Skandera Praises Trump's Education Pick, Toulouse Oliver To Take Oath Early

Nov 30, 2016

New Mexico Ed Secretary Praises Trump's Ed Secretary Pick Associated Press

New Mexico Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera says Donald Trump's choice for education secretary is an advocate for strong children and will help the nation's most Hispanic state.

Skandera told The Associated Press on Tuesday that she didn't know Betsy DeVos very well but believes her policies won't change New Mexico's overall educational reforms.

Trump named DeVos — a wealthy Republican donor and an advocate for school vouchers — his choice for U.S. Secretary of Education last week.

Skandera, a Republican, says she has not been offered nor has she accepted any U.S. Department of Education position in the Trump administration.

Leadership Change Comes Early At New Mexico Elections AgencyThe Associated Press

New Mexico's incoming secretary of state will take office early to replace a temporary appointee to the state's top oversight post for elections and campaign finances.

The Secretary of State's Office announced Wednesday that Maggie Toulouse Oliver will take the oath of office on Dec. 9 rather than wait until the start of the new year.

Toulouse Oliver was elected as a Democrat to serve out the final two years of a term vacated by Republican Dianne Duran, who resigned in 2015 and was convicted on embezzlement and money laundering charges. Duran acknowledged violating laws she was supposed to uphold by using campaign funds to fuel a gambling spree.

Albuquerque City Councilor Brad Winter served as secretary of state for the past year under an appointment by Gov. Susana Martinez.

Former US Senator To Serve As Adviser For Land OfficeThe Associated Press & The ABQ Journal

Former U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici says he'll be returning to New Mexico early next year and will serve as an adviser to state Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that the 84-year-old Domenici made the announcement Wednesday. He has lived in the Washington, D.C.-area for years with his wife Nancy. They'll be returning to New Mexico permanently in mid-January.

As for his new role, Domenici will provide advice on energy, natural resources and other policy issues. He'll also help push Dunn's proposal to create a new permanent fund to help finance early childhood education.

Domenici, a Republican, was elected to the Senate in 1972 and served through 2008. He was chair of both the Senate budget panel and the energy and natural resources committee.

Suspect In Road-Rage Shooting Agrees To Plea DealThe Associated Press

Attorneys for the Albuquerque man charged in a road rage shooting that killed a 4-year-old girl say they have reached a plea deal with prosecutors a day before the trial in the case was expected to begin.

Defense attorneys Todd Farkas and Stephen Taylor say their client Tony Torrez will plead guilty to second-degree murder under the plea agreement that calls for him to serve a 16-year sentence.

His sentencing hearing is set for tomorrow.

Torrez who was arrested a day after the Oct. 20, 2015, shooting had been charged with first-degree murder and assault.

The shooting on Interstate 40 that killed preschooler Lilly Garcia sent shockwaves through the state last year. She had been riding in the backseat of her father's pickup truck when she was shot.

Judge Orders Suspect In Old Navy Case To Remain Behind BarsThe Associated Press 

A federal judge has ordered that a man accused of using an explosive device to damage an Old Navy store in Albuquerque remain in jail while awaiting trial.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that Magistrate Judge Karen Molzen said during a detention hearing Wednesday that prosecutors have a strong case against 28-year-old David Hickman.

Defense attorney Alonzo Padilla had requested that Hickman be released to a halfway house so he could receive counseling while awaiting trial.

The Old Navy explosion and fire Saturday morning was among several recent fires and acts vandalism that damaged multiple businesses.

Hickman has not been charged in other incidents, but Albuquerque's police chief said Saturday after Hickman was arrested that the spate of crimes targeting businesses would end.

New Mexico Judge Finds Public Defender In ContemptThe Associated Press & The Santa Fe New Mexican 

A New Mexico judge has found the state's chief public defender in contempt for failing to provide lawyers to defendants who couldn't afford them.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that Lea County District Judge Gary Clingman also imposed a $1,000 fine in each of five criminal cases in which the public defender's office failed to make an appearance.

Clingman told Chief Public Defender Ben Baur that he could purge the contempt findings by following his statutory duty to represent defendants.

Baur says his agency does have that statutory duty but also has an ethical obligation to provide effective and constitutional representation.

Public Defender Commission Chairman Michael Stout wrote in a letter Tuesday that the judge's decision is the clearest consequence so far of the funding crisis facing the Law Offices of the Public Defender.

New Mexico, Texas Activists To Hold 100 Immigrant Forums – The Associated Press

Advocates in southern New Mexico and West Texas say they will hold 100 community forums on immigrant rights from now until the inauguration of Donald Trump.

The Border Network for Human Rights and the Reform Immigration for Texas announced Wednesday the forums will be aimed at educating immigrants on their Constitutional rights and how to prepare for possible raids by federal immigration agents.

During the presidential campaign, Trump promised to end a program that gave immigrant students living in the country illegal temporary status. He also vowed to create a "deportation force" to remove immigrants suspected of being in the country illegally.

Advocacy groups all over the nation, like Chelsea Collaborative in Massachusetts, are scheduling similar forums on immigrant rights amid uncertainty over Trump's potential immigration policies.

Most New Mexico School Districts' Grades Remain The SameAssociated Press

New results show most grades for New Mexico school districts remained the same last year despite common core tests and a revamped teacher evaluation system.

The report released Tuesday also said more school districts saw improving grades than declining ones. But only six out of 89 school districts earned an "A'' grade.

The Albuquerque Journal reports Albuquerque Public Schools received a “D” grade for a second year and 11 schools dropped into “priority status,” putting them in the bottom five percent of rankings. Santa Fe Public Schools also received a “D” after four years of a “C” grade according to the Santa Fe New Mexican.

District report cards largely are based on an average of a district's individual school grades. However, there are also other measurements like graduation rates, student achievement, school board member training, and parent surveys.

State results released in August showed that more New Mexico public schools earned "A'' or "B'' grades last school year, but over a third still received "D'' or "F'' grades.

New Mexico Playing Catch-Up As It Heads Into WinterAssociated Press

Forecasters with the National Weather Service say recent snowfall in New Mexico's higher elevations is helping as the state tries to recover from an extraordinarily dry October.

Forecasters say precipitation from January through October was nearly two inches below normal and several locations around the state saw record or near-record warm temperatures.

Hydrologist Royce Fontenot said during a drought monitoring meeting Tuesday that the early winter forecast calls for more dry and warm weather, but storms that crossed over the state in November offered some respite.

Fontenot pointed to improved snowpack in New Mexico's northern mountains and southern Colorado.

The most recent drought maps show abnormally dry conditions across most of the northern half of the state and in some pockets along the Rio Grande Valley and in the bootheel region.

Government Revenues Falter In New Mexico Associated Press

New Mexico budget officials say state government finances continue to deteriorate as tax collections and other revenues declined sharply during a recent three-month period.

The state Legislative Finance Committee released figures Tuesday that show state general fund revenues fell by 9.4 percent to $1.3 billion for the three month period ending in September versus the previous year. Revenues for the month of September were down nearly 12 percent from a year ago.

New Mexico state lawmakers and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez are wrestling with how to close a stubborn budget deficit linked to a sustained downturn in the oil and natural gas sectors.

The state has slashed spending at most agencies about 8 percent this year to offset plunging revenues. New Mexico's credit rating has been downgraded slightly this year.

Feds Agree To Review Status Of Lesser Prairie Chicken - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Federal wildlife officials have agreed to reconsider the status of a grouse found in pockets across the Great Plains as environmentalists fight to return the bird to the list of protected species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday that it will review the lesser prairie chicken in response to a petition filed after the species was removed from the list earlier this year.

The removal followed court rulings in Texas and a decision by government lawyers not to pursue an appeal.

The oil and gas industry and state officials are worried that relisting the grouse could mean hundreds of millions of dollars in added costs for developers, renewable energy companies and farmers.

Environmentalists say emergency protections are needed for isolated populations along the Texas-New Mexico border, in Colorado and western Kansas.

New Mexico DOT Plans Steps To Reduce Blowing Dust On US 180Associated Press

State transportation officials plan to take steps to reduce hazardous driving conditions created by blowing dust along a highway in southwestern New Mexico.

The Department of Transportation plans to use netting and reseeding to promote vegetation growth on a mile-long stretch of U.S. 180 about 15 miles northwest of Deming.

The area consists of a denuded pasture located on private and State Land Office property, and the department says blowing dust has caused road closures and accidents.

The department has scheduled a public involvement meeting at 6 p.m. Dec. 6 at the department's office in Deming.

WWII Vet To Receive Honorary Degree From New Mexico CollegeAssociated Press

A 96-year-old World War II veteran will be receiving an honorary degree from Western New Mexico University during this semester's commencement ceremony.

The university says Leonard Pritikin is a fixture at every Mustang home basketball and volleyball game. He's always in the front row, wearing a bright yellow jacket and a veteran's cap.

He'll be introduced to the entire graduating class when he receives the honorary degree Dec. 9.

Pritikin enlisted in the Marines when he was 19 and served from 1940 to 1945. His military career was cut short due to injuries, but not before traveling through the Pacific as a section leader of heavy machine guns.

After a successful career as a photo engraver and 62 years of marriage, he says his one regret was not getting a degree.