THURS: Governor Calls Virus Greatest Emergency State Has Faced As Numbers Spike Again, + More

Oct 15, 2020

New Mexico Shatters Its Record For Confirmed COVID-19 Cases Associated Press

New Mexico has shattered its previous record for confirmed COVID-19 cases amid fears the state is experiencing a second wave of the deadly virus.

Health officials reported Wednesday that the state recorded 577 new coronavirus cases. That breaks last week's record when it recorded 488 new cases in a single day.

New Mexico has now had a total of 34,290 COVID-19 cases.

The state Department of Health on Wednesday also reported three additional deaths in New Mexico related to COVID-19. The number of deaths of New Mexico residents related to COVID-19 is now at 921.

The new cases come as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Tuesday she would renew public health restrictions and warned that more stringent rules could be imposed because of a rise in cases.

New rules limit gatherings to five people or less and reduce hotel capacities.

Navajo Nation Finds 40 New Cases Of COVID-19, No New DeathsAssociated Press

Navajo Nation health officials are reporting 40 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 but no deaths.

The figures released Wednesday night bring the total number of cases to 10,780 with the known death toll remaining at 571.

Tribal health officials said 113,985 people on the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah have been tested for COVID-19 since the pandemic started and 7,358 have recovered.

A shelter-in-place order, mask mandate, daily curfews and weekend lockdowns remain in effect on the Navajo Nation.

Most people experience mild or moderate symptoms with the coronavirus, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks.

Gov's Chief Of Staff On Leave To Aid Biden Transition TeamAssociated Press

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's chief of staff John Bingaman has taken a leave of absence to help with Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden's transition team.

Lujan Grisham was recently named as one of the co-chairs of Biden's transition committee and asked Bingaman to assist with the potential transition.

A spokeswoman for Lujan Grisham, Nora Meyers Sackett, says Bingaman took a leave of absence starting last week because his duties relevant to the Biden campaign are not within the scope of state government affairs.

Bingaman has been the governor's chief of staff since she took office in Jan. 2019.

Bernalillo County Grants CARES Money For Rent, Utilities – By Kaveh Mowahed, KUNM

Bernalillo County announced Wednesday that applications are open for rent and utility assistance grants for people who have fallen behind on payments because of the coronavirus pandemic.

New Mexico’s most populous county has $1,000,000 in federal CARES Act money available for grants of up to $5,000 each for renters who are behind on housing or utility bills, including in Albuquerque.

The application period opened Wednesday and will run for three weeks, ending November 4th.

To be eligible for help, the County says applicants with an active rental agreement and utilities in their name must show that they were up to date on payments in mid-March but are now behind. Landlords also have to fill out a form.

Bernalillo County Commissioner Steven Michael Quezada said the grants will help people stay housed and warm through the coming winter.

More details are online at bernco.gov/housing.

Judge Won't Force New Mexico To Send Kids Back To School - By Cedar Attanasio AP/Report For America

New Mexico health and school officials can keep restricting in-person learning for the vast majority of young children based on county-wide coronavirus outbreaks. 

In a 167-page decision, U.S. District Judge James Browning denied a request for a sweeping injunction to allow in-person learning to return, saying plaintiffs likely can't sue the governor and that the regulations ordered by the state are likely to be upheld. 

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has allowed some in-person learning for special needs students and allowed districts with low coronavirus transmission to bring kids back to school two days per week. 

Parents in counties forced to remain closed were livid, including the mother of a 13-year-old girl with special needs in Hobbs.

Browning did grant one narrow injunction on her behalf, ordering Public Education Department Secretary Ryan Stewart to tell her school to rethink her online-only learning plan. Her mother, Shannon Woodworth, joined the lawsuit alleging a violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Browning's order was only for that student, and he wrote that it was unlikely that her lawsuit could spearhead a class-action suit on behalf of other students with special needs.

US Attorney General Touts Success Of Federal Crime Fighting - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

U.S. Attorney General William Barr says the federal government's efforts to crack down on violent crime in Albuquerque and other U.S. cities is paying dividends.

He visited New Mexico on Wednesday to provide an update on Operation Legend, which was launched earlier this year by the Trump administration in honor of a Kansas City boy who was killed in June.

Officials said Kansas City has seen a 30% reduction in violent crime. Barr noted that Albuquerque has a crime rate between three and four times the national average. He said violent crime is solvable and the priority has to be getting chronic offenders off the streets.

Federal cooperation with local authorities in New Mexico is nothing new, but Democrat leaders voiced concerns when the operation was first announced in July, fearing that federal agents would target protesters. Authorities say the focus has been on drug and firearm cases and other violent crimes.

Federal officials also said Wednesday that the city of Albuquerque has yet to accept a nearly $10 million grant that was awarded earlier this year for hiring an additional 40 police officers.

However, city officials took issue with that claim, saying the City Council passed a resolution to accept the funding and Mayor Tim Keller signed it weeks ago.

Close Congressional Race In Southern New Mexico Draws Eyes - By Russell Contreras And Morgan Lee Associated Press

New Mexico is on the verge of electing the nation's largest U.S. House delegation made up entirely of women of color, but the close race in the state's southern district is grabbing the most attention. 

Democratic U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small is seeking to hold her traditionally GOP-leaning seat against Republican challenger Yvette Herrell in a rematch of 2018 that will be decided by turnout. 

In her first term, Torres Small has tried to portray herself as a moderate who bucks her party on certain issues, like fracking and gun control. 

Herrell, who lost to Torres Small by less than 4,000 votes, has dismissed that image and has worked to link Torres Small to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — a name that evokes anger among many conservative Republicans. 

Herrell also has suggested she rightfully won the 2018 race and questioned how Democratic stronghold Doña Ana County counted last-minute absentee ballots that flipped the seat to Torres Small.

To win the seat, however, Republicans will have to overcome a major fundraising disadvantage as Torres Small has outraised Herrell, who had to go through a nasty GOP primary just to get a rematch in the general election. 

Outside super PACs on both sides are drowning the airwaves in the district that sprawls from the oil-rich Permian Basin to the east to poor, Mexican American communities along the U.S.-Mexico border. 

While both candidates have stressed the importance of the state's oil and gas industry, they rarely discuss poverty and issues of race in one of the most Hispanic congressional districts in the country.

Meanwhile, Democratic U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, one of the nation's first Native American women in Congress, is facing re-election against Republican challenger Michelle Garcia Holmes for the Albuquerque seat. 

Garcia Holmes, a former police detective, has embraced Trump's law-and-order agenda as federal agents were deployed to Albuquerque and blamed her opponent for failing to ensure internet access in remote areas.

Haaland, a former chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, has campaigned as a vocal critic of the Trump administration on issues including environmental protection and as a "fierce advocate" for racial and economic justice.

Democrat Teresa Leger Fernandez and Republican Alexis Johnson are vying to represent New Mexico's Democratic-leaning northern district.

Johnson has campaigned on an anti-abortion platform that emphasizes limited government in a district with strong currents of Roman Catholicism. She was fined in July on the central public square in Santa Fe for violating a statewide facemask requirement designed to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Leger Fernandez held a lopsided fundraising advantage as she ran on support for new investment in renewable energy and a transition toward a single-payer health care system and away from employer-based insurance. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2-1 in the district that overlaps portions of the Navajo Nation and a long list of Native American communities.

Program That Provides Coal To Navajos For Heating Resumes - Associated Press

A program that provides free coal to the Navajo people to heat their homes resumes this month. 

Many tribal members still use coal as a heating source, but accessing it became harder after a mine in northeastern Arizona shut down last year. 

The Navajo Transitional Energy Company expanded its coal resource program to help fill the gaps.

Coal tickets can be obtained through Navajo Nation chapters in New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. One ticket equals one ton of coal. It must be picked up at the Navajo Mine near Farmington, New Mexico.

Officials from the Navajo Transitional Energy Company say they'll load the coal into vehicles to ensure safety during the coronavirus pandemic. The pickups are available Wednesday through Friday, starting Oct. 28. Availability on Saturday will depend on the tribe's public health orders.

The tribe has implemented daily curfews and weekend lockdowns to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The lockdown is in effect through at least the Halloween weekend.

New Mexico Utility, Tribe To Break Ground On Solar Farm - Associated Press

New Mexico's largest electric utility is breaking ground on a 50-megawatt solar field that will provide power to Western New Mexico University, the city of Albuquerque and other large users. 

Officials will gather Thursday on the Jicarilla Apache Nation in northern New Mexico for a ceremony. 

As the third largest solar project on tribal land in the U.S., the array will be capable of producing enough electricity to power the equivalent of about 16,000 average homes for a year. 

The project was approved in March by state regulators. 

It's part of Public Service Co. of New Mexico's Solar Direct program. 

Customers must commit to purchase the requested amount of electricity for 15 years. They'll receive a credit on their bills based on their subscription levels.

Any customers that use 2.5 megawatts or more are eligible for the program.

Lawmakers: New Mexico Farmers Shortchanged On Disaster Aid - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

New Mexico's congressional delegation says some farmers and ranchers have been shortchanged on federal disaster aid. They also say Hispanic farmers who rely on traditional acequias to irrigate their crops have been told they're ineligible for assistance. 

The delegation is asking the U.S. Agriculture Department to monitor the New Mexico Farm Service Agency's management of the disaster aid program given recent complaints and confirmation that the agency was improperly adjusting expected crop yields retroactively to reduce payouts for disaster relief.

They say the Farm Service Agency in New Mexico has been telling farmers and ranchers that drought is not an eligible cause of loss on irrigated lands despite most of the state experiencing either severe or extreme drought.

The delegation contends the change is inconsistent with how the program has been administered in previous years and represents an egregious misunderstanding of drought conditions and how they impact crop yields.

The New Mexico Farm Service Agency did not immediately respond to questions Wednesday about the policy or other concerns raised by the delegation.

New Mexico Names Leader Of Indigenous Education Reform - By Cedar Attanasio AP/Report For America

Former Navajo Nation legislative staffer LaShawna Tso has been selected to lead New Mexico's Indian Education division.

Wednesday's announcement by the state Public Education Department marks the end of a months-long search. She will fill a key role in a state where 11% of the population is Native American.

As assistant secretary of Indian Education, Tso will oversee New Mexico's compliance with a court order that stems from a sweeping lawsuit that accused the state of failing to provide a sound education to vulnerable children from minority communities, non-English speaking households, impoverished families and students with disabilities.

A judge dismissed Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's  motion to dismiss the lawsuit in June, ruling that the state has not implemented the necessary reforms to provide an adequate education to Native Americans and other students.

Tso will lead policy development and monitor reforms that will require coordination with entities ranging from the Legislature to school boards around the state and tribal governments.

Tso previously served as the chief of staff in the Navajo Nation's Office of the Speaker, where she specialized in policy development and intergovernmental issues.

Former Interim Navajo President And New Mexico Lawmaker DiesAssociated Press

Thomas Atcitty, a former interim Navajo Nation president and longtime New Mexico state representative, has died.

The tribe says Atcitty died Sunday of natural causes. He was 86. Funeral services are scheduled Wednesday in Shiprock, where Atcitty lived most of his life.

He is being remembered for his leadership and compassion for Navajos. Atcitty served as the tribe's vice president from 1995 to 1998. He was elevated to the top post after then-Navajo President Albert Hale resigned rather than face allegations he abused a tribal credit card.

Atcitty's time as president was short-lived. Within months, the Navajo Nation Council removed him from office for accepting free trips and golf games from companies doing business with the tribe while he was vice president.

Atcitty said accepting business gratuities didn't violate rules and argued a golf game isn't tangible.

He called the council's action unfortunate and said he held no grudges.

Before working for the tribal government, Atcitty served seven terms as a New Mexico state representative, from 1980 to 1994. He previously oversaw Navajo Community College — now Diné College, the first tribal college on a Native American reservation.

Atcitty helped establish the college's Shiprock campus and pushed for the creation of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, made up of tribal colleges and universities across the country, Joe said.

Atcitty also served in the U.S. Marine Corps.

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