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TUES: NM Republicans vie to challenge incumbent senator and reclaim House swing district, + More

U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-New Mexico) speaks briefly during the opening of the RNC Hispanic community center in southwest Albuquerque on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022.
Shelby Wyatt
Source New Mexico
U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-New Mexico) speaks briefly during the opening of the RNC Hispanic community center in southwest Albuquerque on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022. Herrell will be challenging Democratic incumbent Rep. Gabe Vasquez for the second congressional district seat.

New Mexico Republicans vie to challenge incumbent senator and reclaim House swing district - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

Republican contenders filed petitions Tuesday to appear on New Mexico's June 4 primary ballot in hopes of challenging incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich and reclaiming a congressional swing seat along the U.S. border with Mexico.

Businesswoman Nella Domenici, daughter of longtime U.S. Sen. Pete V. Domenici, filed a candidate petition signature with the New Mexico secretary of state's office as she seeks the GOP nomination to take on Heinrich as he runs for a third term.

Nella Domenici has highlighted her concerns about inflation, crime, border enforcement and childhood well-being in early campaign announcements but declined to comment further Tuesday.

She likely will confront competition from former Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales, who recently left the Democratic Party to seek the GOP Senate nomination.

Gonzales served two terms as sheriff starting in 2014 in the state's most populous county, coordinated policing initiatives with Donald Trump in 2020 as the then-president deployed federal agents to Albuquerque. Gonzales ran unsuccessfully for Albuquerque mayor in 2021 against incumbent Tim Keller.

Nationwide, Democrats are defending 23 Senate seats this year as they hope to hold on to a majority that currently stands at 51-49.

Heinrich won reelection in 2018 with about 54% of the vote in a three-way race against Republican Mick Rich and Libertarian candidate and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson.

Republicans also are choosing a contender to take on U.S. Rep. Gabe Vasquez in a congressional swing seat along the U.S. border with Mexico.

Former one-term U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell hopes to reclaim the 2nd District seat she lost in the 2022 election. A campaign manager submitted Herrell's election registration paperwork Tuesday.

The district is one of about a dozen in the national spotlight as Republicans campaign to keep their slim U.S. House majority in 2024.

The Republican Party unsuccessfully challenged a Democratic-drawn congressional map that reshaped the 2nd District as it divvied up a conservative, oil-producing region among three congressional districts. In November, the state Supreme Court upheld a lower court decision that the map fell short of "egregious gerrymandering."

Democrats currently control New Mexico's two Senate seats and all three congressional districts, along with all other statewide elected offices and broad majorities in the state House and Senate.

Former state legislator Sharon Clahchischilliage, of Gadii'ahi, a Navajo community on the outskirts of Farmington in northwestern New Mexico, filed a petition to seek the Republican nomination to the 3rd Congressional District — where Democratic Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernandez, of Santa Fe, is seeking a third term.

The sprawling district extends across northern and eastern New Mexico, including national security facilities at Los Alamos National Laboratory and rural communities recovering from the largest wildfire in the state's recorded history.

Clahchischilliage said she wants to address government regulatory overreach and improve economic opportunity.

"Look at gun control, look at oil and gas ... there's a lot of over-regulating," she said. "Farmers are feeling it, ranchers are feeling it. We're all feeling it as New Mexicans and it's not common sense to us."

Two Republican contenders are seeking the nomination in the 1st Congressional District to challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury, of Albuquerque. They include shooting range owner and health care entrepreneur Louie Sanchez, of Albuquerque, who has highlighted concerns about public safety, gun rights, border security and the economy.

Steve Jones, of Ruidoso, said he'll use his experience as a certified public accountant to help rein in federal spending and the national deficit.

Senate confirms new Indian Affairs secretary – Santa Fe New Mexican

A Senate committee unanimously confirmed a new secretary for Indian Affairs Monday and for the first time in state history she is not from a New Mexico tribe.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports Josette Monette is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in North Dakota. She has been serving as the deputy secretary since last July and as general counsel since March.

Monette lived briefly in Albuquerque as a child and moved back in 2012 to attend University of New Mexico Law School. Before working for the state, she was the Native American program director for New Mexico Legal Aid. She has also served as a commissioner for the Tesuque Pueblo Gaming Commission and did legal work for Isleta Pueblo.

A number of Indigenous leaders from around the state spoke in support of her at the confirmation hearing.

Monette was appointed secretary-designate in December. She succeeds James Mountain, the former governor of San Ildefonso Pueblo, who never had a confirmation hearing. Advocates for missing and murdered Indigenous women protested his appointment over a 2007 rape allegation.

Senate narrowly votes to keep drive-thru cannabis sales - By Austin Fisher, Source New Mexico

By one vote, the New Mexico Senate passed an amendment on Monday afternoon that will continue to allow cannabis businesses to offer their services at drive-thru windows.

Sen. Katy Duhigg (D-Albuquerque) is carrying Senate Bill 6, which would make a number of changes to New Mexico’s cannabis law. A substitute bill written by the Senate Judiciary Committee would have prohibited sales of cannabis through a drive-thru window.

Sen. Jeff Steinborn (D-Las Cruces) introduced three amendments to the bill on the Senate floor on Monday. The first took out the drive-thru cannabis prohibition and allowed them to stay in place.

Opponents in the Senate argued that drive-thru cannabis sales will eventually lead to loss of life.

The Senate passed the amendment in a 21-20 vote, with Sen. Ronn Griggs (R-Alamogordo) not voting. Hours later, senators passed the overall bill in a 25-15 party-line vote.

The New Mexico Department of Health noted in its analysis that the bill already prohibits cannabis and alcohol from being sold and used in the same place.

Steinborn cited phone calls he had with the head of the state’s Cannabis Control Division and his local police chief who told him they haven’t had any problems with drive-thru cannabis.

Sen. Joseph Cervantes (D-Las Cruces) cited state Department of Transportation data showing that in 2021, the latest annual data available, there were more drug-related traffic accident fatalities than in the previous five years.

Supporters argued that drive-thru allows disabled people with limited mobility to access the drug, there are already drive-thru pharmacies for other drugs, and that the decision should be left to local governments.

House budget leaves out money for state employees to focus on missing and murdered Indigenous people - By Bella Davis, New Mexico In Depth

A proposed bureau within the Indian Affairs Department focused on a crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people might be in peril.

At issue is how much money the Legislature will give the department.

The Legislature’s budget-making Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) says the department, which has a 40% vacancy rate, should use its existing personnel budget to staff up the new bureau. (About 18% of positions across state government were vacant in fiscal year 2022, according to a 2023 report from the LFC to state lawmakers.)

But a department spokesman said the agency wants to both create new staff positions to carry out a state response plan the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives Task Force issued in 2022 and fill the existing vacancies. Officials announced their plan to seek funding for more staffers after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration was criticized for quietly disbanding the task force last year.

The proposed state budget the House passed Wednesday, however, followed the recommendation of the LFC, and only included $120,000 extra — enough to hire one full-time employee — instead of the $600,000 the agency sought.

Spokesman Aaron Lopez told New Mexico In Depth the department won’t hire more staff to concentrate on missing and murdered Indigenous people unless they get more money.

Some of the state task force’s recommendations could be achieved by passing new laws but during this legislative session and last year’s, legislation directly responding to the crisis has been sparse.

Asked in December if the department would be advocating for any legislation this year to address the crisis, Secretary-designate Josett Monette, then the deputy secretary, only mentioned the request for additional employees.

“What does legislation look like moving forward? What types of asks do we need to make? That’s what the four staff are going to help us do, and that’s why we need more staff,” Monette said in an interview.

It’s up to state senators to add additional funding for the agency, as they amend the budget in the final weeks of the session, which ends Feb. 15. The House will have to agree to any changes before the budget is finalized.

Background check update passes Senate - By Danielle Prokop, Source New Mexico

A bill that amends state law to match federal requirements for background checks performed by two New Mexico agencies that work directly with children, passed the Senate by a 41-0 vote Monday. It now heads to the House.

Sen. Siah Correa Hemphill (D-Silver City), the sponsor of Senate Bill 152, called it a “technical fix,” requested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to update the state laws to continue performing background checks on behalf of the Children, Youth and Families and New Mexico Early Childhood Education and Care Department.

Under the bill, employees and volunteers with the early childhood department, which oversees preschools and daycares, will receive state and federal background checks.

For the Children, Youth and Families Department, the bill would provide updated definitions and specify who the agency must background.

This includes potential foster or adoptive parents, and additional adults living in those households.

It would also include background checks for operators, employees, student interns and volunteer facilities that have “primary custody of children for 20 hours per week.”

Those explicitly offer definitions which include:

  • Behavior management development programs
  • Case management
  • Child placement agencies
  • Community services
  • Shelters
  • Juvenile detention and juvenile correction facilities 
  • Treatment facilities including: day treatment, group homes, intensive outpatient programming, treatment foster care and residential treatment facilities. 

Both agencies are currently performing criminal background checks through the FBI under a grace period which federal officials say expires in September 2024.
“Last summer, the FBI determined that the CYFD statute was no longer sufficient to comply with their requirements because the definitions were too vague,” Hemphill said on the floor.

After taking questions from Republican senators, Hemphill said that there are no additional changes to background check requirements. AFiscal Impact Report on Hemphill’s bill showed there will be no increases in costs to the agencies.

Without enacting the bill, CYFD would be “unable to conduct background checks on individuals providing services to our most vulnerable population,” the Fiscal Impact Report said.

The bill has an emergency clause, meaning it would go into law immediately if signed by the governor.

House Republican lawmakers say they need Democratic allies to stop gun legislation proposals - By Austin Fisher, Source New Mexico

Republican lawmakers and political candidates rallied with supporters Saturday outside the New Mexico State Capitol to denounce proposed gun restrictions and lay out an electoral strategy to make inroads with conservative Democrats in order to get more gun rights supporters elected in the Roundhouse.

Five state GOP electeds joined gun rights advocates and encouraged the crowd to vote, donate, find new candidates and identify which current state lawmakers they can influence.

The speeches offered a view into how Republicans hope to overcome the Democratic majorities in both chambers of the Legislature. The rally was organized by the New Mexico Firearms Industry Association, the New Mexico Shooting Sports Association and the National Rifle Association.

During the rally, Rep. Stefani Lord (R-Sandia Park) referred to herself and the four other Republican elected officials on the stage as “the line between you and communism.”

“More than anything else, I need you guys to help me: You’ve got to go find me candidates, you’ve got to get people, you’ve got to donate, you’ve got to help us get reelected, because this is it,” Lord said.

Democrats have large majorities in each chamber. On the House side 45 Democratic lawmakers work with 25 Republican House members. In the Senate, the political composition is 27 Democrats and 15 Republicans.

Rep. John Block (R-Alamogordo) criticized Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham but took pains not to condemn all New Mexicans who vote Democrat: “Her party — the far left reaches of her party — have done everything possible to take away your Second Amendment rights, to torture your families, to take away your parental rights, and harm every person in this state for generations to come.”

Lord also corrected herself in the same way: “These Democrat — sorry — radical progressives do not care about any of you. You have become the enemy. Your government hates you.”

“This is completely the Bloomberg, Everytown, Moms Demand Action, out-of-state agenda,” she told the crowd. “Because you know what, our moderate Democrats want their firearms.”

Rep. Luis Terrazas (R-Santa Clara) said he is in office because of “good, strong Democrats.”

“This is not a Republican or Democrat situation,” Terrazas said. “This is an American, a New Mexican, right to bear arms. Why am I telling you this? Because we all have to come together as people that stand up for the Constitution, together.”

Sen. David Gallegos (R-Eunice) said he met with a group of constituents in Carlsbad in 2023 who told him, “If we can’t do our jobs, they will.”

“So when they don’t listen to us, they will listen to you,” Gallegos told the crowd. “We are here to represent you. We need them to listen to you and do what you’re asking of us, and it’s to protect your rights.”

House Bill 129, which would institute a seven-day waiting period before a person can purchase a gun, passed the House of Representatives on Friday by a 37-33 vote. The Santa Fe New Mexican reports eight Democrats joined the 25 House Republicans in opposition. Lujan Grisham supports several other pieces of gun legislation currently moving in the Roundhouse.

At the rally, Tara Mica, an NRA lobbyist for New Mexico and Texas, pointed to the vote tally on the House floor vote on HB 129, and asked the crowd to imagine what could have happened if more people had called or emailed their representatives.

“So remember that when Election Day comes later this year,” Mica said. “We need to flip a couple seats here. We need to replace these gun control supporters with supporters of our Second Amendment Rights.”

Both Mica and Rep. Randall Pettigrew (R-Lovington) said more legislation about guns will keep coming unless Republicans get out to vote.

“I need every single one of you to go to your Republican people in your district, I want you to go and find — Who is your ward leader? Who is your leader for your county? And I want you to hassle them,” Lord said. “I want you to ask them: What are you doing to get candidates? What are you doing to help us fight back, because guess what, we are two steps away from socialism in this state.”

Raymond Barnes, chairman of the GOP’s Ward 31 in northeast Albuquerque, encouraged the crowd to contact their ward and precinct leaders.

“We’ve got to do this from the ground up, folks. It’s not going to happen from the top down,” Barnes said. “When you have a representative who’s voting against your God-given rights, that person is doing the devil’s work, and we’ve got to rise up and we’ve got to eliminate them, we’ve got to get them out of office.”

House passes bill for affirmative consent training in colleges - Matthew Reichbach, New Mexico Political Report

A bill that would require post-secondary institutions that receive state funding to form trauma-informed response training for sexual assault, domestic and intimate partner violence and other issues passed the House early Sunday morning after a lengthy debate.

The bill passed after 3 a.m. on a 44-16 vote after three hours of debate.

The bill also mandates that every incoming student would be made aware of these services as well as being made aware of an affirmative consent standard before sexual activity. Bill supporters referred to this as “yes means yes” instead of “no means no.”

“The reason we have landed on post-secondary education is because of some of the events that happened with the Aggie basketball team last year with the sexual assault of players by older players and we thought that this was the time to have something in post-secondary education,” bill sponsor Rep. Liz Thomson, D-Albuquerque, said.

The bill had 19 cosponsors.

“We have a different bill here tonight than we’ve had in the past,” bill co-sponsor Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, said.

Chasey said that rather than imposing penalties, this bill “require that post-secondary institutions that receive public funding implement policies that are clear for the students so that all of the students in school, male and female, become aware of what the expectations are and really try to eliminate gray areas so that students feel safer on campus.”

The bill would also require post-secondary institutions to provide counseling, health care, mental health care, complainant advocacy, legal assistance and more to both complainants and responding parties.

Much of the debate came from Rep. Andrea Reeb, R-Clovis, who is a former prosecutor. She expressed concerns that some of the processes laid out could affect a criminal proceeding.

Thomson explained that the bill did not have anything to do with criminal proceedings and that much of what Reeb spoke about was guided by processes outlined in the federal Title IX standards.

Mark Duncan, R-Kirtland, attempted to amend the bill to require that universities must refer “any allegation of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence or harassment or stalking” to police.

“We can’t legally have mandatory reporting,” Thomson said.

She also said that this would discourage some people from reporting.

Duncan said that he felt there was a moral obligation to report any such allegation.

“I don’t think you can actually force a victim to report it,” Reeb said when asked about the proposal, though she said it may differ if the victim is a minor.

There is already mandatory reporting if the victim is a minor, Chasey explained.

Thomson also said it could discourage victims from coming forward.

Duncan withdrew the amendment, saying that it was not accurately written.

Many institutions, according to the bill’s Fiscal Impact Report, said that they already fulfilled many requirements of the bill, but that there could be some additional costs.