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WED: Prosecutors say former candidate accused of shootings is danger to community, + More

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Albuquerque Metro Court live feed
Solomon Peña, center, appearing in court on Jan. 18, 2023. The former Republican candidate for state House was arrested in connection with a recent series of drive-by shootings targeting Democratic lawmakers in New Mexico.

Prosecutors: New Mexico candidate is a danger to community - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

Prosecutors say a failed GOP candidate accused of orchestrating a series of drive-by shootings at the homes of Democratic elected officials in New Mexico's largest city is a danger to the community and should be detained pending trial.

They filed a motion Wednesday, asking that Solomon Peña be held without bond. He appeared via video shackled for an initial court appearance as a judge explained that he would remain in custody pending a detention hearing scheduled for next month.

Defense attorney Roberta Yurcic said she would request conditions be set so her client can be released as his case proceeds through state district court. But prosecutors argued in the motion that no conditions would ensure the community's safety.

"The defendant's actions show what lengths he is willing to go when he is dissatisfied with reality," the motion states. "He arranged multiple shootings of multiple homes, and he personally participated in at least one of the shootings. There is no reason to believe that someone so unwilling to accept reality will give any credence to court ordered conditions of release."

Peña is charged with multiple counts stemming from shootings that started in early December and continued in January. The charges include shooting at a home, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, conspiracy and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Authorities identified the 39-year-old felon as the key suspect using a combination of cellphone and vehicle records, bullet casings collected near the officials' homes and information from a confidential witness.

Peña had posted on social media after the November election that it was "rigged" and he would not concede despite losing his bid for the statehouse in a district that has been held by Democrats for years.

According to a criminal complaint, the political newcomer allegedly paid for four men to shoot at Democratic officials' homes, including one house where a 10-year-old girl was asleep.

The case of Peña, who had posted photos of himself online with Donald Trump campaign material, is one of dozens across the United States where people have threatened, and in some cases attempted to carry out, violence against members of Congress, school board members and other election officials.

A self-proclaimed "MAGA king," Peña expressed discontent with the election and the certification of the results in a text message sent to one of his alleged coconspirators in November.

Other messages included the addresses of the officials that were targeted.

A SWAT team arrested Peña on Monday.

Peña spent nine years behind bars after his arrest in April 2007 for stealing electronics and other goods from retail stores as part of what authorities described as a burglary crew. He was released from prison in March 2016, and he had his voting rights restored after completing five years of probation in April 2021, corrections officials said.

Peña ran unsuccessfully in November against incumbent state Rep. Miguel P. Garcia, the longtime Democrat representing House District 14 in the South Valley. Peña got 26% of the vote.

On Nov. 15, he posted an image of himself in a "Make America Great Again" hoodie, saying "Trump just announced for 2024. I stand with him. I never conceded my HD 14 race. Now researching my options."

No one was wounded in the drive-by shootings, and elected leaders on both sides of the aisle have condemned such violence, saying it has no place in the political process.

Police said Peña had previously shown up uninvited at the homes of two elected officials with what he claimed were documents proving that he had won his race. There was no evidence of widespread voter fraud, or any irregularity involving enough votes to change a result, in New Mexico in 2020 or 2022.

The criminal complaint says that Peña hired a father and son with criminal histories of their own as well as two brothers whom authorities have yet to identify. Albuquerque police said they expect to make more arrests.

According to the complaint, a witness told investigators that one of the men told the shooters to aim above the homes' windows to avoid striking anyone inside.

The witness said Peña wanted them to shoot lower and that his insistence that the men be more aggressive made the other participants uneasy.

Peña is accused of participating in the final shooting — the one that targeted the home of state Sen. Linda Lopez. The witness said Peña's gun jammed and did not fire correctly but one of the other men fired multiple rounds from a Glock pistol into the home, where Lopez's daughter was sleeping.

Prosecutors weigh options in fatal shooting by Alec Baldwin - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

A Santa Fe district attorney will announce Thursday whether charges will be brought in the fatal 2021 film-set shooting of a cinematographer by actor Alec Baldwin during a rehearsal of the Western "Rust."

Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said a decision will be announced Thursday morning in a statement and on social media, without public appearances by prosecutors.

"The announcement will be a solemn occasion, made in a manner keeping with the office's commitment to upholding the integrity of the judicial process and respecting the victim's family," said Heather Brewer, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office.

Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins died shortly after being wounded by a gunshot during setup for a scene at the ranch on the outskirts of Santa Fe on Oct. 21, 2021. Baldwin was pointing a pistol at Hutchins when the gun went off, killing her and wounding the director, Joel Souza.

Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza, who led the initial investigation into Hutchins' death, described "a degree of neglect" on the film set. But he left decisions about potential criminal charges to prosecutors after delivering the results of a yearlong investigation in October. That report did not specify how live ammunition wound up on the film set.

Taking control of the investigation, Carmack-Altwies was granted an emergency $300,000 request for the state to pay for a special prosecutor, special investigator and other experts and personnel.

Baldwin — known for his roles in "30 Rock" and "The Hunt for Red October" and his impression of former President Donald Trump on "Saturday Night Live" — has described the killing of Hutchins as a "tragic accident."

He has sought to clear his name by suing people involved in handling and supplying the loaded gun that was handed to him on set. Baldwin, also a co-producer on "Rust," said he was told the gun was safe.

In his lawsuit, Baldwin said 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.

New Mexico's Office of the Medical Investigator determined the shooting was an accident following the completion of an autopsy and a review of law enforcement reports.

New Mexico's Occupational Health and Safety Bureau has levied the maximum fine against Rust Movie Productions, based on 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.

Rust Movie Productions continues to challenge the basis of a $137,000 fine by regulators who say production managers on the set failed to follow standard industry protocols for firearms safety.

The armorer who oversaw firearms on the set, Hannah Gutierrez Reed, has been the subject of much of the scrutiny in the case, along with an independent ammunition supplier. An attorney for Gutierrez Reed has said the armorer did not put a live round in the gun that killed Hutchins, and believes she was the victim of sabotage. Authorities said they've found no evidence of that.

Investigators initially found 500 rounds of ammunition at the movie set on the outskirts of Santa Fe — a mix of blanks, dummy rounds and what appeared to be live rounds. Industry experts have said live rounds should never be on set.

In April 2022, the Santa Fe Sheriff's Department released a trove of files including lapel camera video of the mortally wounded Hutchins slipping in and out of consciousness as an evacuation helicopter arrived. Witness interrogations, email threads, text conversations, inventories of ammunition and hundreds of photographs rounded out that collection of evidence.

State workplace safety regulators said that immediate gun-safety concerns were addressed when "Rust" ceased filming, and that a return to filming in New Mexico would be accompanied by new safety inspections.

The family of Hutchins — widower Matthew Hutchins and son Andros — settled a lawsuit against producers under an agreement that aims to restart filming with Matthew's involvement as executive producer.

"Rust" was beset by disputes from the start in early October 2021. Seven crew members walked off the set just hours before the fatal shooting amid discord over working conditions.

Hutchins' death has influenced negotiations over safety provisions in film crew union contracts with Hollywood producers and spurred other filmmakers to choose computer-generated imagery of gunfire rather than real weapons with blank ammunition to minimize risks.

Lujan Grisham calls on N.M. lawmakers to legally protect abortion rights during State of the State - Shaun Griswold, Source New Mexico 

Cheers filled the House chambers in Santa Fe on Tuesday afternoon when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced she wants to expand protections for abortion services and care in the state.

“We do that, and we make it clear to practitioners, to women and families that in every corner of this state: Your body autonomy and your health care choices are in fact your own,” the governor said.

Of course not everyone stood to applaud and celebrate. Republicans facing the governor from the one side of where she stood at the dais didn’t clap much during her first State of the State since winning re-election in November.

The large majority of Democratic elected officials just made it seem that everyone was in support. Democrats control the House 45-25 and Senate by 27-15. Most GOP senators were not even in attendance during her speech, which outlined executive priorities on topics such as education, tax reform, public safety and health care..

“I’m going to ask you,” Lujan Grisham said to lawmakers, “to make good on our commitment to invest $10 million in full-service, reproductive health care — a center right in southern New Mexico.”

When Lujan Grisham said “While we’re at it, let’s codify abortion rights into state statute,” Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver leaped out of her seat in celebration. Three seats down, U.S. Reps. Melanie Stansbury and Teresa Leger Fernandez shared the enthusiasm. Next to the freshly re-elected congressional members sat Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, also applauding the proposals to expand and protect reproductive rights statewide.

Someone who couldn’t stand to cheer was Rep. Linda Serrato (D-Santa Fe). At the time Lujan Grisham delivered her line, Serrato was seated in her chair rocking her sleeping daughter Alma. Regardless, Serrato is a leader in the House and standing up in another way to help the governor meet her promise on abortion access.

Families were in attendance for the first time since COVID closed the Roundhouse to the public. Serrato’s daughter made it through most of the festivities but took a nap in her mother’s arms about halfway through the governor’s speech.

This week, Serrato intends to file legislation meant to stop local municipalities from passing restrictions on abortion services and care.

“You don’t want there to be a checkerboard of where it’s legal and where it’s not. What if you are in Roosevelt and you go to a doctor in Clovis, but then you get your prescription filled in Portales,” Serrato said. “A checkerboard makes it very difficult for everyone to understand what their role is and what they’re able to access.”

Several towns in New Mexico passed ordinances limiting services, or outright banning practices, even as the state government vows to keep reproductive health care available for anyone — whether they are in-state or crossing state lines for services.

“We want consistency,” Serrato added, “so that patients, providers — anybody in this entire system understands how that works.”

Her efforts will be matched by a proposal expected to be filed by Sen. Linda Lopez (D-Albuquerque) called the Reproductive Health Care Protection Act.

In short, it codifies protections for providers in the state, similar to the contents of an executive order by Lujan Grisham in April, shortly after the Supreme Court’s decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned federal protections for abortions.

These two pieces of legislation are supported by the Democratic majority in both chambers and are anticipated to pass without much opposition, thought there could be lengthy debate. The measures also have support from community advocates, clinicians and others that are on the front lines of ensuring New Mexico offers safe access to abortion care.

“These are the two most critical things that we need to do this year to continue to protect abortion care in our state,” said Kayla Herring, public affairs director for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.

Rep. Linda Serrato in a turquoise shirt leans on a table while holding a pen to sign an official roster of state representatives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Her young daughter peeks ahead, she is wearing a mask. Behind her is Serrato's mother in a white blazer holding a cellphone above her head to take a picture.

Serrato and advocates also want to make sure there is enough of a workforce to meet the increased demand of abortions services in New Mexico as surrounding states criminalize it post-Dobbs.

“There’s no way that New Mexico or any other state could manage the capacity of care that has been provided in those banned states,” Herring said. “And so we’re doing everything we can to care for as many patients as possible. But there are millions of people who have lost access in their home states.”

House Majority Whip Reena Szczepanski (D-Santa Fe) said there will be discussions about meeting those needs during the budget process. New Mexico has more than $3 billion in surplus money to spend, however Szczepanski was unclear on the details about how much money will be directed to reproductive care, or where it will go.

“New Mexico will continue to be a beacon for health care services for the country. And we need to be ready to meet that role,” Szczepanski said. “I think in terms of the budget, in terms of reimbursement rates, in terms of all of the above, you’ll see a lot of activity.”

In her speech Tuesday launching the 60-day legislative session, Lujan Grisham also called for lawmakers to sign off on the creation of a new state department, the Health Care Advisory Authority, an umbrella agency that the governor said “puts all our health care services under one roof and brings us a step closer to universal health care in New Mexico.”

Lujan Grisham said New Mexico is the only state where more than half of the population is on Medicaid and this new health agency is committed to making all health care services accessible. She wants to use billions in federal investments to ensure this right.

“If we believe in equality, like we say we do,” she said, “And if we believe in justice like we say we do, we ought to make sure that every new Mexican of every background and circumstance can access high-quality care.”

Advocates voice support as Lujan Grisham pitches improvements for N.M. children - By Megan Taros, Source New Mexico 

Gov. Michelle Lujan-Grisham promised billions in educational investment during her State of the State address and unveiled two programs to big applause.

Universal child care, she said on Tuesday, could be supported by the Early Childhood Education Trust Fund. And a universal school lunch program would also roll out $20 million for school kitchens so they can offer fresh and healthy foods.

The governor touted the success of her administration in its “cradle-to-career” approach, which she said is making educational programs like child care and early childhood education more affordable and accessible, “lifting families out of poverty for the first time in decades and putting them on the path to success.”

Good public education at every age “has been my priority since the first day of my administration, which is why, over the last four years, we have supercharged our education system,” Lujan-Grisham said in her speech.

Education advocates expressed support for the governor’s new initiatives and called for a continued investment in early childhood education.

New Mexico Voices for Children Executive Director Amber Wallin praised the shift in the tax burden that benefits low-income families. New Mexico in July stopped collecting Social Security benefits taxes from people who make $100,000 or less or joint tax filers who make $150,000 or less in annual income.

“Making a system that supports families is key,” she said. “Having a fair tax system is really important to helping kids and families access education … and it is important that everyone in the state is paying their fair share.”

She also expressed support for continuing the child tax credit.

Wallin asked that the Legislature use its historic surplus to fund education initiatives and not use Early Childhood Education Trust Fund money for unrelated programs. She said voters made their priorities heard when they overwhelmingly passed Constitutional Amendment 1, which pulls more from the Land Grant Permanent Funds for early childhood education.

Meanwhile, New Mexico is still grappling with the Yazzie-Martinez ruling, which found that the state was not meeting its constitutional obligation to provide equitable, quality education. Lawmakers and advocates have urged the Legislature to pass bills to adequately address the problem.

“Nothing will change even if the state invests millions of dollars in the same systems that don’t have the capacity to respond to this ruling,” former Cochiti Pueblo Gov. Regis Pecos told Source New Mexico.

Rep. Derrick Lente (D-Sandia Pueblo) is introducing several bills that would invest millions in educational resources by directly funding tribes. Supporters are calling for a Tribal Education Trust Fund, which would give $100,000 to tribes each year to lead the way in meeting their communities’ educational needs.

While the governor did not directly discuss efforts to meet the Yazzie-Martinez requirements, Wallin said she hoped the new programs the governor promised would be implemented equitably.

“We know there’s some challenges in addressing Yazzie-Martinez,” she said. “But it’s important for us to not lose focus on the conversations we need to have with tribes, rural families and all the people who are affected by the decisions being made.”

The trust fund measure, which hadn’t yet been filed Tuesday night, received an endorsement Monday from the Legislative Education Study Committee, an interim committee that meets throughout the year to discuss the proposal’s it supported. The committee also endorsed changes to graduation requirements, $100 million in capital outlay funds to go toward school safety and an increase in instructional hours.

Though the state still struggles in education, Wallin said, that reality is changing.

“We pull data all the time, and we’re lagging behind,” Wallin said. “But what we are continuing to see now is New Mexico becoming a leader on opportunities for kids and families.”

N.M. government tasked with responding to climate disasters and grappling with their cause - Danielle Prokop, Source New Mexico

Advocacy groups praised the governor’s proposal for a boost in state environment programs, but activists also urged the state government to do more to fight climate change in a busy opening day of the 2023 legislative session.

Record oil and gas revenues soaring to what lawmakers called “once-in-history” levels brought New Mexico a more than $3.6 billion budget surplus — but the state is also spending more money in the wake of disastrous wildfires and flooding exacerbated by climate change.

Youth United for Climate Crisis Action (YUCCA) held a “die-in,” a demonstration of about 70 youth lying down in the capital’s rotunda before the governor’s State of the State address on Tuesday.

The wildfires that ripped across the state in 2022 are harbingers of a worse climate future, said Zephyr Jaramillo, a campaign organizer with YUCCA, and should prompt an immediate scaling back of the oil and gas industry.

“If New Mexico’s decision-makers don’t take bold climate action with real solutions, now, our communities and our futures are on the line,” Jaramillo said.

Sofia Jenkins-Nieto, the environmental justice coordinator at YUCCA, said Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s focus in her speech on net zero by 2050 does not address the drastic global change.

“It’s too little too late to address the crisis we’re in,” she said.

The governor pledged a surprise $100 million in state money for San Miguel and Mora Counties hit hard by the worst wildfire ever in New Mexico as one of the environmental priorities at the end of the State of the State address Tuesday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency started accepting applications for $2.5 billion in federal aid money in November, but Lujan Grisham said residents need immediate help to rebuild roads, farms and homes.

Mora County Commissioner Veronica Serna called the announcement both a “surprise” and “a major relief” for the county, saying those dollars can pay for roads impacted by the fires and the flooding in the aftermath.

“I had heard that they were considering helping us. I just didn’t know how much they’d give,” Serna said. “I am so grateful because our roads are in desperate need of repair.”

In the address, Lujan Grisham also highlighted some of the requests in her $9.4 billion executive budget proposal, including setting aside $128 million for water infrastructure.

Rachel Conn, a deputy director with water advocacy group Amigos Bravos, said it was a big step towards making a long-term investment to fix flooding, irrigation and water quality issues across the state.

Beyond funding, Conn said, the state has to ensure that rural systems, tribes and acequias have equal support, while working to update the entire state’s system. N.M. government must continue to provide increased funding for state agencies overseeing water quality, she added, such as the Office of the State Engineer.

“Because the decisions we make now will impact every New Mexican for the next century,” she said. “We must not let this historic moment go by without taking bold concrete steps to modernize our water policies and our infrastructure.”

Lujan Grisham also recommended investing $75 million for the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund, offering additional state money to access federal conservation money over three to five years.

In its separate $9.4 billion budget, the Legislative Finance Committee recommended $35 million for the fund.

Brittany Fallon, senior policy manager at Western Resource Advocates, a conservation nonprofit across seven states, called the governor’s pledge a “huge deal” for sustainability.

“This could be helping our communities be more resilient to climate change,” she said, “whether that is wildfire, whether that is drought, whether that is habitat management or sustainable trail building.”

The state money will go to existing programs that qualify for federal matches and can offer more resources.

“You need money in order to be eligible for federal government money,” Fallon said. “Some of the programs, for $1 of state money, you can bring in $3 of federal money, which is a huge return.”

Fallon said the state’s windfall needs to be used to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

“One of the most responsible things we can do with record oil and gas revenue,” she said, “is improve our community’s ability to withstand climate change, which of course is partially caused by oil and gas.”

New Mexico shootings follow two years of election assaults - By Christina A. Cassidy Associated Press

Two years since the attack on the U.S. Capitol, a series of drive-by shootings targeting Democrats in New Mexico is a violent reminder that the false claims about a stolen election persist in posing a danger to public officials and the country's democratic institutions.

While no one was hurt in the Albuquerque attacks, this latest outburst of political violence underscores how election denialism has become deeply embedded across much of the country and how it is driving grievance-filled anger over the nation's politics and officeholders.

Over the past year, the husband of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was seriously injured in an attack in his home by an assailant who said he was sick of the "lies coming out of Washington D.C.," election workers were intimidated and harassed, and prosecutors won convictions in a plot to kidnap Michigan's governor.

Further sign of the unrelenting threat came this week when authorities arrested a Republican candidate for the New Mexico House who had refused to accept his loss in last fall's election. Police said Solomon Peña hired four people to shoot at the homes of four Democratic lawmakers.

"I think we are really entering a new era where political rhetoric has gotten so heated and people with mental health issues or extreme conspiratorial viewpoints on the world have resorted to political violence," New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez, who took office Jan. 1, said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

He wants the Legislature to address political violence and said he plans to talk with the secretary of state's office about ways to shield some information about elected officials or candidates from public disclosure.

Torrez noted that other countries have become destabilized when extremists use threats and intimidation rather than work through the institutions of government. He said such violence is destabilizing and needs to be dealt with forcefully.

"It is a threat to the very fabric and foundation of a democratic republic," he said.

Lies by former President Donald Trump and his allies about the 2020 presidential election led to the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, as well as threats and harassment against state and local election officials. The insurrection in Washington also contributed to a drop in confidence in election results among Republicans.

Some election deniers ran last year for offices that oversee elections, as well as for governor and attorney general — all losing in battleground states. The turn to violence in New Mexico suggests the lasting impact of the campaign by Trump and his allies to discredit the 2020 race he lost and sow doubt about how elections are run.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called the allegations "horrifying and shocking," adding the Biden administration has "emphasized the dangerous ways in which conspiracy theories and disinformation can lead some individuals to violence."

A large segment of Republicans, 58%, still believe Democrat Joe Biden's victory in 2020 was not legitimate, according to an October poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Peña, a 39-year-old felon and self-proclaimed "MAGA king," faces multiple charges in the Albuquerque-area attacks on the homes of two state lawmakers and two county officials, including one house where a 10-year-old girl was asleep. Peña had refused to accept his landslide loss in November when he won just 26% of the vote in a state House race in Albuquerque against the longtime Democratic incumbent, Rep. Miguel P. Garcia.

Peña parroted Trump's rhetoric, claiming without evidence that the House race had been "rigged" against him. There has been no evidence of fraud or widespread problems in New Mexico's election.

Peña, who is being held without bond, appeared briefly in court Wednesday on charges that include multiple counts of shooting at a home, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, conspiracy and being a felon in possession of a firearm. He spent nine years behind bars after his arrest in April 2007 for stealing electronics and other goods from several retail stores as part of what authorities described as a burglary crew. He was released from prison in 2016, and had his voting rights restored after completing five years probation in April 2021, corrections officials said.

Peña did not speak at the hearing, and a message to his attorney was not immediately returned.

The New Mexico Republican Party said in a statement that Peña should be prosecuted "to the full extent of the law" if he is found guilty.

There also was no evidence of widespread fraud or manipulation of voting machines in the 2020 election, and Biden's win was affirmed after exhaustive reviews in the states where Trump disputed his loss. Dozens of judges — including some appointed by Trump — rejected lawsuits by Trump and his allies challenging the outcome, and Trump's own attorney general, William Barr, said the fraud claims were bogus.

Despite that, the conspiracy theories surrounding the presidential election have prompted a surge in threats and harassment of state and local election officials.

Cases like the one in New Mexico might seem random but are not, said John Farmer Jr., director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University and a former New Jersey attorney general.

"They are the logical endpoint of this culture of challenging the legitimacy of our democratic processes," he said.

Farmer said curbing that kind of political violence depends in part on filing the most serious charges possible and aggressively prosecuting cases.

David Levine, a fellow at the Alliance for Securing Democracy and a former elections official in Idaho, said extremism fueled by anti-democratic figures and conspiracy theories is an acute threat. He advocated for better information-sharing among intelligence and law enforcement agencies as well as changes to state laws to remove provisions that could be exploited by those seeking to spread election misinformation.

Congressional proposals to increase penalties for threatening election officials failed to advance last year, leaving state officials looking to their legislatures for support. Seven bills have been introduced so far in five states to protect election workers and their staff, according to the Voting Rights Lab, which tracks voting-related legislation in the states.

In Michigan, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Democratic legislative leaders announced plans this week for several election-related bills, including ones to increase penalties for threatening, harassing or revealing private information about election workers and for pressuring election officials to act illegally.

"We must do more to protect the people who protect democracy," Benson, a Democrat, said in a statement.

Concerns of political violence have been growing in recent years.

Last month, the co-leader of the plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer before the 2020 election was sentenced to 16 years in prison. Whitmer, a Democrat, was not harmed. Prosecutors said the defendants were upset about restrictions related to the COVD-19 pandemic and perceived threats to gun ownership.

In California, prosecutors said the assault of Paul Pelosi was part of a plot to kidnap the Democratic congresswoman and that the suspect also planned to target other politicians.

Members of Congress have seen a sharp rise in threats in the two years since the insurrection. In Kansas, a trial began this week for a man prosecutors say threatened to kill a Republican congressman.

New Mexico House Speaker Javier Martínez of Albuquerque, whose home was among those targeted in the recent shootings, said he was relieved by the arrest.

"These are the things that can happen when the rhetoric gets out of hand," he told reporters on the opening day of the Legislature. "Anyone who takes the plunge to participate in our democracy, to get into the process, should never have to encounter that type of violence and have that kind of fear."

___

Associated Press writers Susan Montoya Bryan and Morgan Lee in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Colleen Long in Washington, D.C.; and Alanna Durkin Richer in Boston contributed to this report.

Violence looms over New Mexico Legislature as work begins - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called for new gun control laws and greater accountability for firearm manufacturers while denouncing recent drive-by shootings of the homes of Democratic lawmakers in Albuquerque in her State of the State address Tuesday at the start of the annual legislative session.

New Mexico's Democratic-led Legislature is preparing to tap a multibillion-dollar budget surplus as it takes on daunting challenges of crime, lagging student achievement in schools and below-average workforce participation during its 60-day legislative session.

The governor and leading Democratic legislators want to expand preschool access, lengthen annual instructional time at public schools, increase public salaries and provide at least $1 billion in tax relief and rebates.

But concerns about politically motivated violence loomed over the proceedings after police on Monday arrested a failed Republican candidate in connection with a series of shootings targeting the homes of Democratic lawmakers in Albuquerque.

Addressing a joint session of the state House and Senate, Lujan Grisham condemned what she called "despicable acts of political violence" and a "sickening scourge of gun violence that has infected our nation." She announced proposals to ban assault-style weapons, allow victims of gun violence to bring civil lawsuits against gun manufacturers, and crack down on black-market sales that funnel guns to ineligible buyers.

"We all know that we cannot keep our people safe, we cannot keep our police officers and their families safe, if weapons of war continue to flood our neighborhoods," Lujan Grisham said.

"If we are bold and clear in our knowledge that now is the time to do the right thing, we can save lives and protect futures," Lujan Grisham said. "I'm not going to let up and I know that there will be other ideas and other strategies, and I know that we're going to work together."

Republicans in the legislative minority also condemned the attack on politicians in Albuquerque — and said that gun control measures won't make people safer.

"I got concerned, I made sure that my own firearms were really close at hand," said state Sen. Craig Brandt of Rio Rancho. "Putting in more gun-control laws doesn't allow us to protect ourselves."

Republican state legislators hope to reinstate immunity from prosecution for policing agencies and tighten requirements for pretrial release of people charged of crimes.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth of Santa Fe says he'll sponsor a bill that bans firearms at all polling locations in response to the fears and frustrations of election workers.

Lujan Grisham staked her reelection heavily on her support for preserving widespread access to abortion as a foundation of women's rights and democracy following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last year that overturned Roe v. Wade and left legalization up to the states.

Leading Democratic legislators hope to send her a bill that would prohibit restrictions on abortion by local governments and shield patients and abortion doctors from harassment by out-of-state interests.

New Mexico also is grappling with the aftermath of catastrophic 2022 wildfires linked to climate change and drought.

State legislators want to make the state more resilient to climate-related disasters by speeding up the delivery of federal disaster aid and allowing small water districts to band together as they rebuild from wildfires.

Lujan Grisham hopes to fund the first New Mexico-based corps of elite smokejumper firefighters to ensure a rapid response to future fires. On Tuesday, she proposed the creation of a $75 million trust fund to address root causes of water scarcity and climate change.

State government income is forecast to reach new heights — $12 billion in revenue during the fiscal year that runs from July 2023 though June 2024. That's about $3.6 billion in excess of current annual spending commitments.

Lujan Grisham urged legislators to tap that windfall to back her "cradle-to-career" strategy of expanding free public education, with new investments this year in daycare, preschool and tuition-free college as enrollments swell at public universities.

"Our commitment to making education accessible and affordable is lifting families out of poverty," Lujan Grisham said.

Legislators in the Republican minority say more public spending hasn't translated into greater student achievement on Lujan Grisham's watch. They want greater competition among K-12 schools, wider options for students — with public funding of private and parochial schools.

"I think more choice for families ... to have that power back in the hands of parents, to chose where their children will get the best quality education, is where we have to go," Brandt said.

The governor and leading legislators are proposing a pay raise for state workers and public school educators of at least 4%. Taxpayers would pay for educators' individual health care premiums under a proposal from the governor.

Lawmakers also hope to sock away billions of dollars into specialized trust funds, and use future investment earnings to underwrite programs ranging from smoking cessation to highway construction.

Police arrest failed candidate in shootings at Democrats - By Rio Yamat And Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

A 39-year-old felon who overwhelmingly lost a bid for the New Mexico statehouse as a Republican paid for four men to shoot at Democratic lawmakers' homes in recent months, including one house where a 10-year-old girl was asleep, police said.

The case against Solomon Peña, who had posted photos of himself online with Donald Trump campaign material, is one of dozens across the United States where people have threatened, and in some cases attempted to carry out, violence against members of Congress, school board members and other election officials. In Kansas, a trial began this week for a man who prosecutors say threatened to kill a congressman.

Officials accuse Peña of paying $500 to four men to shoot at the homes of Democratic lawmakers. He went along for the final drive-by, his gun jamming as bullets ripped into the bedroom of the girl, police said.

The criminal complaint against the self-proclaimed "MAGA king" describes how anger over his landslide defeat in November led to attacks at the homes of four Democratic lawmakers in New Mexico's largest city. A SWAT team arrested him Monday afternoon, police said.

Peña spent nine years behind bars after his arrest in April 2007 for stealing electronics and other goods from several retail stores as part of what authorities described as a burglary crew. He was released from prison in March 2016, and had his voting rights restored after completing five years probation in April 2021, corrections officials said.

Peña ran unsuccessfully in November against incumbent state Rep. Miguel P. Garcia, the longtime Democrat representing House District 14 in the South Valley. Peña got 26% of the vote.

Peña, whose criminal past came up during the campaign, repeatedly made baseless claims that the election was "rigged" against him.

"I dissent. I am the MAGA king," he posted the day after the election.

On Nov. 15, he posted an image of himself in a "Make America Great Again" hoodie, saying "Trump just announced for 2024. I stand with him. I never conceded my HD 14 race. Now researching my options."

Peña has an initial court appearance Wednesday on charges including multiple counts of shooting at a home and shooting from a motor vehicle, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, conspiracy and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

No one was wounded in the drive-by shootings. The New Mexico Republican Party said that: "If Peña is found guilty, he must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law."

Peña's candidacy was challenged in state district court, with his opponent saying he wasn't eligible to seek office because he had not been pardoned by the governor, nor did he request to be pardoned.

The court sided with Peña, finding that a state law that prohibits a felon from holding public office was unconstitutional. An appeal is pending.

Police said Peña had previously shown up uninvited at the homes of two elected officials with what he claimed were documents proving that he had won his race. There was no evidence of widespread voter fraud, or any irregularity involving enough votes to change a result, in New Mexico in 2020 or 2022.

The criminal complaint says that Peña hired a father and son with criminal histories of their own as well as two brothers whom authorities have yet to identify. In one of their text messages, Peña complained that officials certifying the election in November "sold us out to the highest bidder."

The shootings began Dec. 4, when eight rounds were fired at the home of Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa. Days later, state Rep. Javier Martinez's home was targeted. On Dec. 11, more than a dozen rounds were fired at the home of Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O'Malley, police said.

The final related shooting, targeting state Sen. Linda Lopez's home, unfolded in the midnight hour of Jan. 3. Police said more than a dozen shots were fired, including three that Lopez said passed through the bedroom of her sleeping 10-year-old daughter.

The witness said one of the men told the shooters to aim above the homes' windows to avoid striking anyone inside. Peña wanted them to shoot lower.

Peña's insistence that the men be more aggressive made the other participants uneasy "since they knew that doing so would likely end in death or injury," said the witness, who faces criminal charges and has asked for leniency. Authorities said no such promises have been made.

The witness said Peña was there at the Lopez shooting "to ensure better target acquisition."

The witness said Peña's gun jammed and did not fire correctly but one of the other men fired multiple rounds from a Glock pistol into the Lopez home.

An appointed public defender for Peña did not immediate return messages seeking comment.

The shooting spree was "scary, not just from my personal perspective, but the fact that our democratic processes that we believed so much in -- and that our country was founded on -- would be targeted in that way," Martinez, the Democratic lawmaker, said at a news conference on his first day as the top-ranked House leader.

"It's long overdue that we lower the temperature. These are the things that can happen when the rhetoric gets out of hand," Martínez said.

Lawmakers in the Democratic-run state have had to tread carefully over the years not to infringe on the right to bear arms, and it was only recently that firearms were banned from the state capitol. In Albuquerque, authorities have been struggling to address escalating gun violence and consecutive years of record homicides.

Detectives identified Peña as their key suspect using a combination of cellphone and vehicle records, witness interviews and bullet casings collected near the lawmakers' homes.

Technology that can detect the sound of gunfire led an officer to Lopez's neighborhood shortly after the shots were fired.

The officer found bullet casings matching a handgun found later that morning in a Nissan Maxima registered to Peña. Around 1:30 a.m., about an hour after the shooting at Lopez's home, police stopped the Nissan about 4 miles from the lawmaker's neighborhood.

The driver, identified as Jose Trujillo, was arrested on an outstanding warrant, leading to the discovery of more than 800 fentanyl pills and two firearms in the car.

Authorities said Tuesday the investigation was ongoing and more arrests were expected.

Moving species emerges as last resort as climate warms - By Christina Larson And Matthew Brown Associated Press

In a desperate effort to save a seabird species in Hawaii from rising ocean waters, scientists are moving chicks to a new island hundreds of miles away.

Moving species to save them — once considered taboo — is quickly gaining traction as climate change upends habitats. Similar relocations are being suggested for birds, lizards, butterflies and even flowers.

Concerns persist that the novel practice could cause unintended harm the same way invasive plants and animals have wreaked havoc on native species.

But for the Tristram's storm petrels on northeastern Hawaii's Tern Island, which is just 6 feet (1.8 meters) above sea level, the relocation of about 40 chicks to artificial burrows more than 500 miles (805 kilometers) away on Oahu could offer new hope. The species is considered vulnerable to extinction, and the goal is for the young petrels return to their new home when old enough to breed.

"Tern Island is washing away," said biologist Eric VanderWerf of the nonprofit Pacific Rim Conservation. "Climate change is causing a greater need for this — for taking a species outside its known historical range."

A pending change to the U.S. Endangered Species Act by the Biden administration would make it easier to relocate some of the most imperiled species to places where they've not previously been recorded.

In response, state wildlife officials and scientists have suggested moving a portion of some species struggling with climate change, including Key deer of southern Florida, the Karner blue butterfly of the Midwest and Northeast, desert flowers in Nevada and California and the St. Croix ground lizard in the Virgin Islands.

Republicans in western states — including Montana, New Mexico and Arizona — are against the proposal saying it could wreak ecological havoc as "invasive species" get purposefully introduced.

The proposal, which federal officials expect to finalize in June, reflects a "fundamental shift in the way we think of species protection and conservation," said University of Notre Dame biologist Jason McLachlan.

The issue goes beyond endangered species, McLachlan said, and raises questions about what should be considered "native" now that shifting temperatures are pushing some species to higher elevations or toward the planet's poles.

Comparable temperature shifts in the past occurred over millennia, but the present one is happening over just decades and is drastically upending ecosystems. "Eventually we're going to have to start thinking about it in ways that will make people — including me — uncomfortable," he said. "To say this species is OK and this species is not OK, that's asking a lot of human beings."

To save storm petrels, VanderWerf said, scientists need to act before populations have crashed. "In 30 years, these birds will certainly be rare, if we don't do something about it," he said.

Relocation of species outside historical ranges is still a rarity, but U.S. wildlife officials have identified numerous threatened and endangered plants and animals already being affected by climate change: glacial stoneflies in Montana, emperor penguins in Antarctica, the Mt. Rainier ptarmigan, the saltmarsh sparrow of the Atlantic coast and numerous birds of Hawaii.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesperson Karen Armstrong said there are no current proposals to establish new populations of those particular species. "In the future, some species' ranges may shift due to climate change, or their current habitats might become unsuitable due to invasive species encroachment," Armstrong said in an email. "We view experimental population establishment outside of their historical ranges as a potential tool for their management and conservation."

One plan now being considered by U.S. wildlife officials concerns birds native to Guam, where kingfishers were decimated by brown tree snakes accidentally brought to the island around 1950 on military cargo ships.

The last 29 wild Guam kingfishers were captured in the 1980s and have been bred in captivity to buy time. Under a pending proposal, nine kingfishers would be released back into the wild beginning this year on Palmyra Island, more than 3,600 miles (5,800 kilometers) away.

If a relocation is successful, the kingfishers would become one of the few species ever upgraded from "extinct in the wild" to "critically endangered."

The hope is that the Guam kingfisher, also known locally as sihek, will eventually be returned to their native island, if the tree snake is controlled, said Erica Royer, a bird expert at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Washington, D.C.

"This kind of intensive management is necessary for us to have a reasonable shot at holding onto some species," said Don Lyons with National Audubon Society's Seabird Institute.

Yet the potential danger — and scientific debate — lies in what humans can't predict. Humanity has been moving species around for centuries, often inadvertently and sometimes causing great harm.

Examples abound: Asian carp have spread through rivers and streams across the U.S. Starlings from Europe destroy crops and drive out songbirds. Zebra mussels from Eurasia decimate native populations. And kudzu vines from Japan planted to stabilize soils have spread to dozens of states where they choke out other plants.

Scientist Mark Schwartz at the University of California, Davis said he was initially skeptical of moving species for conservation when biologists began discussing the idea about a decade ago. The rapid rate of extinctions more recently has him thinking that sitting idle could be a costly error.

"Many, many species" must be moved or could go extinct, said James Watson, a conservation scientist at the University of Queensland in Australia, where increasingly severe, climate-fueled wildfires have forced conversations on relocations. Unprecedented fires three years ago likely destroyed the last habitats of some endangered species, he said.

"We've already played Russian Roulette with the climate, we're already on that ski run – we might as well take some more risks."