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MON: More than 27,000 New Mexicans have cast votes in the primaries, + More

Dividers at a polling location at the Doña Ana County Government Center.
Danielle Prokop
Source NM
Dividers at a polling location at the Doña Ana County Government Center.

As early voting expands, more than 27,000 New Mexicans cast their votes in primaries - By Danielle Prokop, Source New Mexico

May is basically early voting month in the lead-up to the 2024 primary Election Day on Tuesday, June 4.

More sites statewide are open for voters to cast ballots early in the New Mexico primary elections, and will continue to be open until Saturday, June 1.

Polls will reopen for Election Day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Since voting opened May 7, the Secretary of State Office said 27,688 people have cast ballots, with nearly 60% of those coming to the polls in-person.

An additional 11,474 people returned their absentee ballots already. That is almost a third of the more than 35,000 voters that requested absentee ballots for the primary election as of Monday, according to the Secretary of State.

New Mexico holds “modified open primaries,” meaning you must be a member of a recognized party. In this state that is either the Democratic, Republican or Libertarian major parties. The Green Party of New Mexico, considered a minor party, does not have a primary which means that their candidates will appear on the ballot in November. Voters can only select candidates in their registered party.

Independent voters account for about 25% of New Mexico’s voting populations. Anyone that is not affiliated with a party can change their registration at polling places in-person, using same-day registration. After picking their party, they can vote on the same day.

Already, 493 voters across the state used same-day registration when casting their votes, according to the New Mexico Secretary of State Office. When signing up, 270 registered as Democrats, 215 registered as Republicans and 8 people registered as Libertarians.

Voters already affiliated with a major party cannot switch their party and vote on the same day.

For voters wanting to send a ballot through the mail, the deadline to request an absentee ballot is Tuesday, May 21.That can be done anytime online or during office hours if in-person at a county clerk’s office.

Voters can alsosign up to permanently add themselves to a list, and receive their ballots each election in the mail, instead of having to request an absentee ballot request individually.

For some races, the primary is the only contested election between candidates, meaning they will not face an opponent in the November General Election.

Controversial former sheriff, undersheriff set sights on Roundhouse - By Bethany Raja, City Desk ABQ

Two of Bernalillo County’s former top cops are seeking seats at the Roundhouse in November, despite being named in a federal indictment as key players in a gunrunning scheme that allowed gun store owners to buy illegal weapons.

Manny Gonzales, a former Democrat and former Bernalillo County Sheriff, is running in the primaries for a State Senate seat on the Republican ticket for District 23, against Republican Terry Lynn Arragon. His former undersheriff, Rudy Mora, is also running on the Republican ticket for State Senate in District 10.

Mora is unopposed in the primary election and will face incumbent Democrat Katy Duhigg in the general election.

Both Gonzales and Mora have previously run for office on the Democrat ticket but switched parties this year.

City Desk ABQ reached out to both campaigns for comment on this story, but calls weren’t returned by press time.

Before seeking a state senate seat, Gonzales swapped parties and announced a short-lived campaign to secure the Republican nomination challenging U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich this fall. Gonzales was disqualified from that race because his campaign didn’t earn enough signatures from Republican supporters to make the primary ballot.

In a KOAT interview when he announced his U.S. Senate race, Gonzales said he switched political parties because he had strong personal convictions and needed to follow his values.

“My decision to run for the U.S. Senate under the Republican banner stems from a deep conviction that our state needs practical, common-sense solutions, not partisan rhetoric,” he said.


Gonzales was appointed sheriff in 2014 after then-Sheriff Darren White resigned to serve under newly-elected Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry. He later won election twice as a Democrat. Mora served as Gonzales’ undersheriff until 2019.

During his second term as sheriff, Gonzales threw his hat into the 2021 Albuquerque mayoral race but lost to incumbent Mayor Tim Keller by 30 percentage points.

While term limits prevented Gonzales from running for a third term as sheriff, Mora ran for the post as a Democrat in 2022 but was bested by current Sheriff John Allen. Mora then supported the Republican sheriff candidate against Allen.

Speaking with City Desk ABQ this week, White says that it’s always difficult for candidates to switch parties because opponents will accuse them of not really being a member of their new party.

“They’ll have to overcome that,” he said.


Both candidates are no strangers to controversy.

Last year Gonzales and Mora were named in a federal indictment for helping gun store owners buy and sell over 1,000 machine guns under the pretense that they would be used for law enforcement purposes. Many of the weapons were never received by the agencies and ended up being sold to the public instead. Neither man has been charged, but six others, including former Albuquerque gun store owner James Tafoya, have been.

The indictment states that for 5 years beginning in 2015, Gonzales signed nearly 600 “law letters” so that gun store owners could buy illegal firearms — including machine guns — even though BCSO had already started phasing out the use of these guns in 2013. Mora, who at the time was the Pueblo of Laguna police chief, also signed letters that helped a local gun store acquire over 400 weapons under those pretenses.

White told City Desk ABQ  that he believes the candidate’s opponents will use the indictment against them if they make it past the primary election.

“It’s clearly not a positive when you’re running for office that you were somehow involved in basically a gunrunning federal investigation,” he said. “But they’ll counter that they fully cooperated and weren’t ever charged.”

White, who has also run for Congress and has advised numerous Republican candidates in New Mexico, says the onslaught of mailers attacking them for their involvement in that case will be relentless.


As surprising as the federal investigation may have been, many voters will likely remember another high-profile controversy during Gonzales’ last election.

During his 2021 mayoral bid, Gonzales faced two ethics complaints and was denied $661,000 in public funding by the Albuquerque City Clerk’s office after fake signatures and $5 campaign contributions were found on campaign documents.

An appeallater affirmed the city’s actions.

In 2020, Gonzales, then the Democratic Sheriff, appeared at the White House with former Republican President Donald Trump, to announce the controversial law enforcement initiative — Operation Legend — in which federal agents were deployed to cities across the United States to combat violent crime.

For his part, Mora drew controversy in 2017 for his participationin the investigation of a controversial shooting where his son Joshua Mora — who was a Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputy — shot and killed two people. The incident resulted in a $3.3 million settlement against the county for the deputies’ actions.


Despite the controversies surrounding him, Gonzales stands by his motto to “bring New Mexico values to Santa Fe.”

On May 7, Gonzales’ State Senate campaign reported that it had raised $12,320 in campaign contributions at this point in the primary election cycle.

Gonzales’ top contributor so far is International Protective Services Inc., a large Albuquerque-based private security company run by former Valencia County deputy Aaron Jones. Jones has donated $5,500 to the candidate. Gonzales’ campaign contribution reporting page lists him as compliant with state campaign finance laws.

Mora has raised $21,205.07, with his top contributor as of the last reporting period being Rudy Guzman, who donated $5,200 to the campaign.

The next primary campaign finance report is due May 30.

If Gonzales wins the primary election for State Senate, White said it will come down to how much money his opponent has raised.

“To remind people that he had controversies and that he switched parties,” he said.

NM Senate candidates spend more than $1 million – sometimes on each other – ahead of primary - By Danielle Prokop and Patrick Lohmann, Source New Mexico

Three tight primaries, payments to campaign consultants, and donations from leadership are driving spending in campaigns for state Senate as the June 4 primary election date approaches.

While early voting has already kicked off, spending in April heated up, according to the latest campaign finance reports filed May 13. Candidates across the state spent more than $1.1 million in the last several weeks.

Six of the top 10 spenders are running against one another in three primary elections, in far-flung corners of the state.

The top spending race reported is the fight for District 42 in southeast New Mexico between incumbent Sen. Steve McCutcheon II (R-Carlsbad) and challenger Larry Scott, a Republican state representative from Hobbs.

McCutcheon spent more than $114,000 since April 2, while Scott is the second-highest spender last month at just under $88,000.

A sliver of the West-central portion of the state has two top spenders vying for Senate District 30 spanning from Bernalillo to McKinley County.

District 30 will no longer be represented by Republican Sen. Joshua Sanchez, who is now running for Senate District 29, held by the outgoing GOP Sen.. Greg Baca from Belen.

State Senator Clemente Sanchez, a Democrat who held the District 30 seat from 2013 until 2020, is looking to retake it.

Clemente Sanchez faces Angel Charley (Laguna/Zuni/Diné), the former Executive Director of the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women, in the primary. Clemente Sanchez spent more than $68,000 and Charley spent more than $33,000, ranking third and eighth, respectively.

The third-highest spending primary is District 15 in the Albuquerque Heights, between incumbent Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto and challenger Heather Berghmans, a former policy and financial advisor at the Roundhouse.

For three other senators, it’s not neck-and-neck spending with their primary challengers, but payments to campaign consultants and advertising driving up their spending numbers.

Sen. Greg Nibert (R-Roswell), spent the majority of his April expenses – more than $44,000 – on Campaign Marketing Strategies based in McLean, Virginia. Overall, he reported spending more than $56,000. Nibert faces Larry Marker in the Republican primary for Senate District 27, who only spent $1,821 in the last month.

Sen. George Muñoz (D-Gallup), the powerful finance chair for the Senate, is the third-highest fundraiser in the state, with more than $287,000 on hand to spend. Much of that comes from donations from a wide-range of industries such as oil and gas, health care and other businesses.

Muñoz faces Gallup transportation director Keith Hillock, who has entirely self-funded his campaign, donating $4,200 to his campaign. Muñoz spent more than $37,000 in April, with $9,700 on campaign consulting and more than $6,000 on billboard signs.

Muñoz made a $2,000 contribution to the campaign for Las Vegas Democrat Sen. Pete Campos.

Otherwise, Muñoz spent on challengers in down-ballot races, such as $1,000 for McKinley County Treasurer candidate Carol Bowman-Muskett, $500 to Joanne Martinez for the Cibola County Treasurer, and $1,000 for the Eleventh District Attorney candidate Grant Birtcher.

Sen. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, a Democrat from Albuquerque, spent nearly half of his expenditures in April – $21,525 – on campaign consulting from two Albuquerque firms, Strategies 360 and Roadrunner Strategies. There were also two $8,000 expenditures for a poll and a campaign strategist. The rest was split between paraphernalia and signs, canvassing and food for volunteers and campaign events.

Maestas faces South Valley teacher Julie Radoslovich in the primary. Radoslovich spent just over $6,700 in April.

Rounding out the last of the top-10 list of spenders is Sen. Mimi Stewart (D-Albuquerque), whose biggest donations include $10,000 to the New Mexico Senate Democrats committee. She also donated to several candidates seeking election for the first time to the Senate, like challengers like Charley in District 30, Tina Garcia in District 29 and Cindy Nava, who is competing in a four-person race for the open seat in District 9 in Valencia County.

Candidates will have to file updated financial reports May 30, less than a week before the primary.

See the chart below for more details on where things stand in statewide Senate races:

New endangered listing for rare lizard could slow oil and gas drilling in New Mexico and West Texas Scott Sonner, Associated Press
Federal wildlife officials declared a rare lizard in southeastern New Mexico and West Texas an endangered species Friday, citing future energy development, sand mining and climate change as the biggest threats to its survival in one of the world's most lucrative oil and natural gas basins.

"We have determined that the dunes sagebrush lizard is in danger of extinction throughout all of its range," the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said. It concluded that the lizard already is "functionally extinct" across 47% of its range.

Much of the the 2.5-inch-long (6.5-centimeter), spiny, light brown lizard's remaining habitat has been fragmented, preventing the species from finding mates beyond those already living close by, according to biologists.

"Even if there were no further expansion of the oil and gas or sand mining industry, the existing footprint of these operations will continue to negatively affect the dunes sagebrush lizard into the future," the service said in its final determination, published in the Federal Register.

The decision caps two decades of legal and regulatory skirmishes between the U.S. government, conservationists and the oil and gas industry. Environmentalists cheered the move, while industry leaders condemned it as a threat to future production of the fossil fuels.

The decision provides a "lifeline for survival" for a unique species whose "only fault has been occupying a habitat that the fossil fuel industry has been wanting to claw away from it," said Bryan Bird, the Southwest director for Defenders of Wildlife.

"The dunes sagebrush lizard spent far too long languishing in a Pandora's box of political and administrative back and forth even as its population was in free-fall towards extinction," Bird said in a statement.

The Permian Basin Petroleum Association and the New Mexico Oil & Gas Association expressed disappointment, saying the determination flies in the face of available science and ignores longstanding state-sponsored conservation efforts across hundreds of thousands of acres and commitment of millions of dollars in both states.

"This listing will bring no additional benefit for the species and its habitat, yet could be detrimental to those living and working in the region," PBPA President Ben Shepperd and NMOGA President and CEO Missi Currier said in a joint statement, adding that they view it as a federal overreach that can harm communities.

Scientists say the lizards are found only in the Permian Basin, the second-smallest range of any North American lizard. The reptiles live in sand dunes and among shinnery oak, where they feed on insects and spiders and burrow into the sand for protection from extreme temperatures.

Environmentalists first petitioned for the species' protection in 2002, and in 2010 federal officials found that it was warranted. That prompted an outcry from some members of Congress and communities that rely on oil and gas development for jobs and tax revenue.

Several Republican lawmakers sent a letter to officials in the Obama administration asking to delay a final decision, and in 2012, federal officials decided against listing the dunes sagebrush lizard.

Then-U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said at the time that the decision was based on the "best available science" and because of voluntary conservation agreements in place in New Mexico and Texas.

The Fish and Wildlife Service said in Friday's decision that such agreements "have provided, and continue to provide, many conservation benefits" for the lizard, but "based on the information we reviewed in our assessment, we conclude that the risk of extinction for the dunes sagebrush lizard is high despite these efforts."

Among other things, the network of roads will continue to restrict movement and facilitate direct mortality of dunes sagebrush lizards from traffic, it added, while industrial development "will continue to have edge effects on surrounding habitat and weaken the structure of the sand dune formations."

For decades, states have taken foster children's federal benefits. That's starting to change — David Lieb, Associated Press
By the time Jesse Fernandez turned 18, the federal government had paid out thousands of dollars in Social Security survivor's benefits because of the death of his mother. But Jesse's bank account was empty.

The money had all been used by Missouri's foster care system or relatives responsible for his care.

"I was shocked," said Jason White, a foster parent to Fernandez.

"Those dollars are a big deal," he continued. "Had they been saved, or a chunk of it saved, he'd have money for a car and a first-time apartment."

For decades, states have routinely applied for Social Security survivor and disability benefits on behalf of foster children and then used that money to help cover the costs of foster care services. The tactic has saved states from having to spend millions of their own tax dollars on foster care programs.

But that's beginning to change under pressure from child advocates who contend the practice is both immoral and detrimental to foster children because it exhausts funds that could have helped them transition to adulthood.

More than a dozen states have made at least some sort of revisions to the practice since Maryland became the first to do so in 2018. Colorado became the latest in April when it enacted a law establishing a foster children's list of rights, which stipulates that any benefits be used for their "individual needs."

Similar measures have been proposed this year in numerous states as part of an "incredible explosion of reform efforts," said Amy Harfeld, national policy director for the Children's Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law.

But change doesn't always come easy.

Missouri legislation that advocates touted as a national model failed to receive final approval Friday, despite previously passing both chambers. Supporters pointed to gridlock in the Republican-led Legislature and concerns about an unrelated child-custody amendment attached to the bill.

Both chambers of the Democratic-led Maine Legislature also approved a measure last month that would have prohibited the state from using foster children's federal survivor benefits to reimburse its costs for foster care services. But the legislation failed to reach the governor's desk because lawmakers weren't able to allocate the nearly $1.8 million necessary to compensate for the proposed change.

"There is a strong and growing interest to implement reforms," said Meg Dygert, staff leader of the National Association of Public Child Welfare Administrators.

But "addressing this issue is not without its complexities," she said. "To shift practices, child welfare agencies must work through significant financial, operational, technical, and legal challenges."

An estimated 40,000 to 80,000 children in foster care either receive or are eligible for Social Security benefits, typically because of the death of a parent or their own disability, according to a report released last month by the Children's Advocacy Institute. Those benefits typically pay hundreds of dollars a month per child, which adds up to millions of dollars annually for states.

In Missouri, the Children's Division spent more than $9.3 million last year on foster care services from the accounts of about 1,400 foster children who received Social Security benefits, according to legislative research staff.

Those federal disability payments would have amounted to an estimated $123,000 over 13 years for Alexus Brandon, her foster mother Brenda Keith said. But Brandon, 21, received none of that when she aged out of Missouri's foster care system because the state had used it all, Keith said.

Brandon now receives monthly disability checks, but she has fallen behind on rent payments and can't afford a car, making it harder to get a job.

Had the state set aside some of her childhood disability benefits for future use, "it would have helped me start out my life," Brandon said.

The Missouri legislation would have required the Children's Division to apply for Social Security benefits on behalf of eligible foster children but prohibited the agency from using that money for required foster care expenses. Instead, the benefits would have been set aside for children when they age out of foster care or spent on "unmet needs" such as school, transportation or other items.

A similar measure passed the Republican-led Arizona Legislature last year and was signed into law by Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs. At the time, the state Department of Child Safety said it was collecting about $6.2 million annually in Social Security and veterans' survivor benefits on behalf of foster children and spending around $4 million of that on foster care services.

"We shouldn't be funding government off the backs of abused children," said Kendall Seal, vice president of policy at the Center for the Rights of Abused Children, which backed the Arizona and Missouri measures.

Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek, a Democrat, also signed a law last year barring the state from using children's benefits to cover the state's costs of food, clothing, housing and daily supervision of foster children. It instead directs those funds to savings accounts for children's personal needs, including education and future housing expenses.

New Mexico's children's department announced last year it would no longer tap into foster children's Social Security benefits and instead place that money in a trust for children. Massachusetts' children's agency said earlier this year it also was ending the use of foster children's Social Security benefits to cover its costs.

Lawmakers in Missouri and Maine said they would try again next year to pass legislation limiting the state's use of foster children's federal benefits.

The Maine measure was sponsored by Democratic Rep. Amy Roeder, who adopted two sons from foster care, including one who receives Social Security survivor's benefits because his biological father died. While he was in the foster care system, her son didn't receive any of those monthly benefit payments. But Roeder said she is now saving the funds until he is an adult to help pay for higher education or housing.

"Money is a cold comfort when you lose somebody, but it's something," Roeder said, "even if it's just a little bit of a boost to get you started.

AG Torrez details his public safety priorities for special session - Albuquerque Journal, KUNM News

In a news conference Thursday, state Attorney General Raúl Torrez said some 75% of violent crimes in New Mexico remain unsolved, according to recent FBI data.

As the Albuquerque Journal reports, with the Legislature being called into a special session on July 18 on public safety, Torrez is asking the governor to seek funding for rapid DNA analysis machines to help law enforcement solve more crimes.

Torrez said that citizens and families are tired of living in a community that, "cannot provide the basic public safety we are all entitled to.”

He noted recent national reports that put New Mexico as the most violent and dangerous state in the country and laid out priorities for the special session.

As well as DNA analysis capacity, he is asking the Legislature to ensure public access to records related to pretrial conditions imposed and defendants’ compliance.

And he wants to create an office of the Crime Victim Advocate to ensure the rights of victims are protected.

A Lakota student's feather plume was cut off her cap during commencement at a New Mexico high school - Associated Press 

A Lakota student's traditional feather plume was cut off her graduation cap during her high school commencement ceremony this week in northwestern New Mexico.

It was during the national anthem Monday night when Farmington High School faculty members approached the student, Genesis White Bull, and confiscated her cap, the Tri-City Record reported. The top of it had been decorated with traditional beadwork and an aópazan — Lakota for plume.

White Bull is Hunkpapa Lakota of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota.

Farmington's school district said in a statement Wednesday that it prohibits any modifications to graduation caps and gowns, but students can wear traditional regalia beneath their graduation attire.

"While the staff involved were following district guidelines, we acknowledge this could have been handled differently and better," the statement said.

About 34% of the school district's roughly 11,200 students are Native American or Alaska Natives. The community of Farmington sits on the border of the vast Navajo Nation.

Brenda White Bull, the student's mother, approached the faculty members after they removed her daughter's cap, asking if she could remove the plume herself. The faculty members used scissors to cut it off, she said.

Navajo Nation First Lady Jasmine Blackwater-Nygren, who attended the commencement Monday night, said on Facebook that she was disappointed and called on school officials to allow Native American students the choice to wear traditional regalia at graduation.

"Deciding what to wear goes far beyond a simple decision of what color dress or shoes to wear," Blackwater-Nygren said. "For Native students, this is a day to proudly wear our traditional regalia. Our regalia reminds us of how far we've come as a people, it shows our pride in our culture, and how we chose to identify ourselves as Native people."

Robert Taboada, a school district spokesperson, told The Associated Press on Friday that district officials were working with the Navajo Nation's Department of Diné Education to review and update its policies on graduation attire. Taboada declined to comment further.

Brenda White Bull told the Farmington newspaper that the family had prayed together before placing the plume on the cap.

"That's part of our culture," she said. "When we reach a milestone in our life, we as Lakotas decorate, do our beadwork and place our plume on them."

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe says the school owes Genesis White Bull an apology.

"To be humiliated during one of her young life's most celebrated moments is unacceptable," Chairwoman Janet Alkire said.

Brenda White Bull said Wednesday that school officials haven't reached out. Efforts to reach her Friday for comment weren't immediately successful.