THURS: State Hits Daily Record With 23 COVID-19 Deaths, 2 Charged In Obelisk Destruction; + More

Nov 5, 2020

New Mexico Governor Warns Of Critical COVID-19 Situation - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Thursday said the state has recorded its highest daily count for deaths related to the coronavirus pandemic in what has become a "dramatic, critical situation."

She announced an additional 23 deaths during a public briefing, saying that the statewide total now stands at more than 1,080.

More than 10% of those deaths have come in recent weeks as the state has been dealing with a surge of infections, higher positivity rates and more hospitalizations.

Nearly 17% of those who have been hospitalized in the state due to COVID-19 have died, state health officials said. They also reported that the number of deaths has increased 230% in just the last two weeks.

Lujan Grisham said people can't get numb to the data or the threat of the state's health care system being overwhelmed.

New Mexico health officials are partnering with the federal government to expand COVID-19 testing across the southern part of the state.

The state Health Department said the effort is aimed at driving down positivity rates in counties that are currently on the "red" list. Once a county improves, it moves to the "green" list and some restrictions can be relaxed.

Starting Thursday, the Health Department opened 12 new testing sites in areas where positivity rates have skyrocketed. That includes Las Cruces, Clovis, Hobbs, Carlsbad, Portales and several other locations.

The state and its testing partners have processed more than 1.2 million tests since the onset of the pandemic.

Lt. Gov. Howie Morales said more testing doesn't lead to more cases. Rather it helps identify who is positive and helps reduce community spread.

Top Democrat Says District Will Be Redrawn After GOP Win - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

A day after Republicans won back New Mexico's only conservative-leaning congressional district, a top state Democrat says its boundaries will be redrawn.

House Speaker Brian Egolf has suggested there could be implications for Republicans holding on to the seat.

The redistricting process this time will be guided by the Democratic-controlled Legislature and Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. Democrats also dominate the state Supreme Court, which could decide any legal disputes.

Political experts have said there's more temptation to pass a partisan plan when the executive and legislative branches are held by the same party.

State Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce criticized the plan and suggested that Egolf should instead focus on New Mexico's dismal educational outcomes, lack of jobs and economic opportunities, crime rates and other problems.

The sprawling district borders Mexico, stretches from remote western ranches to oil pump jacks near Texas and has been won by Democrats only twice in four decades. The Democratic incumbents failed both times to win reelection.

The state's districts were drawn in 2012 by a state district court after former Republican Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed a plan from a Democratic-led Legislature.

The court's goal was to minimize partisan leanings and keep intact communities with similar cultural, economic or geographic concerns.

2 People Charged In Destruction Of Santa Fe Plaza ObeliskSanta Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

Authorities in New Mexico say charges have been filed against two people accused of destroying a monument that had stood at the center of Santa Fe's historic Plaza for more than 150 years.

The Santa Fe Police Department announced Wednesday that 33-year-old Lily Sage Schweitzer and 29-year-old Ryan Witt each face multiple charges, including criminal damage to property and criminal trespass.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports Deputy Chief Ben Valdez said neither suspect has been arrested as of Wednesday night.

Demonstrators at a rally on Indigenous Peoples Day last month took over the Soldiers' Monument. They used ropes and chains to pull down the obelisk, which some view as a symbol of the oppression of Native Americans.

The obelisk was originally dedicated to Union soldiers who fought Civil War battles in New Mexico and featured an inscription that honored the "heroes" who had fought against "savage Indians."

The Albuquerque Journal reports the word “savage” was previously chiseled away in the 1970s.

Police previously arrested two men following a rally on Indigenous Peoples Day last month that resulted in the obelisk being pulled down.

The case remains under investigation.

Navajo Nation Warns Of 'Uncontrolled' COVID-19 SpreadAssociated Press

The Navajo Nation Department of Health has issued a health advisory warning to residents about the "uncontrolled" spread of the coronavirus as the number of confirmed cases increases.

The department announced Wednesday that 29 communities were affected by the spread throughout the reservation, including in the Arizona communities of Cameron, Leupp, Dilkon, Ganado and Round Rock.

A daily curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. remains in effect on the Navajo Nation. Health officials have said it has had more than 11,900 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 582 deaths as of Tuesday.

First Black State Senator Is Progressive Air Force Veteran - By Cedar Attanasio AP/Report For America

A retired Air Force officer from Albuquerque will become the first Black state senator in New Mexico's 108-year history.

In his first attempt at elected office, Democrat and retired Capt. Harold Pope Jr. unseated Republican Sen. Sander Rue, who is white, and held the suburban district since 2009.

Tuesday's election is transforming both chambers of the Legislature to more closely reflect New Mexico's demographics. For the first time, the House will be the majority female, with 37 women out of 70 representatives, up from 32.

It's likely that three more state Senate seats will be held by women, increasing the total to 12, or less than one-third of the 42-person chamber.

On the northwestern reaches of Albuquerque, Pope's district is around 2.5% Black, similar to the low statewide number. Pope made education and the coronavirus, not race, the focal points of his campaign.

In a state legislature known for its ranchers and lawyers, Pope will bring experience as a program manager for the Air Force, where he said he worked to usher multibillion-dollar technology contracts in new satellite and airplane technologies.

That perspective could serve the Senate's collective wisdom as it considers addressing deficiencies in broadband infrastructure laid bare by the coronavirus pandemic that is limiting access to telehealth and online education.

Pope said he's proud to be a "first," though he wasn't aware of the history of Black representation in the Senate until some told him after announcing his run.

Virgin Galactic Plans 1st New Mexico Space Launch This Month - By John Antczak, Associated Press

Virgin Galactic is planning to launch its first manned test flight into space from New Mexico this month.

The plans were announced Thursday for the spaceflight to be held between Nov. 19 and 23.

The company's spacecraft has conducted two previous test flights from Mojave, California, before moving to its facilities at Spaceport America in New Mexico.

That will be Virgin Galactic's base for launching passengers on brief trips high above the Earth, starting with billionaire founder Richard Branson next year. The date for that event was not specified.

The company also reported progress in construction of its second spacecraft.

COVID-19 Testing To Expand Across Southern New Mexico - Associated Press

New Mexico health officials are partnering with the federal government to expand COVID-19 testing across the southern part of the state. 

The state Health Department said Wednesday the effort is aimed at driving down positivity rates in counties that are currently on the "red" list. 

Once a county improves, it moves to the "green" list and some restrictions can be relaxed. 

Starting Thursday, the Health Department will open 12 new testing sites in areas where positivity rates have skyrocketed. That includes Las Cruces, Clovis, Hobbs, Carlsbad, Portales and several other locations. 

New Mexico's confirmed COVID-19 cases have topped 50,250, while deaths related to the virus and hospitalizations remain high.

The state and its testing partners have processed more than 1.1 million tests since the onset of the pandemic.

Lt. Gov. Howie Morales said more testing doesn't lead to more cases.

"More testing helps us identify who is positive and ensure they are informed and are isolated before they spread the virus throughout the community," he said. "Testing is an important tool in helping us cut down the spread."

New Mexico Democrats Gain Steam For Progressive Priorities By Morgan Lee and Cedar Attanasio Associated Press

New Mexico Democrats gained steam in Tuesday's election, giving momentum in the state legislature for progressive priorities on marijuana, education, and abortion.

But Republicans reclaimed the conservative-leaning congressional district in southern New Mexico and fended off some progressive Democrats who had unseated centrists in state legislative primaries.

Voter participation across the state shattered a prior record, with more than 920,000 ballots cast. County election boards on Wednesday resumed their work so they could count several thousand absentee and provisional ballots.

In New Mexico's conservative 2nd District, GOP congressional challenger Yvette Herrell defeated U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small.

Three Senate races and five House races are still too close to call.

University of New Mexico political science professor Lonna Atkeson said the mixed results with voter participation that shattered records "show that New Mexico is not blue. It is clearly a purple state.”

Democrats successfully defended legislative majorities in the state House and Senate, and women expanded their political representation in both chambers of the Legislature, as New Mexico elected an all-female delegation to the U.S. House.

A slate of progressive Democratic candidates for state Senate office were met with mixed results. Republican Crystal Diamond defeated Democrat Neomi Martinez-Parra for a seat held for decades by Democratic Sen. John Arthur Smith. Martinez-Parra ousted Smith in the Democratic primary.

Republicans had hoped to reduce their deficit in the Senate, which has 42 seats. Overall, they lost at least one seat.

Several progressive Democrats won first terms, including Carrie Hamblen of Las Cruces — whose primary nomination in June knocked out Democratic Senate President Mary Kay Papen, an opponent of abortion and recreational marijuana.

University of New Mexico political science professor Gabriel Sanchez said that Democratic legislators allied with New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham are better positioned to push through initiatives to increase spending on early childhood education, and possibly overturn the state's 1969 abortion ban and legalize sales and taxation of recreational marijuana.

In other results, two state Supreme Court justices previously appointed by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham won election to eight-year terms.

Incumbent Justice Shannon Bacon, a former state district judge from Albuquerque, defeated Republican challenger Ned Fuller. Incumbent Justice David Thomson defeated Republican attorney Kerry Morris of Albuquerque.

A ballot measure was approved that will overhaul the Public Regulation Commission that oversees electric utilities, pipeline safety and telecommunications.

The panel will be made up of three members appointed by the governor instead of five elected commissioners.

New Mexico Cases Surge Past 50,000 As Governor Seeks Tourism StimulusAssociated Press, KUNM

Confirmed COVID-19 cases topped 50,250 in New Mexico on Wednesday with the reporting of an additional 1,022 cases.

State health officials also reported another 14 confirmed deaths, a new daily record, bringing that statewide tally to nearly 1,060 since the pandemic began.

The number of patients being hospitalized also remains high at 393, with medical officials reporting capacity at about 80%.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has proposed a $25 million stimulus package for the state's tourism industry, which has been hammered by the pandemic.

The proposal comes after a recent employment report said the state's leisure and hospitality industry has lost 24,500 jobs this year, about a 24.5% decrease from a year ago.

The governor's office says the pandemic has cost the industry $4.3 billion this year. The U.S. Travel Association and Tourism Economics estimates that without substantial funding, it may take up to seven years for the industry to return to pre-pandemic spending levels.

She said she will ask lawmakers to consider the package during the legislative session that opens in January.

"New Mexico has a strategic advantage coming out of COVID-19 due to its strong outdoor recreation assets and abundance of open spaces," state Tourism Secretary Jen Paul Schroer said. "However, this advantage cannot be realized if New Mexico is not competitive with other states actively investing stimulus funds for tourism promotion."

The governor is scheduled to host a virtual news conference Thursday afternoon at 3 p.m. to provide an update on COVID-19 in the state.

Key GOP Win Wrinkles Democratic Wave In New Mexico - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham boasted that voters were turning out in droves Tuesday and electing Democrats up and down the ticket.

But that didn't happen in a key congressional district where oil and gas development provides thousands of jobs and underpins New Mexico's state budget.

Amid the blue wave, Republican Yvette Herrell marked a decisive victory to unseat Democratic incumbent Xochitl Torres Small in a campaign centered on jobs, personal liberties and reopening businesses shuttered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Aside from Herrell's win, political observers suggest that margins in presidential and Senate races would have been larger if New Mexico voters had aligned more with Democrats.

Voter participation in the Democrat-leaning state broke records, but new Republican registrations in the 2nd District outpaced Democrats. Overall, Joe Biden won just over half of the vote in New Mexico.

Born and raised in New Mexico, Herrell is part of the state's first all-female U.S. House delegation.

In the other two races, Democratic U.S. Rep. Debra Haaland was reelected in the 1st District and Democrat Teresa Leger Fernandez won an open seat in the 3rd District to succeed U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, who won his U.S. Senate race.

Biden Wins New Mexico Amid Republican Comeback Near Border - By Morgan Lee and Cedar Attanasio, Associated Press

New Mexico is sending a Latino politician to the U.S. Senate for the first time since the 1970s with the election of Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján.

But Republicans reclaimed the conservative-leaning congressional district in southern New Mexico. Voter participation across the state shattered a prior record with more than 915,000 ballots cast.

Democrat Joe Biden won the state's presidential vote by a wide margin to claim five Electoral College delegates. County election boards on Wednesday were wrapping up final counts of a few thousand outstanding absentee and provisional ballots.

University of New Mexico political science professor Lonna Atkeson. Said the mixed results with voter participation that shattered records "show that New Mexico is not blue. It is clearly a purple state.”

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