THURS: GOP Chairman Says Election Tarnished Democracy, Vaccine Hotline Opens, + More

Jan 7, 2021


State GOP Says Election Tarnished Democracy, Faces Criticism - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

New Mexico Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce says democracy has been tarnished by unanswered questions about the 2020 vote count, which state officials called a false narrative.

His statement Thursday stops just short of repeating President Donald Trump's baseless claims of election fraud. Pearce says the state Republican Party recognizes Congress' certification of the victory by President-elect Joe Biden.

But he says he has unanswered questions about the vote count, voting machines and drop boxes for absentee ballots.

A spokesman for the secretary of state's office says New Mexico's election was independently audited and that Pearce and the Republican Party "should be ashamed of themselves for continuing false narratives."

All the states have certified their election results as fair and accurate, by Republican and Democratic officials alike. Biden won the New Mexico vote by nearly 11 percentage points.

New Mexico's sole Republican delegate to Congress, U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell, used her first speech to the House to challenge the certification. She objected to the electoral vote in several states, including Pennsylvania, citing changes there to vote-by-mail deadlines and identification rules.

In New Mexico, the state GOP successfully sued last year to ensure absentee ballots are distributed by request only and resolved a lawsuit before Election Day about absentee ballot drop boxes. The party sued in December to impound and later inspect absentee ballots for Bernalillo County, which includes Albuquerque.

Congress finished certifying Biden's Electoral College victory early Thursday, hours after pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol. It came after Trump repeated his baseless claims of election fraud to thousands of demonstrators he invited to Washington.

Otero County Commissioner and Cowboys for Trump co-founder Couy Griffin was among those assembled on the steps to the U.S. Capitol. He posted a video on Facebook that shows him reveling in the crowd.

"Anything to get our country back, amen, brother," Griffin said.

New Mexico Launches Vaccination Registration Hotline – Associated Press

New Mexico on Thursday launched a new hotline to answer questions related to vaccine registration, as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state neared 152,000.

The state Health Department in recent weeks created a website where people can register to get the vaccine once it becomes more widely available. So far, nearly 300,000 people have signed up.

State officials said callers to the new hotline — 1-855-600-3453 — can ask questions about the registration process or get help signing up.

The state reserved the initial shipments of vaccine for health care workers, staff and residents at long-term care facilities and some other at-risk people. Plans are being made for how to prioritize other groups.

Health officials on Thursday reported an additional 1,841 infections, pushing the statewide total of confirmed cases to 151,819 since the pandemic began. Another 39 deaths also were reported Thursday.

New Mexico Company Announces Completion Of Rural Fiber LineAssociated Press

Rural telecommunications company Sacred Wind Communications has announced it has completed the first-ever redundant fiber line connecting Albuquerque and Gallup in New Mexico.

Sacred Wind CEO John Badal said in the announcement Wednesday that the new line will connect hospitals, point of sale devices and emergency services. Badal added that the project will allow rural and tribal communities between the two cities to have faster and more reliable internet access.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that funding for the fiber line came from a nearly $14 million low-interest loan from the federal Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service.

High Court Weighs Whether State Should Compensate Businesses - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is urging the state Supreme Court to reject demands that businesses be compensated for losses linked to pandemic-related public health orders.

Final written arguments were published Thursday as the high court weighs whether financial compensation is due to businesses in response to the state's public health orders that ban mass gatherings and prohibit business activities such as indoor dining.

Businesses have scaled back or closed their doors as state health officials struggle to contain the coronavirus amid widespread testing for infection and the rollout in December and January of the first vaccine doses.

Attorneys representing the governor's office and state Health Department say that enforcement of public health orders derives for a long-standing principle that property rights contain an inherent limitation not to use property in a manner that endangers others.

A coalition of businesses says pandemic restrictions have effectively seized private property from businesses that might otherwise have taken their own precautions against the spread of COVID-19.

Their lawsuit characterizes the state's public health emergency orders as a regulatory taking the merits compensation to businesses.

The case will likely decide the fate of more than a dozen lawsuits by businesses running the gamut from an oxygen healing bar in downtown Santa Fe to a florist in Farmington and an auction house in rural Portales claiming they were adversely affected by the state's pandemic response.

New Mexico Utilities Look Ahead To Renewable Energy Mandates - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

A solar project meant to provide 10% of Gallup's electricity for the next two decades is falling short of expectations.

The issues with the solar farm come as utilities attempted to meet a statewide requirement in 2020 for having 20% of retail electricity sales come from renewable energy sources. Not all of them met the goal.

Utilities will be under more pressure going forward as the Energy Transition Act sets a higher bar in 2025 and subsequent years.

Executives with Public Service Co. of New Mexico are confident about meeting the mandates and said reliability and affordability will be among the considerations.

The utility's portfolio will get a boost with the addition of roughly 650 megawatts of solar and another 300 megawatts of battery storage capacity that will replace the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station when it closes in 2022.

Aside from the solar and battery resources being built now, PNM last summer unveiled its latest solar array — a 50-megawatt facility in the desert northwest of Albuquerque that was built to power Facebook's Los Lunas Data Center. With the Encino Solar Field, the utility said its ownership and power purchase agreements total nearly 290 megawatts of solar and more than 350 megawatts of wind.

Xcel Energy, another utility operating in New Mexico, recently marked the completion of the state's largest wind project to date. Meanwhile, Pattern Energy has started work on a transmission line that will funnel electricity from wind farms in central New Mexico to other western markets.

But some critics question whether future renewable energy benchmarks can be reached, given the challenges of hitting 20% in 2020.

Storm Could Bring Much Needed Moisture To New MexicoAssociated Press

Forecasters with the National Weather Service say a potent storm headed toward New Mexico could bring some much needed moisture to the drought-stricken state.

They issued an advisory Thursday, saying the storm is expected to move across the state beginning Saturday and will reach the eastern plains Sunday.

Significant snow accumulations are expected to effect travel and could cause delays through the northern mountains late Saturday. That region could see a few inches to a foot of snow.

The plains could see several inches of snow. More than 80% of the state is dealing with the two worst categories of drought.


New Mexico Evacuated Statehouse Amid Pro-Trump Protests - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

The New Mexico Statehouse was largely evacuated as hundreds of supporters of President Donald Trump gathered peacefully outside the building and violence broke out in the nation's Capitol in Washington, D.C. 

Democratic Speaker Brian Egolf said Wednesday that state police ordered the evacuation of the building that includes the governor's office and secretary of state's office, though some officials remained inside. He highlighted concerns about the violence in Washington, though no violence or threats were reported at the Statehouse. 

A spokesman for the governor's office said there was no indication of threats and unrest. Caravans of Donald Trump supporters arrived at the building in cars, trucks and on horseback at midday.

State officials, including the Legislature's lead attorney, chose to remain at the Statehouse to continue with a videoconference to decide on pandemic-related procedures for the start of a Jan. 19 legislative session. 

Legislative Council director Raúl Burciaga noted that state police were on site and that leaving the building would mean walking through a throng of about 500 protesters.

“It's the first time in the history of the United States that the peaceful transfer of power has been slowed by an act of violence,¨ Egolf said. "It is a shameful moment and I hope that the Congress can recover soon."

Members of New Mexico´s congressional delegation in Washington indicated through social media that they were safe.

Republican U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell, a staunch Trump ally who flipped the state's southern 2nd Congressional District in the November election, condemned the violence at the U.S. Capitol. The Washington Post reports she went forward with her vow to challenge Biden's election victory in Congress Wednesday. Herrell voted in support of objections to counting Biden’s electoral votes in Arizona and Pennsylvania. The objections were defeated and congress certified Biden's victory early Thursday morning. 

"I urge those in Washington today to allow Congress to continue its business as the Constitution requires," she said in a Twitter post after the Capitol was breached by the mob.

Newly elected U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján condemned the violence at the U.S. Capitol as a "siege on the U.S. Capitol by rioters ... and a direct attack on our nation's democracy."

Republican state Rep. Cathrynn Brown of Carlsbad announced Wednesday in a statement that she will introduce a bill to decertify the New Mexico electoral vote for Joe Biden. New Mexico's Legislature convenes on Jan. 19, the day before the scheduled presidential inauguration.

Brown could not be reached directly for comment.


New Mexico Governor Grants Clemency For 12 People - Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has granted clemency for 12 people convicted of crimes in the state. 

The governor's office announced the pardons Wednesday, saying most of those receiving clemency had been convicted of a non-violent offense. 

The convictions included drug possession, auto burglary, forgery and fraud, among others. All but one of the offenses dated back more than a decade, with some dating back to the 1980s. 

Some of the applicants provided clemency by Lujan Grisham had also applied for pardons under the previous administration of Republican Susana Martinez. During her two terms, Martinez denied at least 72 pardon applications, including 13 in which the state Parole Board recommended approval, according to records provided by the board in 2018.

The latest pardons come on the heels of 19 others issued by Lujan Grisham last summer. Those had been the first pardons issued in the state since 2012.

The governor's pardoning power extends to all crimes committed under state law other than the offenses of impeachment and treason. 

The governor does not have authority to pardon convictions for violations of municipal ordinances or from other jurisdictions, such as convictions from other states and federal convictions.

Pandemic Forces New Mexico Legislative Session To Go Virtual - Associated Press

New Mexico's upcoming legislative session will feature many virtual committee hearings and floor debates due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

Leading state lawmakers met Wednesday to discuss safety precautions as the Legislature prepares to convene for its first lengthy session since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak. 

The Roundhouse will be off limits to the public and lobbyists for the entirety of the 60-day session. 

The House and Senate will have to adopt specific rules once the session gets underway. 

Top-ranking Democrats say face masks will be required for those present in the state Capitol.

Some Republican lawmakers and open government advocates have concerns about transparency and accessibility. 

Melanie Majors, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation For Open Government, sent a letter to the Legislative Council Service last month asking lawmakers to "use any and all options to allow the citizens of New Mexico to fully observe and listen" to the session. She said insufficient broadband coverage in some parts of the state could prevent residents from observing remotely.

Democratic Rep. Antonio "Moe" Maestas of Albuquerque instead predicted it would be the "most accessible session in the history of New Mexico," saying residents of rural New Mexico could benefit from not having to travel to Santa Fe to testify on hot-button bills.

Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell said she was flabbergasted that Democrats would forge ahead with the session. She said it should be postponed until lawmakers could meet safely in person.

The Roswell Republican also said she would not be tested for COVID-19 during the session. While legislative staffers will be required to undergo weekly testing, a top legislative official said lawmakers cannot be forced to do so.

The Legislative Council, a bipartisan group of top lawmakers, previously authorized Legislative Council Service Director Raul Burciaga to make decisions about the state Capitol for the upcoming session.

Burciaga said the Legislature's administrative arm has made upgrades to its internal servers and worked with an outside vendor in an effort to avoid webcasting outages like those during the special session in June.

The Legislature can broadcast committee hearings and floor debates via social media if the primary webcasting goes down.

Official Says New Mexico Among Top States In Vaccine Rollout - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins says New Mexico is among the top states in the U.S. when it comes to vaccine distribution.

During a briefing Wednesday, she pointed to New Mexico's registration app, saying it has helped in the scheduling of shots for health care workers and others who are most at risk.

Collins said the state this week will release its plans for how other groups of people will be prioritized when more doses become available.

More than 106,500 doses have been delivered to New Mexico so far. While not all providers are reporting, the state estimates around 60% of those doses have been administered.

Collins said the state is working with providers to address barriers to reporting so the data is more accurate. Eventually, she said, the state plans to post a public dashboard online that would show how many vaccines have been delivered and how many have been administered.

Nearly 300,000 people in New Mexico have registered to be vaccinated.

The state has recorded nearly 150,000 confirmed COVID-19 infections since the pandemic began, with an additional 1,496 cases reported Wednesday. Officials also have linked 2,641 deaths to the virus, with the 47 being reported Wednesday.

State Continues Crackdown On Businesses Violating Health OrderAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

New Mexico continues to crack down on businesses for violating the public health order.

Officials announced Tuesday that O'Reilly Automotive Stores Inc. has agreed to pay $79,200 in penalties after one of its auto parts stores in Santa Fe received two citations following multiple citizen complaints over the summer about mask wearing and a lack of signage.

The Albuquerque Journal reported it's believed to be the largest penalty related to coronavirus public health violations issued by the state Environment Department so far.

The Environment Department said it's currently investigating more than 200 workplace safety complaints related to COVID-19 and more than a dozen workplace-related COVID-19 deaths.

Navajo Nation Reports 222 New COVID-19 Cases, 1 More Death - Associated Press

Navajo Nation health officials on Wednesday reported 222 new COVID-19 cases and one more death. 

The latest figures increased the tribe's totals since the pandemic began to 24,247 cases and 838 known deaths.  

Health officials said nearly 211,000 people have been tested for the coronavirus on the reservation and more than 12,500 have recovered. 

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez says the tribe is beginning to see the results of the recent holidays with the high number of new COVID-19 cases.

On Monday, the Navajo Department of Health identified 73 communities with uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 on the tribe's vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

The Navajo Nation has renewed a mandated lockdown requiring all residents to stay home except for emergencies, shopping for essentials like food and medicine or traveling to an essential job. The lockdown is slated to last until Monday.