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THURS: Tribes want US appeals court to weigh in on $10B SunZia project, + More

The SunZia transmission line will stretch about 550 miles from central New Mexico, funneling electricity from massive wind farms to metro areas in Arizona and California.
Courtesy Pattern Energy
The SunZia transmission line will stretch about 550 miles from central New Mexico, funneling electricity from massive wind farms to metro areas in Arizona and California.

Native American tribes want US appeals court to weigh in on $10B SunZia energy transmission project - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

Native American tribes and environmentalists want a U.S. appeals court to weigh in on their request to halt construction along part of a $10 billion transmission line that will carry wind-generated electricity from New Mexico to customers as far away as California.

The disputed stretch of the SunZia Transmission line is in southern Arizona's San Pedro Valley. The tribes and others argue that the U.S. Interior Department and Bureau of Land Management failed to recognize the cultural significance of the area before approving the route of the massive project in 2015.

SunZia is among the projects that supporters say will bolster President Joe Biden's agenda for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The planned 550-mile conduit would carry more than 3,500 megawatts of wind power to 3 million people.

A U.S. district judge rejected earlier efforts to stall the work while the merits of the case play out in court, but the tribes and other plaintiffs opted Wednesday to ask the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to intervene.

The Tohono O'odham Nation has vowed to pursue all legal avenues for protecting land that it considers sacred. Tribal Chairman Verlon Jose said in a recent statement that he wants to hold the federal government accountable for violating historic preservation laws that are designed specifically to protect such lands.

He called it too important of an issue, saying: "The United States' renewable energy policy that includes destroying sacred and undeveloped landscapes is fundamentally wrong and must stop."

The Tohono O'odham — along with the San Carlos Apache Tribe, the Center for Biological Diversity and Archeology Southwest — sued in January, seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the clearing of roads and pads so more work could be done to identify culturally significant sites within a 50-mile stretch of the valley.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs have alleged in court documents and in arguments made during a March hearing that the federal government was stringing the tribes along, promising to meet requirements of the National Historic Preservation Act after already making a final decision on the route.

The motion filed Wednesday argues that the federal government has legal and distinct obligations under the National Historic Preservation Act and the National Environmental Policy Act and that the Bureau of Land Management's interpretation of how its obligations apply to the SunZia project should be reviewed by the appeals court.

California-based developer Pattern Energy has argued that stopping work would be catastrophic, with any delay compromising the company's ability to get electricity to customers as promised in 2026.

In denying the earlier motion for an injunction, U.S. Judge Jennifer Zipps had ruled that the plaintiffs were years too late in bringing their claims and that the Bureau of Land Management had fulfilled its obligations to identify historic sites and prepare an inventory of cultural resources. Still, she also acknowledged the significance of the San Pedro Valley for the tribes after hearing testimony from experts.

County in rural New Mexico extends agreement with ICE for immigrant detention amid criticism - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

County commissioners in rural New Mexico extended authorization for a migrant detention facility Wednesday in cooperation with federal authorities over objections by advocates for immigrant rights who allege inhumane conditions and due process violations at the privately operated Torrance County Detention Facility.

The 3-0 vote by the Torrance County commission clears the way for a four-month extension through September of an agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for the detention of migrants at the facility.

At a public meeting, advocates renewed criticism that the facility has inadequate living conditions and provides limited access to legal counsel for asylum-seekers who cycle through. Critics of the detention center have urged federal immigration authorities to end their contract with a private detention operator, while unsuccessfully calling on state lawmakers to ban local government contracts for migrant detention.

The ACLU announced Tuesday that it had uncovered documents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that show a 23-year-old Brazilian migrant didn't receive adequate mental health care prior to his suicide in August 2022 at the Torrance County Detention Facility after being denied asylum. Contacted by email Wednesday, ICE representatives had no immediate response to the allegations by the ACLU.

The ACLU urged federal authorities reconsider its contract the Torrance County facility based on a "mortality review" by ICE's health services corps of circumstances leading up to the death of Kelsey Vial during the migrant's monthslong detention. The document describes Vial's symptoms and treatment for depression while awaiting removal to Brazil and concludes that detention center staff "did not provide Mr. Vial's health care within the safe limits of practice."

County Commissioner Sam Schropp said events described by the ACLU took place nearly two years ago and don't reflect current conditions at the facility that he has witnessed during his own unannounced visits. He described numerous accounts of desperation among migrants related to food, water and health care access within the facility as "hearsay."

"The accounts which you attribute to the federal government will not be changed by closing of (the Torrance County Detention Facility). Those detainees will be moved to another facility and there will be no one like me appearing," Schropp said.

The ACLU's Mike Zamore petitioned a top ICE official to conduct a new review of the detention center before extending the contract beyond May.

"While this review continues, ICE should let the contract for Torrance expire," wrote Zamore, national director of policy and government affairs for the ACLU. "From a good governance perspective, it makes no sense to renew a contract for operations that have repeatedly resulted in dangerous conditions and chronic violation of federal standards."

The detention center at Estancia can accommodate at least 505 adult male migrants at any time, though actual populations fluctuate.

Torrance County Manager Janice Barela said federal authorities proposed terms of the four-month extension of the services agreement for immigrant detention. County government separately contracts for jail space unrelated to immigration at the detention center, which is the county's largest payer of property taxes.

See which legislative races are close, which are lopsided based on fundraising data - Patrick Lohmann, Source New Mexico

Two long-time Gallup lawmakers and one from Elephant Butte have the most money to spend in the New Mexico Legislature as they and their opponents gear up for upcoming primaries.

Sen. George Muñoz and Rep. Patti Lundstrom, both Democrats, and Sen. Crystal Diamond Brantley, a Republican, have the top three biggest campaign fund balances, according to filings candidates provided earlier this month to the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office.

Lundstrom’s filings show she has more than $280,000 on hand, while Muñoz and Brantley each reported more than $300,000.

Muñoz and Lundstrom have at least one primary challenger, and their campaign war chests greatly dwarf what their opponents raised. Brantley is unopposed.

Lundstrom, a longtime incumbent and former chair of the powerful House budget committee, faces two primary opponents: Chris Hudson, who had less than $3,000 as of April 8, and Arval McCabe, who had a single dollar after donating himself $52 and spending $51 of that on voter registration fees, according to Secretary of State records.

Muñoz’s opponent, Keith Edward Hillock, has $130 on hand.

While the three senators have the most cash on hand, Sen. Joseph Cervantes (D-Las Cruces) raised the most, by far. Filings show raised more than $1.2 million and then spent more than $1 million of it, leaving him with about $200,000. He also has no opponents for his district.

Elsewhere in the state, eight primary races are much more competitive, at least as far as fundraising is concerned, according to a Source New Mexico review.

Those districts include a four-person Democratic primary in Albuquerque’s House District 18, where three of the four candidates have between $30,000 and $60,000, and a show-off between two Libertarians in Los Alamos in which one candidate has $100 and the other zero.

Click here to look at the state of the fundraising race ahead of the June 4 primary, including interactive maps of competitive races.

Latest SCOTUS abortion case uncertain and could impact New Mexico - By Susan Dunlap, New Mexico Political Report

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Wednesday on an abortion-related case, this time over whether an Idaho anti-abortion law preempts a federal law that requires hospitals to stabilize a patient in a medical emergency if that involves abortion.

Idaho’s abortion ban only allows abortion in the event the patient is facing death. There is no exception to save the health of the pregnant person. In the few months since this law has been in effect in Idaho, one Idaho hospital system reported having to airlift pregnant patients to out-of-state hospitals for care about once every other week, U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar told the Supreme Court during oral argument.

The case, Idaho v. United States, is the second time the U.S. Supreme Court has heard oral arguments in a case involving abortion this term. The previous case was over the availability of mifepristone, the first of a two-step abortion regimen. Justices are expected to rule on both cases in late June or early July.

The Idaho case has repercussions for states such as New Mexico in various ways. One is that if a majority of Supreme Court justices side with Idaho, it will increase more abortion patient referrals to states where abortion is still legal and safe, such as New Mexico. This comes at the same time that Arizona’s 1864 abortion ban is set to go into effect on June 8, though the Arizona House narrowly passed a repeal of that law on Wednesday, which would still leave a 15-week abortion ban in place.

Related: How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

Advocates argue that another repercussion is that if the Supreme Court sides with Idaho, it could open the door to allowing any state to ban any type of emergency room care, such as providing stabilizing care in emergency rooms for patients with HIV/AIDS.

The Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act was enacted in 1986, under the Reagan administration, to prevent “patient dumping” on other hospitals. It requires that all hospitals that receive Medicare funding must stabilize a patient, regardless of ability to pay or insurance status, if the patient is suffering a medical emergency. Idaho and six other states have anti-abortion laws so severe, they conflict with that federal law.

Another concern for New Mexico is that the state of Texas sued the U.S. government over EMTALA in 2022. That case was not a part of the Supreme Court’s oral argument on Wednesday but it leads to the question of whether Texas could refuse emergency room care to stabilize a patient if that care means providing an abortion if the Supreme Court rules in favor of Idaho.

In a national press conference, Meghan Daniel, who heads a Chicago-based abortion fund provider, said during the call with reporters that if emergency care is no longer available, the cost of lifelighting pregnant patients to another state would cost tens of thousands of dollars, in addition to the other medical bills.

“The roll back of EMTALA could push our support to the breaking point for life flights alone – $12,000 to $25,000 per flight to risk health and life would undue abortion funds,” Daniel said.

Joan Lamunyon Sanford, executive director of the New Mexico-based abortion fund provider Faith Roots Reproductive Action, said another concern could be for individuals who live in New Mexico but who live so close to the state line that the nearest hospital could be in Lubbock or Odessa or Midlands. In addition, much of southern New Mexico is served by El Paso’s higher critical care hospitals.

“I think that’s a very accurate analysis,” Lamunyon Sanford said of Daniel’s statement. She said that in the event that Texas upends EMTALA in Texas, pregnant individuals who live in New Mexico could travel to a Texas-based hospital for a medical emergency only to find themselves airlifted back into New Mexico for emergency abortion care.

“These kinds of bans of any kind of care put a strain on medical infrastructure,” Lamunyon Sanford said.

Lamunyon Sanford said FRRA has not yet considered the implications for their abortion fund, which supports individuals traveling to New Mexico from out-of-state for an abortion but she expressed frustration over the situation.

“It’s just so profoundly disappointing that women’s lives and people with the capacity for pregnancy would be so expendable. By people who claim to uphold family values,” she said.

The female justices, including Justice Amy Coney Barrett, asked hard questions to the Idaho lawyer representing that state. But even if Coney Barrett sides with the more liberal wing of the court, the liberal faction will need at least one more vote and which direction Chief Justice John Roberts or Justice Brett Kavanaugh were leaning was not immediately clear during oral arguments. Justice Samuel Alito worried many because he questioned the fact that the phrase “unborn child” appears in EMTALA. This has raised concerns that he was signaling interest in the notion of “fetal personhood.” Unlike the mifepristone case the Supreme Court heard last month, the oral argument for this case ended without a likely outcome.

Katie O’Connor, director of federal abortion policy for National Women’s Law Center, said during the national press call that the worry that around Alito’s invoking the term “fetal personhood” “gets to the issue at the heart of this case.” Alito asked questions to invoke debate about there being “two people” whose lives are at stake in medical emergencies that involve a pregnant person.

“To single out pregnant people and pregnant people alone as the only group not entitled to receive emergency medical treatment…puts on display with Alito’s distorted phrase “the unborn child” in statute to mean something it clearly does not…gets to the heart of this case and what Idaho is trying to do,” O’Connor said.

Luna County corporal is charged for his role in deadly 2023 crash while responding to a call - Associated Press

A corporal with the Luna County Sheriff's Office has been charged for his role in a deadly crash that happened while he was responding to a call last November.

The crash in Deming killed 14-month-old Wyatt Franzoy and injured his mother.

Dash-camera video showed Corporal Paul Garcia speeding toward a reported robbery in his department-issued vehicle, traveling more than 130 mph at one point. While there was no video footage of the crash, court documents state he was traveling 99 mph in a 55-mph zone when he struck the family's car as it was making a left turn.

The sheriff's office policy advises that while responding to calls with lights and sirens on, deputies may not exceed 20 mph over the posted speed limit.

County officials did not immediately return a message seeking comment, and court records did not list an attorney for Garcia.

The boy's parents, Isabella Hernandez and William Franzoy, and their lawyer held a news conference on Wednesday to address the charges, television KVIA reported.

"Wyatt was my whole world, and now my life will never be the same because of Officer Paul Garcia and his recklessness," Hernandez said.

The charges include homicide by vehicle and great bodily injury by vehicle. Garcia has been placed on administrative leave and is scheduled to make his first court appearance in May.

What to know about the latest bird flu outbreak in the US - By Sean Murphy, Associated Press

A poultry facility in Michigan and egg producer in Texas both reported outbreaks of avian flu this week. The latest developments on the virus also include infected dairy cows and the first known instance of a human catching bird flu from a mammal.

Although health officials say the risk to the public remains low, there is rising concern, emerging in part from news that the largest producer of fresh eggs in the U.S. reported an outbreak.

Here are some key things to know about the disease.


Dr. Mandy Cohen, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the agency is taking bird flu seriously, but stressed that the virus has already been well studied.

"The fact that it is in cattle now definitely raises our concern level," Cohen said, noting that it means farmworkers who work with cattle — and not just those working with birds — may need to take precautions.

The good news is that "it's not a new strain of the virus," Cohen added. "This is known to us and we've been studying it, and frankly, we've been preparing for avian flu for 20 years."


Some flu viruses mainly affect people, but others chiefly occur in animals. Avian viruses spread naturally in wild aquatic birds like ducks and geese, and then to chickens and other domesticated poultry.

The bird flu virus drawing attention today — Type A H5N1 — was first identified in 1959. Like other viruses, it has evolved over time, spawning newer versions of itself.

Since 2020, the virus has been spreading among more animal species — including dogs, cats, skunks, bears and even seals and porpoises — in scores of countries.

In the U.S., this version of the bird flu has been detected in wild birds in every state, as well as commercial poultry operations and backyard flocks. Nationwide, tens of millions of chickens have died from the virus or been killed to stop outbreaks from spreading.

Last week, U.S. officials said it had been found in livestock. As of Tuesday, it had been discovered in dairy herds in five states — Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, New Mexico and Texas — according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


This bird flu was first identified as a threat to people during a 1997 outbreak in Hong Kong. In the past two decades, nearly 900 people have been diagnosed globally with bird flu and more than 460 people have died, according to the World Health Organization.

There have been only two cases in the U.S., and neither were fatal.

In 2022, a prison inmate in a work program caught it while killing infected birds at a poultry farm in Montrose County, Colorado. His only symptom was fatigue, and he recovered.

This week, Texas health officials announced that a person who had been in contact with cows had been diagnosed with bird flu. Their only reported symptom was eye redness.


Symptoms are similar to that of other flus, including cough, body aches and fever. Some people don't have noticeable symptoms, but others develop severe, life-threatening pneumonia.


The vast majority of infected people have gotten it directly from birds, but scientists are on guard for any sign of spread among people.

There have been a few instances when that apparently happened — most recently in 2007 in Asia. In each cluster, it spread within families from a sick person in the home.

U.S. health officials have stressed that the current public health risk is low and that there is no sign that bird flu is spreading person to person.


While it's too early to quantify the potential economic impact of a bird flu outbreak, many of these latest developments are concerning, particularly the transmission of the virus from one species to another, said Darin Detwiler, a food safety and policy expert at Northeastern University.

"We don't have a magic forcefield, an invisible shield that protects land and water runoff from impacting other species," Detwiler said. "There is a concern in terms of how this might impact other markets, the egg market, the beef market."

If the outbreak is not quickly contained, consumers could ultimately see higher prices, and if it continues to spread, some industries could experience "reputational strain," possibly affecting the export industry, Detwiler added.

The egg industry already is experiencing some tightening of supply following detections of bird flu late in 2023 and in early January, coupled with the busy Easter season, where Americans typically consume an average of 3 billion eggs, said Marc Dresner, a spokesperson for the American Egg Board.

Still, even with the outbreak in Texas and the nearly 2 million birds that were killed there, Dresner said there are an estimated 310 million egg laying hens in the U.S. and wholesale egg prices are down about 25% from a February peak.


This story was initially published on April 3. It was updated on April 24 to correct the spelling of Darin Detwiler's first name, which had been misspelled "Daren."

School superintendents sue state over extended school year - Santa Fe New Mexican, KUNM News

Dozens of New Mexico school superintendents are suing the state over extending the school year.

Last month, the state Public Education Department moved forward with requiring a 180-day school year despite pushback from school staff and lawmakers.

Now, asthe Santa Fe New Mexican reports, more than 50 superintendents and their professional association have filed suit against the agency and its secretary, Arsenio Romero. The court battle comes as school districts draft budgets and calendars that comply with the new rule.

Santa Fe Public Schools is one of the plaintiffs. At a recent school board meeting there, members called the mandate “unfunded,” saying it would stress next year’s budget.

All judges in the 9th Judicial District where the suit was filed have recused themselves due to conflicts of interest. So, the state Supreme Court will need to assign a judge to oversee the case.

Progressives going after incumbents in hot Democratic primaries - By Justin Horwath,New Mexico In Depth

It’s a safe bet Democrats will barrel into 2025 with their supremacy intact at the New Mexico Legislature. Barring an unexpected shock during this year’s elections, Democrats’ stranglehold on power is assured.

Going into the 2024 contests, Democrats control nearly two-thirds of all seats in the House and nearly three of every five seats in the Senate.

The question going into the June primary election is whether the party’s progressive wing will continue to increase power in the Legislature or will more centrist Democrats hold ground.

This year’s effort by progressives is the latest in a long standing campaign, stretching back to the mid-2000s, to bring more progressives into the Legislature. In 2008, progressives successfully replaced a slate of centrist Democrats with newly minted candidates who are now political veterans, including the launch of current Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller’s political career, who joined the Senate that year.

Because of this one-party dominance, the ideological fault lines within the Democratic Party have major policy implications on abortion, the environment, education and workplace issues like minimum wage and paid family and medical leave benefits.

Progressive political candidates and committees have raised tens of thousands of dollars for bids to oust certain Democratic legislators in June’s primary election.

New Mexico’s progressive political machine was buoyed dramatically in 2020 when insurgents unseated long-time Democratic incumbents viewed as more centrist or right of center.

The first campaign finance reports filed April 8 show progressive insurgents amassing thousands in contributions from individuals. And the efforts of progressive independent expenditure committees will undoubtedly benefit their campaigns.

Incumbents hold an advantage in corporate money, with energy, healthcare and hospitality interests giving big. They also enjoy support from their own colleagues in the Legislature; House Speaker Javier Martinez of Albuquerque, despite policy disagreements with more conservative incumbents, pledged to back his fellow lawmakers facing intraparty challenges.

Tim Krebs, a University of New Mexico political science professor, said Democratic incumbents who buck the progressive agenda have braced themselves for challenges from the party’s left flank since the 2020 elections.

“We had that moment in time where John Arthur Smith and other conservative Democrats in the state and on the senate side were ousted from office,” Krebs said. “…you’ve got sort of liberal interest groups that want to support the Democratic Party and they want to flip seats in their direction. So they recruit candidates who can do that and challenge candidates who aren’t toeing the progressive line.”

A handful of top Senate Democrats with decades of legislative experience were toppled in the 2020 primary by insurgents angered by their votes against an effort to wipe away a dormant abortion criminalization law that predated the 1970s Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. The following year, Democrats successfully eliminated the law.

Shown the door were former Senate Finance Committee Chair John Arthur Smith of Deming — a three-decade veteran known as “Dr. No” for his fiscal conservatism who voted against rescinding the old abortion criminalization law — as were Senate President Pro Tempore Mary Kay Papen, and senators Clemente Sanchez and Gabriel Ramos.

A progressive political action committee (PAC), Better Future for New Mexico, raised significant money in 2020, and is back in action this year. In its first primary election filing, the group reported raising just $7,750 from four donors, but began the year with more than $330,000 in the bank and has demonstrated in past elections it can raise considerable amounts.

Better Future has been largely funded by out-of-state special interest groups, philanthropists, business executives and attorneys. It in turn funneled money to New Mexico-based groups to run political campaigns, a prime example of the phenomenon of “gray money” in which PACs give to PACs, who then give to other PACs, making it difficult to find out where the money comes from.

Nick Voges, a consultant for the committee, said it supports other nonprofit groups or PACs aligned with its values. Voges said those values include protecting reproductive healthcare and gender equity; advancing “worker and people-centric policies” such as paid family and medical leave; protecting the environment; and gun safety laws.

“The policies that are important to Better Future New Mexico and the independent community organizations that we work with are broadly supported by many New Mexicans and transcend political labels,” Voges said in an interview.

Olé, a progressive New Mexico-based membership organization that runs political campaigns, is one group that receives money from Better Future.

The group since 2009 has worked on issues such as immigration, abortion access, wages, housing and other causes. Its volunteer membership is currently vetting candidates to endorse for the primary cycle, said Executive Director Andrea Serrano.

Serrano said Olé, which stands for Organizers in the Land of Enchantment, has helped elect state and municipal candidates who voted for minimum wage hikes, payday loan caps and abortion access protections.

Top of mind for its members is the failure by two votes of the Paid Family Medical Leave Actduring this year’s legislative session, Serrano said.

“ … [W]hen there are lawmakers who are beholden to wealthy corporations, they are going to make bad choices that are going to harm New Mexicans,” Serrano said.

The profiles of a candidate’s donors can matter in races. In District 70 in northern New Mexico, a progressive candidate is attacking an incumbent for taking corporate contributions. The incumbent says such contributions are unavoidable for a candidate who wants to win elections.

Anita Gonzales, deputy director of the Las Vegas educational nonprofit New Mexico Mesa, Inc., is trying to unseat two-term incumbent Ambrose Castellano, who voted against the paid family medical leave act this year.

It is her third attempt to beat Castellano. Inboth previous elections, Gonzales lost by fewer than 100 votes

This time around, she has a rare primary election endorsement from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Almost all of the $31,000 raised by Gonzales came from individual contributions according to the Secretary of State’s data, except for $8,000 in March, which the governor gave her.

She received $2,000 from the Karen F Grove Trust. Karen Grove is the chair of the Grove Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit based in California that reported $94 million in assets in 2022. A spokesperson for the foundation noted that the trust is separate from the foundation. An affiliated organization, the Grove Action Fund, a 501(c)4 organization, has funded Better Future in recent years with a large donation.

Gonzales said the governor’s endorsement means a lot to her but it doesn’t mean she will be duty-bound to Lujan Grisham’s agenda in cases where they may disagree, noting she’s running a grassroots campaign.

“A majority of the campaign donations thus far are individuals — they are people that just are working to support me — in contrast to my incumbent who has had mostly corporate donations,” she said.

Asked if the campaign would go negative, Neri Holguin, who is consulting for Gonzales, said, “We’re running against an incumbent and we’re making a case for why we think voters should fire him and hire Anita.”

Holguin sent out an email April 16 announcing an ethics complaint had been filed with the State Ethics Commission alleging Castellano has misspent campaign funds for personal use over the past several years.

“I’m not surprised to learn of this,” Castellano wrote to New Mexico In Depth in a text. “I welcome a fair and legal process but believe my campaign is in compliance with laws and regulation.”

Castellano, who works in construction, suggested Gonzales may be beholden to the governor’s agenda and pitched himself as an “independent voice” who will work to moderate urban progressive policies.

For instance, Castellano said that while he favors paid family and medical leave as a policy, he did not support the 2024 bill because he would have preferred an initial opt-in program for employers before forcing them to pay into a fund. He cited businesses still suffering from the 2022 wildfires that ripped through parts of the district.

“Obviously, you know, I’m not a progressive; I’m a moderate Democrat. I don’t support a lot of bills that hurt small businesses or harm rural communities,” he said.

Of the $48,500 raised by Castellano since last October, 80% comes from corporations, trade associations and lobbyists. Major corporations donating to his campaign include AT&T, Lovelace Health System, Pfizer, Altria; Anheuser Busch; Core Civic; BNSF Railway Co.; UnitedHealth Group and others, according to his campaign report. House Speaker Javier Martinez, who did not return a call for comment, gave Castellano $5,500 and endorsed his legislative colleague.

Castellano said that he has “gained the respect” of corporations participating in the legislative process because they know he will have a discussion with them about the issues. That does not mean he is indebted to them, he said, citing a vote to increase by 5% oil leasing royalty rates on state land.

Castellano also argued that corporate money is unavoidable for incumbents.

“What’s the difference between the governor’s PAC, which gets money from out of state, or any other legislator that gets money from out of state?” he said. “ I’m no different.”

Krebs, the University of New Mexico professor, said that often, progressive challengers have successfully attacked an incumbent’s donor base, especially if the money comes from outside the district or state. But it is rare for a challenger to reject those same contributions once in office.

“Is she going to say, ‘No I’m not going to take that money?’” Krebs asked if Gonzales wins.

Gonzales said any corporate money she takes would have to align with her values. For instance, Marathon Oil donated $5,000 to Castellano in November. Gonzales said she would reject a contribution from Marathon Oil, and pledged to reject campaign contributions from all oil and gas companies. The same is true for payday loan companies, she said.

But not all corporate contributions are bad, she said. Juno Beach, Fla.-based NextEra Energy pitched in $1,000 to Castellano’s campaign in June. NextEra is one of the largest renewable energy developers in the U.S. — and it has projects in New Mexico. Gonzales said she would consider taking a contribution from the Juno Beach, Fla.-based company.

“The way our system is, in order to afford campaigns you do need dollars,” Gonzales said.

CORRECTION: This story has been corrected to reflect that the Grove Action Fund, not the Grove Foundation, gave a large donation to Better Future New Mexico in recent years.