TUES: N.M. GOP Announces 'Moderate' Agenda, Art Dealer Forrest Fenn Dies, + More

Sep 8, 2020

New Mexico GOP Unveils 'Fair Deal' Plan To Flip Legislature - By Russell Contreras, Associated Press

New Mexico Republicans say they have unveiled a "moderate agenda" around economic development in a bid to capture the state House and Senate.

GOP House Minority Leader James Townsend and Republican Senate Minority Whip Craig Brandt on Tuesday released a plan they say will bring moderate Democrats and Republicans together following one of the nation's worst recessions amid the pandemic.

Townsend says Republicans are running one of its most diverse set of candidates for legislative races. Brandt says the "Fair Deal" comes after several liberal Democrats defeated moderate Democrats in the state Senate.

The plan with broad ideas and little specifics will serve as a blueprint for candidates who have endorsed the agenda of Respect New Mexico — a group funded by state House and Senate Republican leadership PACs.

The Fair Deal calls for improving the state's bond rating, criminal justice reforms, and modernizing its electric grid.

Democratic House Speaker Brian Egolf dismissed the new GOP blueprint and Republican attempts to call the plan moderate. He predicts that Democrats will hold and possibly expand their majority in November.

New Mexico Republicans To Announce 'Moderate' Agenda - By Russell Contreras Associated Press

New Mexico Republicans are planning to unveil a "moderate agenda" around economic development in a bid to capture the state House and Senate. 

GOP House Minority Leader James Townsend and Republican Senate Minority Whip Craig Brandt are scheduled Tuesday to release plans for New Mexico they say will bring moderate Democrats and Republicans together following one of the nation's worst recessions amid the pandemic. 

Townsend says the agenda comes as Republicans are running one of its most diverse set of candidates for legislative races. Out of 112 open legislative seats, 38 Republican candidates are women and many candidates are Hispanic or Native American.

Brandt said several liberal Democrats defeated moderate Democrats in the state Senate sparking fears that if Democrats sweep in November the Legislature will enact a far-left agenda.

Democratic House Speaker Brian Egolf predicts Democrats will hold and possibly expand their majority in November.

New Mexico Teachers Safe From Legal Liability Amid Virus - By Cedar Attanasio AP/Report For America

New Mexico officials are reassuring teachers that they can't be sued by students who get the coronavirus as some of them head back to the classroom.

Like most public servants, teachers are protected by insurance that covers court costs. Officials with the state's school insurance authority say it's too soon to say how great the risk of lawsuits against schools will be.

Many large districts have opted to stay online for now. But Tuesday marked the first day of in-person learning for some younger students in 20 districts and charter schools around the state. 

New Mexico health officials have reported 26,181 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began. More than 800 deaths in the state have been linked to the virus.

Case counts have been going down, and the state is hitting targets for testing levels and hospital bed space. Only 44 additional confirmed cases were reported Tuesday and there were no additional deaths.

State Announces 44 New COVID-19 Cases And No DeathsKUNM

For the first time in many weeks, there were no additional deaths in New Mexico from COVID-19.

State health officials announced Tuesday there were 44 new virus cases, but no deaths.

New Mexico has now had a total of 26,181 COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic and 807 people have died.

Last week, citing progress in controlling the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham eased some travel restrictions and raised occupancy limits in hotels to 75% after they complete certification for safe practices.

There are 68 people hospitalized. This may include people tested positive for COVID-19 out of state but are currently hospitalized in New Mexico. It does not include New Mexicans who tested positive but were transferred to a hospital outside the state.

The Department of Health has designated 13,701 cases as having recovered.

Art Dealer Whose Treasure Sent Hunters Scouring US West Dies Associated Press

An antiquities dealer and author who gained fame after hiding a treasure chest that drove hundreds of thousands of people to search the American West has died at age 90.

Police confirmed Forrest Fenn died Monday of natural causes at his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Only recently, Fenn announced the bronze chest filled with gold, jewels and other valuables had been found in Wyoming by someone he didn't name. He hid it a decade ago and dropped clues in a poem published in his 2010 autobiography.

He had always said he hid the treasure as a way to tempt people to get into the wilderness and give them a chance to launch an old-fashioned adventure and expedition for riches.

The treasure spurred an almost cult-like following, and some people died searching for it.

Law enforcement officers in New Mexico and elsewhere had asked Fenn to call off the hunt, saying people were putting themselves in danger to find the valuable haul.

Fenn rebuffed those requests, saying it wouldn't be fair to those who spent time and money looking for the treasure chest.

Fenn was raised in Temple, Texas, where his father was a school principal. His family spent the summers in Yellowstone National Park, where he and his brother honed their sense for adventure.

Fenn spent nearly two decades in the Air Force, including his decorated service as a fighter pilot in Vietnam.

After returning to Texas, he, his wife and two daughters moved to Santa Fe, where, over time, he became one of this artistic enclave's best-known and most successful gallery owners.

As an art dealer, he hosted a virtual who's who of the rich and famous at his gallery and guest house, including Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Sam Shepard, Jessica Lange and Michael Douglas, to name a few.

Even in his 80s, he was known for throwing parties.

Battered By The Virus, Tribes Race To Boost Census Count - By Matthew Brown, Iris Samuels and Lindsay Whitehurst, Associated Press

Millions of federal dollars for impoverished Native American communities are on the line in the U.S. census, and tribes are racing to avoid being undercounted again.

Almost all of the nation's more than 300 reservations trail significantly behind the rest of the country in the count. There have long been challenges counting people on far-flung Native lands amid language barriers and distrust of the federal government.

But the pandemic has dealt a devastating new setback, with lockdowns keeping census takers away as Indian Country has struggled with disproportionate numbers of infections.

Reaching a full count on most reservations now looks nearly impossible.

Native Americans are far from the only U.S. community of color facing a potential undercount, and a group of cities, counties, civil rights groups and the Navajo Nation are suing to extend the deadline.

A judge in California over the weekend issued a restraining order  that stops the Census Bureau from winding down its operations until a federal court hearing next week.

New Mexico Reports 46 New Virus Cases, Lowest In MonthsAssociated Press

New Mexico health officials are reporting 46 new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus — the lowest daily number in the state since early April.

The new cases announced Monday bring the state's total to 26,144. State health officials also said four more people have died from the virus.

According to state numbers, 807 people in New Mexico have died from COVID-19.

There are 65 individuals hospitalized in New Mexico for the virus. That number may include individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 out of state but are currently hospitalized in New Mexico.

There are 13,604 COVID-19 cases designated as having recovered by the New Mexico Department of Health.

New Mexico Film Industry To Resume Some Production WorkSanta Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

New Mexico officials have approved the start of production work by film crews in a sign the industry could soon be back in business after a suspension because of the coronavirus.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported film companies will follow specific guidelines created by an industry task force, while also adhering to public health rules for all businesses in the state.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has not yet announced when health restrictions will be eased to allow filmmaking to fully resume. A union representative says several hundred crew members have returned to work.

The state Economic Development Department said about 80 film productions were shot in New Mexico in fiscal year 2020, bringing nearly $400 million into the state economy.

The figure was a decrease from fiscal year 2019, when the state received $525 million in direct spending by film productions.

XTO Energy Pulls Plan For New Mexico Natural Gas Facility - Associated Press

A major oil and gas producer in the Permian Basin withdrew its application for a permit to construct and operate a natural gas facility in southeastern New Mexico. 

The Carlsbad Current-Argus reports ExxonMobil subsidiary XTO Energy Inc. announced last week it is withdrawing its permit application in Eddy County, citing future infrastructure plans in the area. 

The application was for two facilities known as the Husky Gas Plant and Central Delivery Point planned to operate in Eddy County about 14 miles northeast of Loving, New Mexico. 

The facilities would have had the capacity to process about 200,000 barrels per day of oil stabilization.

Overall, the facility was also expected to emit about 2.7 million tons per year of greenhouse gases.

Records show the New Mexico Environment Department found the expected emissions would not exceed air quality standards, and on Aug. 4 announced its intent to approve the permit by Sept. 7.

This story has been updated to reflect the facility was expected to emit 2.7 million tons per year, not per day, of greenhouse gases.

US Senate Hopefuls In New Mexico Release 1st Attack Ads - By Russell Contreras, Associated Press

Candidates for New Mexico's open U.S. Senate seat have released their first slate of attack ads. Democratic Rep. Ben Ray Luján on Friday unveiled a commercial that assails Republican Mark Ronchetti for seeking to replace the Affordable Care Act. The ad named "Decision" uses a nurse practitioner who says Luján will protect coverage for pre-existing conditions.

Ronchetti shot back on Saturday with a commercial that blasts Luján for supporting the Green New Deal —­ a proposal Republicans say would hurt New Mexico's oil and gas industry.

The ad also seeks to link him to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

The ads come as Republicans attack Luján for opting not to participate in a scheduled KOB-TV debate with Ronchetti.

Luján has agreed to join a debate sponsored by KOAT-TV and the Albuquerque Journal and another one hosted by PBS-affiliate KNME-TV.

But Ronchetti said Luján is seeking to "run for his D.C. record" by not participating in at least three debates.

KOB-TV said the station will leave an empty podium meant for Luján if he does not appear for the Oct. 5 debate.

In a statement, Luján's campaign manager Travis Brimm said the congressman is looking forward to participating in two debates.

University Of New Mexico Probes Officer's TikTok PostAssociated Press

University of New Mexico officials are investigating a video posted by a campus police officer that appears to make fun of people of Mexican descent.

The school announced last week it has suspended University of New Mexico Police Department officer Eric Peer in connection with a video posted March 29 on the social media app TikTok.

In the video, a man is seen laying tile with a "South Park" voice-over saying "scanning for Mexicans."

The video was recorded inside an unspecified house and showed the floor where the tile is being placed. No phone number is listed for Peer.