripping the hemisphere, as displaced populations flee authoritarianism, corruption, violence, and poverty."

There were fewer migrants from Guatemalan and Honduras — countries that have historically sent large numbers — but more came from other parts of the world.

Colombians were stopped 17,195 times, the fifth highest, up 25% from September. Amid the war in Ukraine, Russians were stopped 3,879 times, up 48% from September.

Nearly 80,000 migrants were expelled in October under the pandemic-related asylum ban known as Title 42, bringing total expulsions to more than 2.4 million since March 2000. The rule has been applied most heavily on nationalities that Mexico accepts. Aside from Mexicans, Mexico admits Guatemalans, Hondurans, El Salvadorans and, most recently, Venezuelans.