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FRI: NM Dems push to criminalize fake electors before presidential vote, + More

Former Republican President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, N.M on Sept. 16, 2019. New Mexico’s top prosecutor said Friday, Jan. 5, 2024 that the state’s five Republican electors cannot be prosecuted under the current law for filing election certificates that falsely declared Donald Trump the winner of the 2020 presidential race.
Evan Vucci
Former Republican President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, N.M on Sept. 16, 2019. New Mexico’s top prosecutor said Friday, Jan. 5, 2024 that the state’s five Republican electors cannot be prosecuted under the current law for filing election certificates that falsely declared Donald Trump the winner of the 2020 presidential race.

New Mexico Democrats push to criminalize fake electors before presidential vote - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

New Mexico Democrats who control the Legislature want to make it a crime to pose as a fake presidential elector in one of the few states where Republicans signed certificates in 2020 falsely declaring Donald Trump the winner.

Legislators advanced a bill Friday on a party-line committee vote that would make it a felony starting in the 2024 presidential election to submit a fake elector certificate "knowingly or recklessly." The Legislature's Republican minority would need Democratic support to vote down the legislation, which carries criminal penalties like those being considered in a handful of other states.

Republican electors signed certificates in seven states — mostly with battleground contests — indicating falsely that Trump had won the 2020 election, a strategy at the center of criminal charges against Trump and his associates.

In New Mexico, President Joe Biden won by 11 percentage points, or about 100,000 votes — the largest margin among the states where so-called fake electors have been implicated.

Last year, Nevada Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo vetoed a bill that would have made it a crime to sign certificates falsely stating that a losing political candidate has won, with penalties of between four and 10 years in prison. In Colorado, where there were no false elector certificates in 2020, the Democratic-led Legislature is considering a bill that would make participating in a fake elector scheme a crime and ban people who do from office.

New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez, a Democrat, in January announced his decision not to prosecute local Republicans who signed the elector certificates — while urging lawmakers to provide legal authority for prosecuting similar conduct in the future and enhance the security of the state's electoral process.

"We should recognize the seriousness of this conduct," he told a state Senate panel in January.

On Friday in Santa Fe, Republican state Rep. Bill Rehm of Albuquerque said the legislation is "politically motivated against a different party." He voted against it, noting that felony provisions are especially stiff. Violations would be punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. Fake electors didn't change Biden's win in 2020, he said.

"I do not think there was any intent in New Mexico to change the outcome," he said. "I think that if we could remove the politics that is the undertone of this, it would be a different situation."

In New Mexico and Pennsylvania, fake electors added a caveat saying the certificate was submitted in case they were later recognized as duly elected, qualified electors. That would only have been possible if Trump had won any of several dozen legal battles he waged against states in the weeks after the election.

Democratic officials have launched separate investigations in some states, resulting in indictments against GOP electors.

In December, a Nevada grand jury indicted six Republicans with felony charges in connection with false election certificates. They have pleaded not guilty.

Michigan's Attorney General filed felony charges in July 2023 against 16 Republican fake electors, including forgery and conspiracy to commit election forgery. For one of them, charges were dropped after reaching a cooperation deal. The top charge carried a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison.

Three fake electors also have been charged in Georgia alongside Trump and others in a sweeping indictment accusing them of participating in a wide-ranging scheme to illegally overturn the results of the presidential election. They have pleaded not guilty.

The New Mexico bill, from Democrats including Majority House Floor Leader Gail Chasey of Albuquerque, also would establish felony penalties for disrupting election results — defined as knowingly or recklessly suppressing, defacing, altering, forging or otherwise falsifying election documents, or preparing or submitting false election documents.

Republican Party of New Mexico Chairman Steve Pearce has accused the state attorney general of trying to criminalize a process "used by both Democrats and Republicans," referring to the 1960 presidential election. Democratic electors in Hawaii cast votes for John F. Kennedy despite that state initially being called for Republican Richard Nixon.

But the outcome of the Hawaii election was unclear, requiring a recount, and Nixon would end up losing the state. After the 2020 election, every court challenge the Trump campaign and its allies filed to contest his loss has failed.

Accused Peña co-conspirator pleads guilty - KUNM News

A New Mexico man pleaded guilty Thursday in a shooting spree in late 2022 that targeted the residences of elected officials.

The Justice Department announced Demetrio Trujillo was recruited along with his son, Jose Trujillo, to conduct a series of shootings by a man who lost an election for the New Mexico Legislature. Jose Trujillo pled guilty in January.

That man, Solomon Peña, allegedly pressured county officials to not to certify the election results. Demetrio Trujillo said in his plea agreement that Peña paid him to carry out shootings at the homes of an election official and two state lawmakers.

Peña pled not guilty last February following an indictment by a grand jury and remains in detention after a judge ordered him held without bond ahead of a scheduled June trial.

Peña was indicted on a number of charges including conspiracy to commit a shooting at a dwelling; criminal solicitation and attempting to commit aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.

The case is part of the Justice Department’s Election Threats Task Force.
Lawmakers begin putting this year’s tax package together - Santa Fe New Mexican, KUNM News

Last session, lawmakers sprinted at the end of the 60-day session to get Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham a tax package, only to have her line-item veto a number of provisions. In this year’s shorter, 30-day session, the Santa Fe New Mexican reports legislators are getting an earlier start.

Members of the Senate and House tax committees met Friday to begin the process.

Democratic Rep. Derrick Lente said the forum would hopefully help lawmakers “be timely and efficient” and “avoid what happened last year,” while also bringing more transparency to how the bill comes together.

Democratic Sen. Carrie Hamblen said the Legislature is aiming to get the package in front of the governor “before chaos really starts setting in” as the session nears its end on February 15.

A number of changes to the tax code that the governor stripped last year may end up back in this year’s proposal, including tax breaks and tax bracket adjustments.

Days vs hours: Behind the budget amendment bringing together Democrats and Republicans - By Megan Taros, Source New Mexico

In direct contrast with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s extended school time initiatives, 17 Democrats sided with a Republican-backed amendment to the House budget passed on Wednesday that would allow schools to continue having four-day school weeks.

The original House budget included a proposal to not approve the operational budget of schools that had fewer instruction days than last year, or if they are only in session four days a week if a four-day week was not offered in the 2021-2022 school year. Both align with a mandatory 180-day attendance rule proposed by the New Mexico Public Education Department, which has the support of the governor.

The budget was introduced to the New Mexico Senate on Thursday, where it is unknown if it will vote with the same bipartisanship.

The governor’s office affirmed its support for 180-school days, citing improved student outcomes for schools already on such a school schedule.

“This administration is focused on using every tool at our disposal to improve the quality of education for every New Mexico student, and more time in the classroom yields results,” the governor’s spokeswoman Maddy Hayden wrote in an email to Source New Mexico.

Rep. Gail Armstrong (R-Magdalena), who introduced the amendment, asked the Legislature not to fund the potential school day rule. She said it would hinder the ability of school districts to make their own decisions and cause hardship.

A bill passed last yearincreased the number of mandatory instruction hours per week but allowed individual school districts to decide how to break down those hours during the school year.

“We did that on purpose because we wanted to give school districts the option,” Armstrong said.

Bipartisan lawmakers voted together to support local control.

Rep. Tara Jaramillo (D-Socorro) voted in favor of the amendment because she thought the bill settled the discussion and was concerned about changing the rules against the input of constituents.

“To be clear, I like five-day school weeks,” Jaramillo said. “But I don’t like not listening to the constituents throughout New Mexico.”

She said that the focus for new education initiatives should target struggling schools, and to invest in what works, such as smaller classes for new teachers and the creation of community schools.

“I hope we can move past arguments about four or five days and think about innovative education,” Jaramillo said.

During the debate on the amendment, lawmakers questioned if students in rural and tribal communities actually benefited from extra school days when many have to spend hours in commuting time, which will increase with an additional day.

“When you represent a district where children have to hop on a bus when it’s still dark, spend an hour to get to school, go back and get home when it’s dark again, it’s very difficult,” said. Rep. Derrick Lente (D-Sandia Pueblo) in an interview on Thursday. “Are they really going to appreciate that time on the bus? Are they really learning anything when they could be learning closer to home and doing things that are important to them?”

Lente reintroduced a tribal education trust fund bill this year that would give money to tribes to build capacity in their communities to create bilingual and multicultural education programs, extra curricular activities and other support systems for Native students on tribal lands.

He echoed sentiments about local control, emphasizing the need for tribes to have the authority to make decisions that work best for their students.

“Native communities that are far removed from public schools then have the capacity in those communities to have places to learn about their culture and language, safe places to learn,” Lente said. “That’s everything we’ve been talking about when it comes to (education) reform.”

Financial hardship to keep schools running for an extra day also raised concern for lawmakers. Smaller schools would have to spend more on meals, fuel and utilities to stay open an additional day.

Bipartisan lawmakers criticized the governor and state agencies for attempting to override their decisions

“These smaller school districts can’t afford that extra day of busing, of custodian work, of cafeteria work,” said Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell (R-Roswell). “And now it’s gotta be changed by someone who says ‘I have the authority to do it?’ What’s happened to our authority? We are the ones that are listening to our constituents … I am not going to stand for this.”

Rep. Ryan Lane (R-Aztec) said the amendment is not an “R vs. D” issue, but staying faithful to a decision the Legislature made and to the will of constituents.

“We made a decision after a lot of deliberation that we were going to fund our local schools through hours and not through days,” Lane said. “This language would make sure that the legislature’s will is accomplished, that the people of New Mexico’s will is accomplished regardless of what a particular executive agency tries to do through rulemaking.”

New Mexico State suspends Carpenter indefinitely for throwing punch against Liberty - Associated Press

New Mexico State has suspended forward Robert Carpenter indefinitely from all team activities after he was ejected for punching a Liberty player in the face on Thursday night.

"Per the NCAA's rules of conduct, any player involved in an altercation during competition is required to serve a one-game suspension, however, we feel it is important to emphasize that the Aggie men's basketball program places the utmost priority on the values of sportsmanship and respect and feel that an indefinite suspension is necessary," New Mexico State athletics said Friday in a statement.

Carpenter was ejected in the first half of the Aggies' 79-73 overtime win after he got tangled with Shiloh Robinson under the basket and punched the Liberty forward in the face. Robinson fell to the floor clutching his face and was attended to by New Mexico State trainers.

Carpenter was issued a flagrant 2 foul and ejected. Aggies coach Jason Hooten apologized to Liberty coach Ritchie McKay after the game and again in a statement on Friday.

"I want to reiterate my sincere apologies to Liberty University and Coach McKay for the actions of Robert last night," he said. "Throughout my 14-year career as a head coach, I have consistently upheld a high standard of conduct, and something like this has never taken place within my programs nor is this acceptable."

A 6-foot-7 forward from Detroit, Carpenter is New Mexico State's third-leading scorer with 9.7 points per game.

Bill to end immigration detention in New Mexico advances - By Susan Dunlap, New Mexico Political Report

A bill to end immigration detention in New Mexico passed Senate Health and Public Affairs on a party-line vote of 6-3 on Wednesday.

SB 145, sponsored by state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, is a bill that would prohibit public bodies in New Mexico from entering into intergovernmental contracts with private entities and end such intergovernmental agreements that public bodies in New Mexico have already entered into. Sedillo Lopez introduced an amendment to the bill, also adopted by the committee on a 6-3 party-line vote, to add language to prevent someone from “gaming the system.”

“And do an amendment before the statute is effective. They might end up in negotiation for 500 days or whatever. We don’t want that to happen. As soon as the statute is effective, the termination needs to be for the earliest date permissible,” Sedillo Lopez said.

The bill would impact Torrance, Otero and Cibola counties, all of which have intergovernmental agreements with for-profit companies that operate three immigrant detention centers in the state. All three detention centers have been cited for human rights violations, expert witness Sophia Genovese, senior attorney with New Mexico Immigration Law Center, said. Genevose said there are six attorneys in New Mexico offering legal services to asylum seekers held in these detention centers and around 2,000 detained.

She cited physical abuse, due process violations, bug and rodent infestations, forced labor, medical conditions ignored, sewage leaks, a lack of drinking water and inedible food. She said the individuals are “treated worse than animals” and are losing weight, look emaciated and are getting sick.

Representatives from all three counties spoke during public comment and said shutting down the facilities would lead to an economic loss to their communities in terms of wages, jobs, county bonds as well as the income the county receives for these intergovernmental contracts.

State Sen. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, said he found the conditions described “deplorable” but said he was concerned that terminating the contracts would impact “a lot of people who live in those counties and who derive their income and their economic base,” from the facilities. He said that driving the detention facilities out of New Mexico would only drive the detention with the same conditions elsewhere.

“At least we would not be complicit in it,” Sedillo Lopez said.

State Sen. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, asked a similar question, saying that with the U.S. Congress appropriating funding to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for more than $1 billion to house migrants, if the government will send the migrants to another location in the U.S.

Genovese said that this bill is part of a growing movement amongst states and that if New Mexico enacts it, it would become the eighth state to do so. She said that the more states that pass this law, the fewer beds the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement have available.

“It’s truly random who is detained and who is released. What drives the decision is ICE bed space. You can help asylum seekers seek asylum from the comfort of their home where they can access legal resources and social services [if the bill is enacted]. We can’t control what happens out of state, but we can send a strong message to our federal government,” Genovese said.

State Sen. Steven McCutcheon II, R-Carlsbad, asked what would happen to the individuals detained on May 15, if the bill is enacted.

Genovese said there would be a winding down period that would last, depending on the individual contract, for 60 days or 120 days. She said most asylum seekers have sponsors in the U.S. they could be released to.

State Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said that if the individuals detained are fleeing their home countries for political or religious asylum or they are fleeing violence. He also asked that, with so few judges to hear the asylum seekers’ claims and so few resources to help the asylum seekers, “how long does it take before they get a hearing?”

Genovese said that some are deprived of their due process before the hearing during the credible fear interview.

Ortiz y Pino said that a lot of problems would “vanish very quickly,” if asylum seekers were allowed to live in their communities in the U.S. and seek their claim for asylum from their homes.

“They would do the jobs people are dying for people to do. They could rent their own places. It’s a problem of our own making by trying to be tough on immigration. We’re hitting people who are following the law and making it harder for everybody,” he said.

The bill heads next to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

After 10 hours of deliberations, superintendent vote pushed to next week - Rodd Clayton, City Desk ABQ 

This story was originally published by City Desk ABQ

Albuquerque will have to wait until next week to find out who will be running its public schools.

The board’s executive session lasted more than 10 hours on Wednesday before a vote to table the decision. A candidate needs at least four votes from the seven-member board before moving forward to discussing an employment contract, which would then be approved at a later meeting, according to a spokesperson for Albuquerque Public Schools.

According to an APS press release, board members decided they needed more time to perform due diligence. The board will reconvene at 8 a.m. Monday.

Finalists Dr. Thomas Ahart and Dr. Gabriella Durán Blakey were chosen after a months-long process that included a national search, a community survey that elicited more than 7,000 responses from the public, listening sessions and several interviews with the board.

McPherson & Jacobson, a Nebraska-based executive recruitment firm, was brought in to assist with the search, which netted 24 applicants.

Durán Blakey and Ahart concluded their auditions Wednesday with final interviews before the board. They also attended three forums Tuesday, where they responded to questions from students, district employees and the general public.

Ahart, of Des Moines, Iowa, was superintendent of Des Moines Public Schools and is now a consultant with the Council of the Great City Schools. Durán Blakey, a native of Albuquerque, is chief operations officer at APS and previously served as one of the district’s associate superintendents.

Durán Blakey, a graduate of Highland High School, has taught English-language learners in APS, been a middle school principal, and was assistant superintendent for curriculum and professional development with Santa Fe Public Schools. She said that she has reached the point in her career at which she can become a superintendent and hopes to do it here.

Ahart has also been a classroom teacher, middle school principal and associate superintendent. He said during the forums that the Des Moines district is similar to APS, with students from more than 100 countries and a poverty rate near 80 percent.

During the forums, the candidates touted their experience and discussed issues such as accountability, school safety, relationships with unions, staff retention and possible extracurricular offerings. The school board encouraged those attending to provide feedback that could help members make their choice.

Superintendent Scott Elder is leaving APS when his contract expires June 30.

APS includes 68,000 students, 12,000 employees, and more than 140 schools.

District Attorney’s Office, once again, has a public list of untrustworthy officers - Elise Kaplan, City Desk ABQ 

The story was originally published by City Desk ABQ 

The Second Judicial District Attorney’s Office is once again publishing its listof untrustworthy law enforcement officers online.

Last week, City Desk ABQ reported that with the change in administration the DA’s office was no longer publicly listing officers who need Giglio disclosures—anything that could cast doubt on their integrity as a witness. Four of the officers who are being investigated by the FBI as part of a corruption probe were recently added to the list.

At that time the District Attorney’s office said they had no plans to bring back a public facing list—a measure implemented by the previous District Attorney, Raul Torrez, as an accountability measure. Instead, a spokesperson said the list would be available through an Inspection of Public Records Act request.

Now, however, it’s back. Why?

“Because of numerous media inquiries,” said spokesperson Nancy Laflin.

Biden left with few choices as immigration takes center stage in American politics - By Jonathan J. Cooper, Associated Press

Almost immediately after he walked into the Oval Office on his first day as president, Joe Biden began rolling back his predecessor's immigration policies, which he had assailed throughout the 2020 campaign as harsh and inhumane.

A lot has changed in three years.

Biden, now sounding increasingly like former President Donald Trump, is pressing Congress for asylum restrictions that would have been unthinkable when he took office. He's doing it under pressure not just from Republicans but from Democrats, including elected officials in cities thousands of miles from the border who are feeling the effects of asylum seekers arriving in the United States in record numbers.

With the 2024 presidential campaign shaping up as a likely rematch between Biden and Trump, immigration has moved to the forefront as one of the president's biggest potential liabilities. Biden, looking to neutralize it, has already embraced a sweeping bipartisan measure still being negotiated in the Senate that would expand his authority to put strict new limits on border crossings.

"If that bill were the law today, I'd shut down the border right now and fix it quickly," Biden said last weekend.

The bill's future is uncertain, and Trump has weighed in against it, but Biden's Democratic allies have grown impatient for the president to act.

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs, a liberal Democrat, recently called on the president to call up the National Guard, and when he declined, she did it herself at the state's expense.

"Every Arizonan should know we are taking significant and meaningful steps to keep them safe, even when the federal government refuses to," Hobbs said in her state of the state address in January.

The influx has strained social services in cities including New York, Chicago and Denver, which are struggling to shelter thousands of asylum seekers without housing or work authorization. Images of migrants with nowhere to go camping out in public have dominated local newscasts.

Nine Democratic governors from all across the country sent a letter last week to Biden and congressional leaders pleading for action from Washington "to solve what has become a humanitarian crisis."

States and cities are spending billions to respond but are outmatched by the record pace of new arrivals, wrote the governors of Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and New Mexico.

They asked for money to help with their immediate needs and a commitment to work toward modernizing immigration laws.

"It is clear our national immigration system is outdated and unprepared to respond to this unprecedented global migration," the governors wrote.

Trump, meanwhile, is eager to rekindle the passions that the border fueled during his successful 2016 campaign, when his vow to build a wall along the southern border with Mexico became perhaps his most familiar rallying cry.

"It has been a message that has resonated not just with Republicans or Democrats, but across the country, because now even those liberal cities, those blue cities, those blue mayors, they're saying we can't handle the crisis anymore and give us help," said Corey Lewandowski, Trump's first 2016 campaign manager. "It is a fundamental shift in thinking over the last eight years on the issue."

Trump lamented over the weekend that his border message didn't resonate when he ran for reelection in 2020. He said it was because he'd done such a good job controlling the border that he "took it out of play," though at the time voters were largely focused on COVID-19 and the pandemic had dampened job prospects for migrants.

"Literally we couldn't put it in a speech," Trump said at a campaign rally Saturday in Las Vegas. "Nobody wanted to hear about the border. We had no border problem. But now we can talk about the border because it's never, ever been worse than it is now."

As president, Trump separated children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border as an effort to deter people from crossing in a policy that was maligned as inhumane by world leaders, U.S. lawmakers and even Pope Francis. When he ran for office the first time he referred to Mexican immigrants as "rapists and criminals" and this campaign has gone farther, saying migrants are " destroying the blood of our country."

In the end, total deportations were higher under the first term of President Barack Obama, who enacted enforcement priorities similar to Biden's, than under Trump. That was due in part to a lack of cooperation from many cities and states whose leaders opposed Trump's immigration policies.

By the end of Trump's administration, the U.S. had completed more than 450 miles (720 kilometers) of new wall construction along the 2,000-mile (3,145 kilometer) border. Much of the construction was in areas where there had already been some form of barrier.

An immigration deal in Congress that had been in the works for weeks is now crumbling largely because Trump is loath to give Biden a win on immigration, an issue he wants to hammer as his own as he seeks a return to the White House, and his supporters in Congress are following his lead.

White House spokesperson Angelo Fernandez Hernandez said House Republicans under Speaker Mike Johnson are blocking Biden's efforts to improve border security.

"It's long past time for Speaker Johnson and the House GOP to join President Biden and work across the aisle in the best interests of the majority of the American people, who back President Biden's approach," Fernandez Hernandez said in a statement.

Frustration among voters has escalated.

Wayne Bowens, a 72-year-old retired real estate agent in Scottsdale, Arizona, said he's disgusted by both Biden and Trump's recent border moves. Biden is only changing his tune because he's worried about losing, he said, and Trump is hoping to block the Senate deal to help him win.

"Ukraine, Israel. People are dying. And yet other people are thinking, 'How many votes can I get if I play this right?'" said Bowens, a Republican who dislikes both leading candidates but will likely vote for Trump unless a viable third-party candidate emerges. "It's become a very disgusting world."

Immigration remains a major worry for voters in the 2024 election. An AP-NORC poll earlier this month found that those voicing concerns about immigration climbed to 35% from 27% last year. Most Republicans, 55%, say the government needs to focus on immigration in 2024, while 22% of Democrats listed immigration as a priority. That's up from 45% and 14%, respectively, in December 2022.

Arrests for illegal border crossings from Mexico reached an all-time high in December since monthly numbers have been released.

The Border Patrol tallied just under 250,000 arrests on the Mexican border in December, up 31% from 191,000 in November and up 13% from 222,000 in December 2022, the previous all-time high.

The situation on the border makes Biden vulnerable with two voting groups he'll need to win — Latinos and college-educated white Republican women, said Mike Madrid, a California-based Republican strategist who has worked to defeat Trump and has a book on Latino voters set for release this summer.

Biden has no choice but to embrace tougher border security and restrict asylum, even though it will anger progressives in his base, Madrid said.

"It is his single biggest problem," Madrid said. "And it is the single biggest opportunity, because I think if he can put the Republicans on defense he's in a very commanding position to win reelection."


Associated Press journalists Jill Colvin in Manchester, New Hampshire; Erin Hooley in Chicago and Anita Snow in Phoenix contributed.