Longest Serving State Senator John Pinto Dies, Land Office Weighs Changes To Agricultural Leases

May 24, 2019

Governor Says Navajo Lawmaker Was American HeroAssociated Press

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is paying tribute to deceased Navajo Code Talker and state Sen. John Pinto as a wise and gracious lawmaker who fought to preserve American freedoms in World War II.

Pinto was New Mexico's longest serving state senator upon his death Friday at age 94.

Lujan Grisham calls Pinto a state icon and an American hero, describing his 42-year career in the Legislature and wartime service as a Marine.

She says she will miss Pinto's good humor in the state Capitol.

Pinto was a World War II-era Marine who trained as a Navajo Code Talker and served in the New Mexico State Senate for more than four decades as a Democrat. He represented an impoverished district in the Four Corners area.

Navajo National President Jonathan Nez said Friday that Pinto was both a warrior and a dedicated politician who changed many lives for the better.

In a statement, Nez said people will miss Pinto and his sense of love and compassion.

Navajo Nation Chief Justice JoAnn Jayne says Pinto recently helped secure state funding for a local justice center and that the Navajo people have lost a legendary man.

National Council Speaker Seth Damon says that Pinto's life and work will have an impact that lasts for generations.

Born in Lupton, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation to a family of sheep herders, Pinto didn't start formal schooling until age 12. He was placed in Native American board school where he ran away several times.

Pinto earned a master's degree in elementary education and was elected to the New Mexico Senate in 1976.

Friend and Senate protege Michael Padilla of Albuquerque on Friday called Pinto a "hero and institution" who helped better inform the state Legislature on issues related to poverty, education and access to vital government services.

Relatives of the state's longest-serving state senator highlighted Pinto's work on behalf of the Navajo people. In a statement, they thanked Pinto's political constituents for the happiness that Pinto enjoyed as a senator.

New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver urged people to reflect on Pinto's life and accomplishments over the Memorial Day weekend.

Agency Says 1st Hantavirus Case For 2019 Reported In New MexicoAssociated Press

New Mexico health officials report that a 50-year-old McKinley County woman is the state's first reported case this year of hantavirus, a severe respiratory illness that can be deadly.

The Department of Health's announcement Friday that deer mice are the main carries of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome in New Mexico, with the virus found in mice droppings and urine.

According to the department, a person can contract hantavirus by breathing in mist or dust when droppings or urine containing the virus are stirred up and the virus is put into the air.

The department says people can also get hantavirus by touching their eyes, nose, or mouth after they have touched droppings or urine that contains the virus.

Agreements Prompt Review Of New Mexico's Settlement System KRQE-TV, Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

Questions about $1.7 million in payouts by New Mexico to settle legal claims have prompted a review of policies and procedures regarding such agreements.

KRQE-TV reports the settlements were made near the end of former Gov. Susana Martinez's administration. She has denied involvement in the agreements.

The cases included past members of the former governor's security detail and involved what one lawyer for the plaintiffs described as damaging personal information.

Details will remain secret since the settlements are sealed until 2023.

Open records advocates tell the Santa Fe New Mexican there's no legal basis for sealing settlements that long.

The attorney general's office has received complaints regarding the settlements, and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's administration is developing new procedures to ensure reviews are done for all claims.

New Mexico Land Office Weighs Changes To Agricultural Leases - Associated Press

The State Land Office is considering changes to rules that govern agricultural leases.

The agency has scheduled a Friday hearing in Santa Fe to take public comments on the proposed amendments, which would modify the requirements for applications to renew an agricultural lease.

Rather than requiring applicants to provide an antiquated appraisement form to capture the value of the land, the agency would look to existing formulas to determine value and rental fees.

The changes also would allow applicants to seek a re-evaluation of the carrying capacity for grazing land.

Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard says she's been looking for ways to streamline the agency's processes.

She says agriculture accounts for the agency's largest geographical business operation, with about 12,750 square miles of state trust land used for grazing.

Health Care Administrator Named To State Ethics Commission - Associated Press

A woman who oversees regulatory compliance at a private medical practice in southern New Mexico has been named to the state's fledgling ethics commission.

Republican House minority leader James Townsend announced Thursday his appointment of Judy Villanueva of Carlsbad to the seven-member commission.

A news release says Villanueva previously held administrative posts at Texas Tech University and El Paso Community College. Townsend credits Villanueva with being fair and thorough. Villanueva could not be reached immediately.

Voters approved the creation of the commission by statewide ballot last year to oversee conduct by public officials, political candidates, lobbyists and government contractors amid a string of political corruption scandals.

The commission begins accepting complaints and requests for advisory opinions next year in advance of fall elections.

Hearing Delayed For Former New Mexico Ex-Athletics Director - Associated Press

A hearing for former University of New Mexico athletics director Paul Krebs has been pushed back to August.

Krebs was due in court this week but attorneys in the case have been granted more time. Court records show a preliminary hearing is scheduled for Aug. 26.

A state district judge will decide whether there's probable cause for Krebs to face charges stemming from his use of public funds on a golf trip to Scotland.

Prosecutors have alleged that Krebs tried to conceal a $25,000 donation to cover the cost of the trip. They have accused him of fraud, money laundering, evidence tampering, making or permitting false public voucher and ethics violations.

Krebs has said the golf trip was meant to strengthen relationships with donors and that the university had not planned to pay for the donors' expenses.

Arizona House OKs Navajo School Voucher FixAssociated Press

The Arizona House has unanimously approved emergency legislation giving a handful of Navajo children another year to use their vouchers for tuition at a private New Mexico Christian school.

The Senate is expected to act soon on the bipartisan legislation approved on a 60-0 House vote in a session that ended at 2 a.m. Friday

The proposal sidesteps a law requiring vouchers to be used at Arizona schools after the Department of Education discovered the vouchers were being used out of state.

The plight of the seven children rocketed to lawmakers' attention when the school-choice advocacy group American Federation for Children released a video over the weekend. It showed parents blasting the Education Department for letters demanding they repay the money illegally spent out of state.

Lawmakers Push Rescue Of Navajo Kids' Voucher - Associated Press

The Arizona House has given preliminary approval to a bill allowing a handful of Navajo Nation children to continue using school vouchers at a Christian school in New Mexico.

The House advanced the emergency legislation in a voice vote on Thursday, setting up formal approval that could come at any time. The Senate is also preparing to debate the measure.

The legislation gives seven children another year to use their Empowerment Scholarship Account out of state even though state law requires the vouchers to be used at Arizona schools.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman says the legislation will allow the children to stay another year in their school without expanding the voucher program.

The school-choice advocacy group American Federation for Children called the children victims of an overbearing government.

River Festival Organizers Face Opposite Water Level Concerns - Farmington Daily Times

Organizers of a festival celebrating the Animas River in northwest New Mexico say they were again concerned about the water level.

The Farmington Daily Times reported Wednesday that organizers of the three-day Riverfest in Farmington were concerned last year that there could be too little river water to hold certain events like rafting trips.

They were concerned this year that there could be too much water.

The San Juan Mountains snowpack has hovered near 300 percent of normal, causing a strong river flow.

Organizer Gloria Lehmer says the river level had recently creeped into the park, but now forecasts show moderate river conditions for the event this weekend.

Big Names Headed To New Mexico To Film 'The Comeback Trail' - Associated Press

Oscar winners Robert De Niro, Tommy Lee Jones and Morgan Freeman soon will be on their way to New Mexico to start work on "The Comeback Trail."

The feature film will begin shooting in early June in Albuquerque, To'hajiilee and other locations. Work is expected to last about a month and will include more than a dozen New Mexico actors and about 300 extras.

Directed by George Gallo, the film is about two movie producers who owe money to the mob. They set up an aging movie star as part of a scam to save themselves but wind up getting more than they bargained for.

The state film office will be hosting Gallo for a screening of his film "Midnight Run" on Saturday at the Guild Cinema in Albuquerque.