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THURS: NMSU meltdown runs beyond basketball, + More

The parking spot for Greg Heiar, former New Mexico State University men's basketball coach, shows a reserved sign outside the Pan American Center, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023, in Las Cruces, N.M.
Andrés Leighton
The parking spot for Greg Heiar, former New Mexico State University men's basketball coach, shows a reserved sign outside the Pan American Center, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023, in Las Cruces, N.M.

At New Mexico St, a meltdown that runs beyond basketball - By Eddie Pells AP National Writer

Of all the troubling video made public over a year of crisis at New Mexico State – from the brawl involving basketball players to the fatal shooting of a 19-year-old, allegedly by one of those players, to the police interviews with the coach afterward – one 42-minute log of footage might best explain how the school is in the mess it is today.

In that video, captured on police body cam, an officer is interviewing the university's $500,000-a-year chancellor, Dan Arvizu, and his wife, Sheryl Arvizu. The officer had been called to the couple's house to resolve a dispute that came out of Sheryl's suspicion her husband was having an affair with a staff member at New Mexico State.

Dan Arvizu denied the affair. Sheryl Arvizu ended up being booked into jail on a battery charge that was later dismissed. Officials at the school's Office of Institutional Equity looked into the allegations for possible conflict-of-interest issues, though there was no report filed.

During these fraught days at New Mexico State, where the once-treasured men's basketball program has been shelved for the season after that fatal shooting and a gruesome allegation of locker-room hazing, the Arvizu police video is a reminder of who is ultimately responsible at a university that has, in many eyes, become unhinged in areas well beyond basketball. The Associated Press spoke to more than a dozen people affiliated with the university, many of whom expressed deep concerns with leadership at the school. Some said they did not want their names used because they feared retribution.

"People are embarrassed," said Jamie Bronstein, a history professor who also serves as vice chair of NMSU's faculty senate. "People feel terrible for the students."

The school refused to make Arvizu or other administrators available for interviews. In response to a question regarding Arvizu's case, spokesman Justin Bannister said "the chancellor and other university officials are unified and working together to discover the facts, make tough decisions for the benefit of the campus community, and restore New Mexico State University's position as a leading, respected land-grant institution."

Questions some people are asking on this 14,000-student campus, where some of the adobe-colored dorms and classroom buildings are a short walk from livestock barns, have as much to do with school leadership as they do with the basketball program.

There have been seven different presidents, interim presidents and chancellors over the past 15 years at the second-biggest university in New Mexico. In addition to its isolation — set near the jagged mountains of southern New Mexico, NMSU is some 400 miles from the nearest major media market in Phoenix — the school is unique in that its student body is 63% Hispanic and more than a quarter of the students are the first members of their family to attend college.

"What makes NMSU such a special place is the huge opportunity to change students' and their families' lives by increasing our students' social mobility," business professor Jim Hoffman said. "This is why excellent leadership, thoughtful decision making and wise use of (limited) resources are so important."

No matter the disadvantages, New Mexico State has always been able to make a name for itself every March thanks to a men's basketball program that traditionally thrives on the strength of players and coaches who don't always take the traditional route to Division I. But this year, the program disintegrated.

The unraveling can be traced to an NMSU football game last Oct. 15 in which a handful of the school's basketball players got into a brawl with students from rival New Mexico. Video of the melee shows junior forward Mike Peake among those throwing punches.

No police report was filed that night, and five weeks after the fight, the players headed to Albuquerque for one of the season's most anticipated games, against the Lobos. It was there that Peake broke curfew and went to the dormitory complex of one of the students involved in the fight at the football stadium.

Video from the apartment parking lot shows Peake being attacked with a baseball bat before exchanging gunfire with the student, Brandon Travis. Both men fall. Peake was taken to the hospital with leg wounds that required surgery. Travis later died from his gunshot wounds. Peake, who was acting in self-defense, has not been charged with a crime. Police video shows Peake in a hospital bed after the shooting asking to get his gun back because "that's my only weapon." Guns are not permitted on New Mexico State's campus or on school-related road trips.

The morning after the shootings, players and coaches were loaded onto a bus to head back to Las Cruces, only to be stopped on Interstate 25 by police, who were still piecing together details from the night before.

The Aggies continued to play for nearly three more months. On Feb. 12, Arvizu canceled the season after allegations surfaced about three players ganging up on a teammate in what a police report said included a possible incident of criminal sexual contact. Two days later, Arvizu fired the coach, Greg Heiar. The player who made the allegations said similar hazing incidents had been occurring since summer. Arvizu said he was never made aware of the hazing. Bannister said school policy calls for employees to report misconduct to the Title IX office and that the university is "looking at additional support systems" for the future.

At a news conference after those moves, the chancellor said he was sure the "despicable acts" and potentially illegal behavior were confined strictly to the basketball team.

"There will be consequences," Arvizu said.

Both the shooting and hazing incidents are being sorted out by internal and third-party investigations. Some observers are skeptical they will ever get the full story.

"I feel that we've all been left in the dark," said one longtime Aggies fan, Amy Rohr.

The chancellor's notion that the problems have been walled off in the basketball program is hardly a consensus around campus.

Current and former employees the AP interviewed described scenarios in which top-level administrators refused to hold themselves or others accountable, both inside and outside the athletic department. One said the "guardrails" designed to protect students and faculty — from everything from retaliation for whistleblowing to sexual improprieties — had all but disappeared.

"Because there's so much churn in our upper administration, we never get to the point of hammering out who is actually accountable for upholding policies," Bronstein said.

In one instance, a lawsuit last year filed by a Jane Doe alleges a longtime professor with ties to the athletic department "harassed and groomed female students for years, coercing them into sexual relations and bragging about the same" while school officials looked the other way. The plaintiff alleges she was sexually assaulted by the professor.

Another case alleges that two professors who blew the whistle about hiring practices they claimed flouted human-resource policies had their complaints intercepted by an administrator involved in the hiring, who then pushed for disciplinary cases to be opened against those professors. One has been demoted from his deanship.

Bronstein and others told of the Office of Institutional Equity, which handles Title IX and other discrimination complaints and should have been on the front lines of the hazing allegations, as being marginalized, with administrators ignoring some recommendations produced by the office and putting others off.

Some of the dissatisfaction among faculty was resolved last year, when President John Floros stepped down and Provost Carol Parker was fired in the wake of a resolution of no confidence submitted by the faculty senate.

Among the complaints in that resolution were allegations of misappropriation of funds, unethical hiring and promotion practices and a long list of consequences of the "broader impacts of systemic failure of leadership."

Parker is currently suing the university. Floros was able to keep his $450,000-a-year salary. The approximately $950,000 in annual salary for Floros and Arvizu was nearly triple what former New Mexico Gov. Garry Carruthers made in his dual role as chancellor and president for five years ending in 2018.

Arvizu's five-year contract runs out in June. In December, regents made the decision not to renew it, leaving NMSU to face the basketball crisis with no president, a provost position in flux and a lame-duck chancellor.

The athletic director's job seems secure: When Arvizu dismantled basketball for the season, he went out of his way to back Mario Moccia, who is in his 10th year as AD.

One under-the-radar move the administrators made came in 2019 when they ended a policy that stated student-athletes would be dismissed if found guilty of (or pleaded no contest to) a felony. That allowed one player to remain on the team at the time the rules were changed. It also furthered New Mexico State's reputation as a place where athletes and coaches get second chances — perhaps without accountability.

At his news conference, Arvizu defended the rules changes that led to the new policy, while Moccia defended his hiring record, conceding that "nobody bats a thousand." The AD insisted the vetting process for Heiar was solid.

It was the first head-coaching job at a Division I school for the 47-year-old Heiar. Among those he had worked for over two decades as an assistant included Larry Eustachy, Will Wade, Gregg Marshall and Chris Jans. All have endured embarrassing episodes that cost them their jobs. Jans, who left New Mexico State for Mississippi State after last season, came to Las Cruces shortly after he was fired from Bowling Green when a video surfaced of him slapping an unidentified woman on the butt at a bar.

One of Heiar's assistant coaches, Edmond Pryor, lasted less than three months after being arrested on allegations of forgery. Another of Moccia's hires is women's basketball coach Jody Adams, who was accused of being abusive toward players when she coached Wichita State.

For decades, though, New Mexico State has not been shy about taking risks to advance its sports programs. One of the program's glory eras came in the 1990s when coach Neil McCarthy embroiled a team filled with junior-college transfers in an academic scandal that ended up costing him his job.

Even after he was fired, basketball kept putting this school on the map come March. The Aggies have been to March Madness 11 times since McCarthy left after the 1997 season, always as a double-digit seed with a reputation for giving the big boys trouble. Though the Aggies never moved away from taking players with riskier academic records, the school has not been charged with a major NCAA infraction since 2001.

Regardless, there won't be any postseason this year, and it's anybody's guess as to who, or what, will be left from the team that was 9-15 when the hazing allegations arose and the season was called off. Two players quit shortly after the hazing allegations. Moccia said there would be basketball next season, though the status of the players remaining was up in the air.

"The entire program has caught on fire, and the fire has burned down everything, and all that's left are the roots," said Jim Paul, the former NMSU AD who fired McCarthy.

Christopher Hamilton, a freshman who was walking across campus the day Heiar's firing came down, said the whole situation was "just disappointing, and it's sad that it's your school."

He said he hoped to go to basketball games again someday. But on a recent Saturday, when the Aggies had been scheduled to play a home game at the Pan-Am Center, all anyone could see on the hardwood was the cartoon drawing of the school's mascot at halfcourt: the mustachioed, gun-toting cowboy known as "Pistol Pete."


AP reporter Susan Montoya Bryan contributed to this report.

Trump cowboy found not guilty of campaign finance charge - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

Cowboys for Trump cofounder Couy Griffin was found not guilty Wednesday of a misdemeanor charge of failing to register a political committee at a trial in southern New Mexico.

The verdict from a 12-member jury capped a two-day trial in Alamogordo, the community where Griffin served as an Otero County commissioner until he was banished from office last year for his role in the U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021.

The dismissed charge against Griffin carried a potential punishment of up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

Jurors deliberated for more than nine hours before delivering the verdict. The decision interrupts a string of adverse legal decisions for Griffin, who remains barred from elected office under a judge's decision upheld by the New Mexico Supreme Court in February.

Griffin said in a text message that he felt "blessed to be judged by a jury of peers" in his home community and has "never felt as vindicated."

In 2019, Griffin forged a group of rodeo acquaintances into the promotional group called Cowboys for Trump, which staged horseback parades to spread President Donald Trump's conservative message about gun rights, immigration controls and abortion restrictions.

Griffin invoked free speech protections in declining to register and disclose donors to Cowboys for Trump, while expressing concern that financial contributors might be harassed.

In closing arguments Wednesday, prosecutors argued that Griffin used Cowboys for Trump to explicitly link political advocacy to appeals for online donations, while flouting registration and financial disclosure requirements for political committees that are designed to ensure transparency and fairness in elections.

They said Griffin was a politician in his own right who clearly advocated for Trump while the president was a candidate for reelection, and that Griffin also promoted political positions on border enforcement, gun rights, abortion and more.

But the jury wasn't persuaded. Defense attorney Jonathan Miller portrayed Griffin as "just a guy who rides a horse" and tried to do the right thing by registering Cowboys for Trump as a for-profit corporation and notifying donors that they cannot deduct donations from taxes.

Miller, a public defender, said Griffin's intention was to speak boldly and openly about common sense convictions and national pride — without yielding to government control through the regulation of nonprofit groups.

"He shouldn't be punished for showing his pride in his country," Miller said.

Griffin's attorney also accused state campaign finance regulators of bias and singling out Cowboys for Trump for enforcement.

Since early 2020, Griffin has resisted pressure to register the group as a political committee, including filing an unsuccessful petition with the 10th District Court of Appeals.

The secretary of state's office initially prevailed in a June 2020 arbitration decision that ordered Cowboys for Trump to register as a political committee, file expenditure and contribution reports and pay a fine of $7,800. Griffin never complied with the agreement.

Griffin was previously convicted in federal court of a misdemeanor for entering restricted U.S. Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, without going inside the building. Last year, he became the first elected official to be banished from elected office in connection with the attack on the U.S. Capitol building, which disrupted Congress as it was trying to certify President Joe Biden's 2020 election victory.

While still a county commissioner, Griffin joined with Republican colleagues in refusing to certify results of the June 2022 primary election based on distrust of the voting systems used to tally the vote, even though the county's election official said there were no problems. The board ultimately certified the election on a 2-1 vote with Griffin still voting no based on a "gut feeling."

Bill proposes to take people to crisis centers for mental health aid instead of jails or hospitals - By Megan Gleason, Source New Mexico

Instead of law enforcement taking people to jails or hospitals, New Mexicans could be sent to crisis triage centers to help with mental health needs.

This will happen if House Bill 373 makes it through the Roundhouse.

The legislation passed unanimously through the House Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday. That was the bill’s first committee. It still has a long journey ahead in the two and a half weeks that remain this session.

Jamie Michael is the Health and Human Services director in Doña Ana County, the home of a crisis triage center. She acted as an expert on the bill on Wednesday.

Right now, Michael said law enforcement can only take people to jails or emergency departments. “I think we all agree that those two environments are not the best for most people who are experiencing a crisis,” she said.

This bill would tack on crisis triage centers as an option to take patients, voluntarily or not. Michael said a range of people could be brought over, from someone who’s intoxicated to a person that’s suicidal to someone just having a bad day.

“The primary purpose was really to take that opportunity of a crisis and connect people to care, connect people to medication, connect people to outpatient or inpatient services,” Michael said.

She said most patients in other states who come into involuntarily transfer decide to get into voluntary care “because it’s a nicer place than a jail or an emergency department.”

There are only three licensed crisis centers in the state, located in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces. Another one is in the works at the University of New Mexico Hospital, also in Albuquerque.

A few lawmakers voiced concerns about how this bill would apply to areas in rural New Mexico where there aren’t crisis centers nor the resources or staff available to set them up.

“We are a mostly rural state. I am so happy that we have success in Las Cruces and we can copy that. That’s very exciting,” Rep. Kathleen Cates (D-Rio Rancho) said. She continued to ask if a rural county center could be run by one or two people.

Michael said the crisis triage centers that are already set up can act as regional resources. “We want to serve our neighboring counties,” she said.

Anyone living in the Four Corners of the state would still have to travel hundreds of miles to access the existing centers. For someone living in Hobbs, it would be a four and a half hour drive spanning over 250 miles to get to the closest center in Las Cruces.

Bill sponsor Rep. Doreen Gallegos (D-Las Cruces) said figuring out the long drive to actually make it to the facility would be up to law enforcement and sheriff’s departments. Michael said emergency services could also help handle transportation.

To get the patient back home, Michael said centers can offer transportation services, like the one in Doña Ana County does. Or, she said, family or friends could come pick them up.

“Transportation is always a challenge,” she said.

The bill’s Fiscal Impact Report pointed out a few other concerns.

New Mexico has had a health care provider shortage since before the pandemic, and the centers would need to have enough staff to keep up with an influx of involuntary patients. The report said the Department of Health would survey crisis triage centers to see if there are enough officials to handle the new patients.

There’s also a potential legal risk, according to the report, because patients who are involuntarily admitted to hospitals must be evaluated psychiatrically to ensure they aren’t a harm to themselves or others.

Rep. Joanne Ferrary (D-Las Cruces) asked about this, and Michael said there would need to be specific standards and trainings implemented at the centers.

Part of the bill’s intention is also to reduce incarceration rates, but the small number of centers could limit that potential, according to the report.

Rep. Stefani Lord (R-Sandia Park) questioned what law enforcement officers are supposed to do if a facility is full, but Michael said the model is designed to never turn anyone away. She said across the country, centers have never been completely full. That’s because they have open spaces that don’t require beds for patients and it’s a quick turnaround, she said.

“People are moving through the facility so quickly that we’ve never come to a place where it’s been too full.”

Rep. Harlan Vincent (R-Ruidoso Downs) said he’s concerned about the safety of the providers and patients in these facilities. He asked if there is security or law enforcement present, and Michael said no.

She said it’s not necessary because the purpose of the facility is to aid with behavioral health needs, not typically violent behaviors. And for some people whose symptoms come off as frightening or aggressive, there are staff who know how to work with that, she said.

“The security comes from how the clinician and peers are trained to interact with individuals,” Michael said.

Ben Ray Luján reintroduces legislation to bolster recreational biking  - By Alice Fordham, KUNM News

Democratic U.S. Senator Ben Ray Luján this week reintroduced an Act in Congress designed to identify federal land that could be used for long-distance bike trails.

Luján joined senators from North Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming to pass the Biking on Long Distance Trails Act which would require the Department of the Interior to identify areas where long-distance bike trails could be developed or completed, install signage and issue maps.

A press release issued by Luján said that as the outdoor recreation economy grows, this legislation capitalizes on New Mexico’s 21 million acres of rich landscapes.

Luján also said that he enjoys mountain biking himself, and that the bill would make bike trails and outdoor spaces safer and more accessible.

Flights into, out of Texas canceled with storms approaching - Associated Press

A storm system that dumped heavy snow in parts of California has moved eastward Thursday, threatening the southern Plains with severe weather and prompting the cancellation of hundreds of flights into and out of Dallas.

FlightAware.com reports Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and Dallas Love Field have tallied more than 400 cancellations total, either to or from the airports, as the storm approaches the region.

Several school districts, including Dallas and Fort Worth have canceled after school activities and events because of the forecast.

"This is the same system that struck California and it's now in New Mexico and will be crossing Texas and then Arkansas," said Rich Thompson, lead forecaster for the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.

He said high winds and hail pose the greatest threats.

"The really intense tornadoes don't seem likely," Thompson said. "We think the biggest threat will be very large hail, baseball sized hail."

Meteorologists say the storm produced a "once-in-a-generation" snow in California and Oregon with up to 7 feet (2 meters) accumulating in spots.

The snowfall, however, is credited with helping reduce, and in some areas eliminate, drought conditions in California.

Jon Jones hopes to end any doubts about best ever at UFC 285 - By Mark Anderson AP Sports Writer

Jon Jones has spent the past three years at his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, focusing on being with family, hunting and getting ready for his big comeback.

He hired a team to help him get ready for Saturday night when he will take a step up to the heavyweight division and attempt to end any doubt — if any remains — that he is the greatest fighter in UFC history.

He made that case as a light heavyweight by winning a record 14 title fights and is on a UFC-best 18-match unbeaten streak, giving him a 26-1 record with one no-contest. Next up is France's Ciryl Gane, who at 11-1 is the top-ranked heavyweight.

A victory also could put Jones, 35, back in the conversation for top pound-for-pound fighter, a spot currently held by featherweight Alexander Volkanovski.

"I'm fighting to be the greatest fighter ever, not to be the best pound-for-pound right now," Jones said.

His fight against Gane for the vacant heavyweight title is the headline event of UFC 285. In the top undercard match, women's flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko (23-3) of Kyrgyzstan faces sixth-ranked Alexa Grasso (15-3) of Mexico.

Just about all eyes will be on Jones, who not only must prove that he can be just as successful is the heavyweight division as he was one level down, but also that the long layoff won't negatively affect him.

Jones said he hasn't been idle even if he hasn't fought in the UFC since defeating Dominick Reyes by unanimous decision on Feb. 8, 2020. He said he has become stronger than ever, even if his body isn't as toned. But Jones said that's because of the added weight to fight in the highest class.

Middleweight Dricus Du Plessis, who will face Derek Brunson in a preliminary bout, said he believes Jones will win and that he has the mental and physical ability to overcome such a long time away from competition. But Du Plessis also offered a word of caution.

"Three years is a very long time," Du Plessis said. "I don't think he's a guy that's going to struggle with ring rust. I just think the game changes and it changes fast, especially these past two years. The game waits for no man."

Jones, for his part, is confident this fight will end like so many others.

He questioned Gane's willingness to fight, saying it didn't show up when he lost to Francis Ngannou by unanimous decision on Jan. 22, 2022.

"I just don't see myself losing to a guy like Ciryl Gane," Jones said.

Should Gane, a plus-138 underdog according to FanDuel Sportsbook, pull off the victory, it would set him up for a potentially big year. Not only would he claim the heavyweight belt, a win probably would put him in line for a meeting with second-ranked Stipe Miocic.

"This is going to put my resume at the high level for sure," said Gane, 32.

Even a victory, however, wouldn't put his resume on the same level as Jones.

But it's not all about what happens in the octagon with Jones. He was suspended for a year in 2016 for a failed drug test and had his 2017 victory over Daniel Cormier turned into a no-contest after another drug test came up positive.

The United States Anti-Doping Agency changed the criteria for what constitutes a positive test in 2019, and Jones let it be known he would have passed under the revised standards.

"People considered me a cheater," Jones said. "Now if that same rule would have applied back then, it would have never even made the media. It would have never been a deal at all. My win over Daniel Cormier would not be a no-contest. It would be a knockout. So I'm hoping that with these rule changes, maybe we can go back and make that no-contest a win. That would mean a lot to me.

"I took the bullet for this sport ... and I'm glad that fighters in the future get to avoid what I went through. It was hell to be considered a steroid cheat. And I'm glad that that people will see clearly now that I never was and feel set free."

As food benefits become scarce, mutual aid shows there’s plenty to go around - By Austin Fisher,Source New Mexico

More than half a million New Mexicans relying on food assistance saw a significant drop in their monthly benefits on Wednesday as the federal government suspended the pandemic expansion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

State officials have said they are expanding outreach to rural communities and communities of color to help people apply and reapply for SNAP.

But there is no proposal to simply keep these people on the SNAP program at the level of benefits they had during the formal public health emergency.

Part of the rationale for state and federal government officials who made the policy choice to allow expanded food benefits to expire is that the “emergency” phase of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is over.

“While the virus is not gone, thanks to the resilience of the American people, and the ingenuity of medicine, we have broken COVID’s grip on us,” President Joe Biden said in his State of the Union address in February. “COVID deaths are down nearly 90%. We’ve saved millions of lives and opened our country back up. And soon we’ll end the public health emergency.”

For a family making $10.50 per hour, the end of federal COVID-SNAP support means a $5,612 decrease in annual SNAP benefits, according to the state Human Services Department, which oversees New Mexico’s SNAP program.

It’s taken as a given that people will keep getting kicked off the benefit rolls and having to work to get back on them, since public benefit programs “require” periodic reassessment of eligibility for benefits as a cost-saving measure.

But are these expanded public benefits like SNAP and Medicaid really something that only should exist in an emergency? Or are they actually what people needed all along?

For three mutual aid organizers in very different parts of New Mexico, the answer to that second question is a resounding yes.

“We are so far behind in extending what this society actually needs,” said Selinda Guerrero, with Albuquerque Mutual Aid.

For three years, the mutual aid collective has gathered donations of food and supplies, handing them out in care packages. Some are for unsheltered neighbors. Others are for private homes, apartments, motels, and trailers, said Moneka Stevens, with the local chapter of the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party.

Stevens said any time SNAP benefits increased since the pandemic began in 2020, the number of requests for care packages went down.

Organizers became used to getting 100 requests per day, but saw it go down to 20 requests because the government increased its food aid, she said.

Nearly 24% of New Mexicans rely on SNAP, the highest rate in the nation.

New Mexico has the third-highest rate of poverty in the U.S., at 18.4%, far exceeding the national rate of 12.8%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Contrary to the scarcity that drives the focus on costs when discussing these government programs, mutual aid instead shows that there is an abundance of resources. It just needs to be redistributed to those in need.

Walk into any one of the community swaps that are organized by mutual aid organizations in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and you’ll find clothing, furniture, kitchenware, hygiene products, over the counter medications, beds, and fresh local produce, Guerrero said.

“We get lots of apples, and okra,” Stevens said with a laugh. “It’s amazing, the abundance that’s out there. We have to find ways to get it out, because it’s so much.”

People living in rural New Mexico communities sometimes have to travel for hours to buy food, Stevens said. One of those communities is McKinley County, in the border region between New Mexico and Navajo Nation.

When people get public assistance like SNAP, they start budgeting it into their lives, said Christopher Hudson, coordinator for the McKinley Community Health Alliance, a partner organization of McKinley Mutual Aid.

There is no way to revert these benefits without taking away what people are already budgeting, Hudson said.

“When bureaucracy takes it away, that’s when people’s budgets become unstable,” Hudson said. “Any cut to any social services is bad for any community.”

Another rationale for the end of these expanded benefits is that they will make people more likely to get a job.

In December, former New Mexico health secretary David Scrase told lawmakers he believes the drop in SNAP benefits would “drive people back into the workforce.”

“Not all of us need health care every day, right? But all of us need food every day, and so I think that will be the initial stimulus for families to reconsider their options and return to the workforce,” Scrase said in a meeting of the Legislative Finance Committee.

Scrase said he hopes tens of thousands of people will return to work.

The exploitation of labor is where inadequacies start, Guerrero said. Corporations like Walmart benefit from having low wages for their workers, while those workers themselves qualify for SNAP assistance, Guerrero said.

Mutual aid breaks down the notion that one must “pull your own self up by your bootstraps, when most of us never had any,” Guerrero said.

Even though the term mutual aid was coined recently in history, Guerrero said, “what we know is that this is actually us speaking to our culture, speaking to what our communities have always known, and the way our people have always existed.”

She said mutual aid is a way of regrounding people to their culture, to the way their ancestors taught them and what their elders continue to teach them: “That we are a community who relies on each other, and my survival is your survival, and yours is mine.”

States consider 'safe injection sites' to prevent overdoses - By Jesse Bedayn Associated Press/Report For America

In a Colorado mountain town, Christine Collins injected herself with black tar heroin while hanging out with friends in a cozy basement a few days after her 30th birthday. Sitting beneath a "Happy Birthday" sign with hearts scrawled in colorful sharpies, she overdosed.

She awoke on the floor, her friends screaming as they fumbled to administer the overdose-reversing naloxone, which pulled Collins back from near death.

Collins, now 33 and clean from heroin, has seen dozens of friends wake up from overdoses, and known dozens more that never did.

"I don't make friends anymore because I don't want to see anyone else die," she said.

Such scenes of terror have increasingly played out from Denver's snow-filled streets to rural West Virginia, with drug overdoses killing over an estimated 100,000 people in 2021, according federal health official's latest data. That's roughly one overdose death every five minutes.

The snowballing death toll has pushed lawmakers in Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada to consider joining New York and Rhode Island in allowing what are often called "safe injection sites." Also called "overdose prevention centers," these are places where people can use drugs under the supervision of trained staff who could reverse an overdose if necessary.

Democratic lawmakers in Colorado pushed the controversial bill forward in committee Wednesday. While Democrats control the state's legislature, the measure faces steep odds amid broad backlash from police, Republicans, and lingering questions about whether the sites are even legal in the United States.

The idea of sanctioning the use of drugs including heroin and methamphetamine on these sites — an about-face from the long-waged war on drugs — has garnered stiff pushback.

"You're basically sending a message that, 'Hey, it's OK to do this,'" said Colorado Rep. Gabe Evans, a Republican and former police officer. That not only imperils the health of drug users, Evans argued, but encourages dealers and invites crime that threatens nearby residents.

But proponents argue it's an imperative first step to tackling drug use, with many repeating a one-argument refrain.

"You can't enter treatment if you are dead," said Dr. Joshua Barocas, an associate professor at the University of Colorado who studies substance use disorder. "All the data suggests that people are going to do drugs regardless. ... All we are trying to do is reverse the harm that could come from what people are already doing."

The trend is growing internationally with centers in Canada, Australia and Europe, but in the U.S. questions remain over whether the Department of Justice will permit such programs amid pushback that the sites merely enable illegal drug use and attract the ancillary crime.

Last year, the Justice Department told The Associated Press it was "evaluating" such facilities and talking to regulators about "appropriate guardrails." The department did not immediately respond to requests for updated information from the AP this week.

Being open to evaluating the sites marks a shift from the Justice Department's posture under former President Donald Trump, when the department fought against such a proposal in Pennsylvania, arguing that such facilities violate a 1980s-era law which bans operating a place for taking illegal drugs.

Data from sites both in and outside the U.S. found that they can prevent overdoses, with New York City's centers stopping more than 150 in their tracks within three months of operating. The centers also typically include equipment, such as sterile syringes, and offer resources for drug users to find treatment.

Existing studies, such as a 2021 report from the Boston-based Institute for Clinical and Economic Review, show that sites are linked to fewer ambulance calls — potentially saving taxpayer dollars — and didn't metastasize various crime rates in neighborhoods of operation.

In Wednesday's hearing, Jason Dunn, a former U.S. attorney for Colorado, pushed back against the data. A life may be saved when an overdose is reversed, said Dunn, but that doesn't mean "these facilities reduce the overdose death rate over the long term or even reduce drug usage over the long term."

In Nevada's Democratic-controlled Legislature a proposal to legalize safe injection sites is on the table but has yet to get a hearing, one year after a similar push failed. In New Mexico, a similar bill faces unknown prospects.

Even while a long list of health care organizations have signed on in support of Colorado's bill — including the Colorado Nurses Association, Colorado Psychiatric Society and Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council — the legislation faces an uphill battle.

While Democrats in Colorado hold majorities in both chambers, Gov. Jared Polis has vocalized his concern over the proposal. The governor's spokesperson, Conor Cahill, said in a statement Monday that the governor "would be deeply concerned with any approach that would contribute to more drug use and lawlessness."

Colorado's Democratic leadership in the legislature have signaled interested in the proposal, but they've stopped short of full-blown support.

State Sen. Kevin Priola, a former Republican who defected to the Democratic Party last year citing concerns over the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, is one of the bill's sponsors. Priola said he's felt the power of prescription painkillers first hand, having weaned himself early off the drugs following a ski accident that broke his leg.

"I could've been a statistic myself," said Priola, who added that the opposition to such proposals stems from a deep-seated stigma. "People fear what they don't understand, and they've never walked a mile in some of these folks' shoes."

Collins has watched the scourge of fentanyl rip through communities as she moved from Florida to Louisiana and finally Colorado and believes legalizing the centers is the bare minimum to keep people breathing.

"I know they say: 'Oh, whatever, it just enables junkies,'" she said. "The fact of the matter is that we may be junkies, but we are somebody's f—cking families."

Health care fund could grow specialty medical services in rural New Mexico - By Megan Gleason,Source New Mexico

UPDATE: The Senate passed Senate Bill 7 on a 28-8 vote with bipartisan support Wednesday. It now heads to the House for consideration.

When Melinda Montoya worked as a physical therapist in Shiprock, she saw patients that drove hundreds of miles for specialized medical care.

Medical services and access to them for people that live in rural New Mexico is another burden on top of everything else Montoya said her patients experience daily.

“People barely can meet their own needs, like for food, housing,” she said. “To use an extra, however many miles they need to go on gas — especially with gas prices now — it’s almost unattainable.”

Legislation that could send millions of dollars to health care providers across dozens of rural counties where nearly 800,000 New Mexicans live is moving along in the Roundhouse.

The Rural Health Care Delivery Fund intends to allow providers in rural areas to apply for grant funding that could go toward starting up new facilities or expanding services at those that already exist.

It quickly got through the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday and now heads to the floor next. The proposal is one of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s legislative priorities.

Sen. Liz Stefanics (D-Cerillos) is the sponsor of the bill. She said this legislation could help solve issues people face to access non-basic medical care.

Stefanics said if more specialty services can be set up in rural areas, people wouldn’t have to worry about long drives to get kidney dialysis or orthopedic surgery, for example.

She added that the legislation could help solve post-surgery care, too. Patients often need physical therapy, a consistent and weekly commitment, but she said that’s another service lacking in rural areas.

“Yes, people might come to the big cities for specific surgeries, but what happens when they go home?” she said. “They need the aftercare.”

Stefanics sponsored the bill in part, too, because she wants to meet the need for more behavioral health and substance abuse services in New Mexico’s rural areas.

A previous version of the bill would’ve allowed the agency to give out up to $350,000 per year from a pot of $200 million. The committee substitute of the bill that passed doesn’t specify how much the fund is.

All but five counties in New Mexico could be eligible for those dollars. This is not money for Las Cruces, Albuquerque or Santa Fe. The legislation specifies that only health care providers serving counties with a population of less than 100,000 can apply. That would amount to 28 counties, totaling nearly 800,000 New Mexicans, according to a 2020 U.S. Census — about 38% of the state’s population.

Sen. Crystal Diamond (R-Elephant Butte) was the only committee member to vote against the bill on Tuesday. The only comment she made during the meeting was to confirm that the bill would only cover new or expansive health care services, not anything that already exists.


Montoya said New Mexico is densely populated in a few areas, like Albuquerque or Santa Fe. This creates an assumption that people have to travel for specialized services, which is currently largely true.

She said hospitals need different, specific equipment that usually isn’t available in rural areas. That makes it less likely that physicians want to work there, she added, not to mention a lack of access to other non-medical services.

“It’s really hard to live somewhere out in the middle of nowhere where there’s not resources,” Montoya said.

Plus, she said, there are housing shortages in these non-metropolitan areas, like in Socorro or Roswell. She said there needs to be affordable housing as part of provider recruitment strategies.

“People going to go work in Roswell, they have a really hard time finding housing, or finding affordable housing, despite whatever they’re willing to pay to get those providers out there,” she said.

The legislation’s funding wouldn’t cover housing expenses. Montoya said maybe it could help providers get funding to do specialty clinics once a month or so in rural areas, at least.


Lawrence Medina is the executive director of the Rio Grande Alcoholism Treatment Program Inc. He said there’s a huge issue with substance use all around New Mexico, and this legislation could help with that.

“We’ve always had a problem with substance use disorder and mental health,” he said.

Medina said there are not enough residential treatment centers in the state, which officials often say are too expensive to run.

“That’s not right,” he said. “We do need to have public policy that creates more treatment centers, especially in rural and frontier areas.”

There needs to be more focus in general on treating people, he said, and figuring out why people have substance use disorders. He added that there are social and institutional inequities that have led to bad policies that are particularly harmful for people of color and in poverty.

“When you don’t (give) access to people to detox centers, residential treatment centers, transitional living and even crisis stabilization units, we just see kind of the revolving door to the jail and the hospitals,” Medina said. “And it’s very costly.”

He said officials need to figure out how to help individuals within the judicial system so recidivism rates are lowered. “It’s cheaper to help them than to lock them up,” he said.

Medina referenced Lujan Grisham’s inaugural address in January where she said the state will focus on fighting the opioid epidemic and expanding health care services. He said New Mexicans need to now hold the governor and the state’s policymakers accountable to that.

There are still other issues, though.

Medina said there are immediate concerns that need to be addressed, like the health care worker shortage, that play into this bill’s efficacy. Montoya, who worked in a rural region hundreds of miles west of Medina, also saw a lack of workers in rural New Mexico.

“We are in a public and health crisis today that we can no longer ignore,” Medina said.

Trial set for New Mexico candidate in drive-by shooting case - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

A political newcomer who lost his bid for the New Mexico Statehouse is scheduled to be tried early next year on charges of allegedly orchestrating a series of drive-by shootings at the homes of Democratic officials.

A judge issued an order Tuesday that charts a course for the case of Solomon Peña, scheduling a potential pretrial evidentiary hearing for November followed by a two-week trial in early January.

The 39-year-old felon remains in custody after being indicted on 14 counts that include criminal solicitation to commit shooting at a dwelling, shooting at a dwelling, unlawful taking of a motor vehicle and possession of a firearm by a felon.

The charges stem from shootings that occurred between early December and January. No one was hurt, but the case reignited the debate over whether lawmakers should make it harder for people accused of violent crimes to make bail. Lawmakers also are considering a bill that would shield from the public the addresses of elected officials.

Authorities arrested Peña on Jan. 9, accusing him of paying for a father and son and two other unidentified men to shoot at the officials' homes between early December and early January. The shootings followed his unsuccessful Republican bid for a district long considered a Democratic stronghold. He claimed the election was rigged.

Peña's defense attorney has raised questions about the credibility of a confidential witness who shared information with authorities, saying some of the statements used in a criminal complaint were contradictory. She also has argued that her client's criminal history did not involve any violent convictions or crimes involving firearms and that he has not been in trouble with the law — other than two traffic citations — since his release from prison in 2016.

Court records show Peña was incarcerated for several years after being arrested in 2007 in connection with what authorities described as a smash-and-grab burglary scheme that targeted retail stores. His voting rights were restored after he completed probation in 2021.

Court documents show more time is be granted to prepare for trial, with the court citing extensive discovery that will include electronic evidence and the high volume of witnesses who will need to be interviewed.

The list of potential witnesses includes dozens of police officers, forensic experts and some of the elected officials whose homes were shot at.

Authorities said 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.

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 her daughter's bedroom.

New Mexico nomination spurs concerns among Native Americans - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

New Mexico's governor is standing firm in her decision to nominate a former tribal leader who once faced sexual assault charges to head the state's Indian Affairs Department, fueling anger among Native American advocates who have been working to address violence and missing persons cases within their communities.

The advocates are pushing a state Senate committee to hold a confirmation hearing for James Mountain, just as the panel has done for others in Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's cabinet. Not doing so means Mountain won't be publicly vetted like other top officials but still can serve in the job.

"With the confirmation hearing not happening, we're silencing entire communities who were ready to say what needs to be said — and now we don't have that opportunity," said Angel Charley, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women.

Democratic Sen. Katy Duhigg, who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, wouldn't say whether she will put Mountain on the agenda before the legislative session ends March 18.

Concern over Mountain's nomination erupted last week during a meeting of the state's Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives Task Force. Some members threatened to resign.

The governor's office pointed out that charges against Mountain were dismissed in 2010 after prosecutors said they didn't have enough evidence to go to trial, and it urged those raising concerns about his past to "respect the judicial process and acknowledge the results."

The question of whether Mountain could effectively lead an agency charged with advocating for New Mexico's 23 sovereign tribal nations comes as momentum grows nationwide for officials to take on more homicide and missing persons cases in Indian Country.

This week, Deputy U.S. Attorney General Lisa Monaco and U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland hosted the first in-person session of the Not Invisible Act Commission in Washington. The commission will be holding field hearings across the U.S. later this year as it develops recommendations for preventing and responding to violence that has disproportionately affected trial communities.

New Mexico created its own task force in 2019, and legislation was signed in 2022 to bolster efforts in the state through data collection and streamlined communication among law enforcement agencies.

Some task force members are concerned the progress made over the last two years could be jeopardized, given the discord over leadership of the Indian Affairs Department.

Sen. Shannon Pinto, a Democrat who represents a district that includes the Navajo Nation, has vowed to fight Mountain's nomination.

"There's not any compromise for me to support this confirmation in any manner," she said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press. "It's just not something that can happen right now. This is not the time. This is not the place. This is not a position that can be compromised."

The governor's office did not answer questions about whether it has had any meetings or whether it sought input from Native American communities when choosing a successor for Lynn Trujillo, who stepped down as secretary in November before taking a job with the Interior Department.

Mountain did not directly address the concerns about his nomination, but the Indian Affairs Department said he was looking forward to doing interviews following his confirmation hearing. The agency, however, did not know when or if such a hearing would be scheduled.

Mountain has defended himself, telling the online outlet New Mexico in Depth that he dedicated himself to reestablishing connections and confidence among tribal communities.

"I am committed to making things right and continuing the healing process with our community members, advocates and legislators," said Mountain, who served two terms as governor of San Ildefonso Pueblo.

Democratic Sen. Linda Lopez of Albuquerque previously oversaw the Senate confirmation process for nearly two decades and is a member of the state's Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives Task Force.

"To have somebody sitting in charge of the department with that type of a history is not good," she said. "It's not good. It hurts the women and much of the work."

The governor's office declined to say if it had considered others for the post.

For Charley, the nomination has been disheartening. She questioned whether the vetting process should have been more inclusive given the importance of the state agency.

"This is bigger than one person," she said. "We're trying to remind folks that this is an opportunity to improve an entire system for our communities. And so transparency with the nomination process and the governor's office could have and would have saved our community a lot of pain right now if we had that in place."