TUES: Officials Urge Vaccine Registration For Young Teens, Oil And Gas Royalties Set Record, + More

May 4, 2021


New Mexico Urges Registration Of Younger Teens For VaccineAssociated Press

The New Mexico Department of Health is urging parents to register children ages 12 to 15 for eventual access to coronavirus vaccines when shots are approved for lower age groups.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to authorize Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for kids ages 12 and up next week, setting up shots for many before the beginning of the next school year.

Health Department spokesman David Morgan said Tuesday that the agency encourages parents to register children right away with the state's vaccination website to help ensure access.

Separately, Health Department spokesman Matt Bieber said the state is trying to address hesitancy toward the vaccine by providing mobile and walkup vaccination clinics that can increase convenience and reach more people who may be unable or unwilling to register online.

New Mexico also in encouraging physicians to discuss the vaccine with patients as trusted sources of medical information.

And the state is developing an online registration form for groups to request a visit from mobile vaccination clinics.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and top health officials say the state is on track to have at least 60% of residents fully vaccinated by the end of June. That would allow capacity limits at restaurants and other businesses to be lifted and the state economy to fully reopen.

The latest state data shows more than 45% of residents 16 and older are fully vaccinated, and that nearly 59% have had one shot.

On Tuesday state health officials announced 219 additional COVID-19 cases and 10 more deaths.

Voting Starts In New Mexico's Special Congressional Election - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

A special congressional election is underway for an Albuquerque-based seat dominated by Democrats since 2009, with the start of early absentee voting on Tuesday coinciding with the campaign's first scheduled television debate.

Four candidates are vying with names on the ballot for the First Congressional District post to succeed Deb Haaland after her departure from Congress to lead the Department of the Interior. Election Day is June 1.

Rep. Melanie Stansbury, a Democrat, and Republican state Sen. Mark Moores are at the forefront of the contest with major party backing, pursued by a Libertarian contender and an experienced political independent. Two write-in candidates are registered.

Stansbury is a public policy consultant for environmental and philanthropic groups and ousted an incumbent Republican from the Statehouse in 2018 amid a wave of successful campaigns by progressive New Mexico female legislative candidates.

Moores is the socially conservative co-owner of a medical diagnostics company and former football lineman for the University of New Mexico. He's been a vocal critic of the state's aggressive pandemic restrictions while accepting federal relief for his business.

Republican Party leaders have said they sense a rare opportunity to flip the district in a possible low-turnout balloting — and erode the Democratic Party's 218-212 majority in Congress.

There are five current vacancies in Congress. Republicans have earned both spots in a Texas runoff election to replace former U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, who died after being diagnosed with COVID-19.

In New Mexico's First Congressional District, Democrats account for a dominant 47% of registered voters, versus 28% for Republicans.

The district encompasses the Albuquerque metro area, rural Torrance County and outlying areas that overlap Indigenous communities including Sandia Pueblo. In and around Albuquerque, President Trump won just 37% of the vote in 2020.

Stansbury and Moores offer stark contrasts on issues ranging from abortion to the environment, energy policy, and approaches to policing and racial injustice.

Stansbury this year supported and Moores voted against Democrat-backed reforms to legalize recreational marijuana and medical aid in dying, to overturn the state's dormant ban on most abortion procedures and to strip police agencies of immunity from prosecution in state court for civil rights violations by officers.

Moores has staked his campaign on advocacy for continued oil permitting on federal land and pledges of support for robust federal funding of local police forces and border security, while highlighting Latino family ties dating back to the region's Spanish colonial period.

Stansbury invokes her Albuquerque upbringing within a low-income family. She has highlighted her advocacy for modernizing the electrical grid to trim dependence on fossil fuels, support for universal health care and agreement with proposals to rein in gun violence with a ban assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines.

Moores was previously employed by former Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Schiff and Stansbury worked in Washington for the White House Office of Management and Budget under President Barack Obama and for the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Also running for Haaland's former congressional seat is political independent Aubrey Dunn Jr., who won statewide election in 2014 as land commissioner under the GOP banner.

Christopher Manning is the Libertarian Party candidate for a state where the former governor and Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson won about 9% of the vote in 2016.

Laura Olivas and Robert Ornelas have been certified as write-in candidates. Tuesday's televised debate on KOB 4 includes only the three party-nominated candidates.

For the first time, same-day voter registration will be available all the way through Election Day on June 1.

New Mexico Oil And Gas Royalties Set Highest Monthly RecordAssociated Press

New Mexico has set a record for the highest monthly royalty earnings from oil and gas leases, state officials announced Tuesday.

The State Land Office reported that nearly $110 million was earned in April, which was more than any month in state history. The previous record was nearly $109 million in February 2020, just before a global price war and pandemic market forces disrupted the oil industry.

Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard said the revenue boon will benefit public schools, hospitals and other programs that are funded by drilling and other development on state trust land.

Revenue from activities on trust land on average save the typical New Mexico household an estimated $1,500 per year in taxes that would otherwise be needed to fund state operations, Garcia Richard said.

"This is a huge monetary relief for hard working New Mexico families, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic," she said in a statement.

While oil and gas is a driving force of New Mexico's economy and the state budget, the Democratic land commissioner said the resources are finite and aren't a stable long-term budgeting tool for the state.

"We are committed to diversifying the revenue coming from state trust land by increasing renewable energy generation, creating new outdoor recreation opportunities, seeking out new commercial business development, and looking at innovations in agriculture for additional revenue generation," Garcia Richard said.

Recent data from the state's Oil Conservation Division showed oil and gas production in New Mexico increased more than 10% last year compared to the year before even as demand for fuel dropped during the pandemic. Overall, the state produced about 370 million barrels of oil in 2020 compared to about 330 million barrels in 2019.

New Mexico in 2020 also produced about 1.9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, surpassing the 2001 record of 1.6 trillion cubic feet.

The Oil Conservation Division is preparing to implement new rules at the end of May that will limit most venting and flaring in oilfields as a way to reduce methane emissions.

The first phase will include data collection and reporting to identify natural gas losses at every stage of the process.

The state will then require operators — from those that manage pipelines to smaller production wells and other infrastructure — to capture more gas each year. The target will be capturing 98% of all natural gas waste by the end of 2026.

New Mexico's Environment Department also is working on rules that would target oilfield equipment that emits methane, volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides.

New Mexico Senator To File Lawsuit Over Ethics Complaint Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

A senator in New Mexico has filed a tort claim notice against New Mexico Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins in response to an ethics complaint that was filed against the senator after he requested public records related to the state's coronavirus pandemic response and federal spending.

In the complaint, Collins accuses Democratic state Sen. Jacob Candelaria, an attorney, of voting on legislation that would affect a client of his private law practice who has sued the Department of Health - an ethics concern. The health department declined to respond to the allegations.

Candelaria filed the notice of intent to sue on Monday to the state General Services Department claiming the complaint was "without merit, defamatory in nature, and swiftly dismissed on jurisdictional grounds by the (New Mexico) Ethics Commission six days later," the Santa Fe New Mexican reported  Monday.

Candelaria said the tort claim is intended to expose the alleged retaliation he faced after filing public records requests with the governor's office last year.

"In the coming weeks, I will also be filing a (New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act) violation suit against the governor for unlawful retaliation," Candelaria said. "I will also be filing an ethics complaint against the governor for the same behavior."

Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswoman for Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, said no retaliation occurred and that Candelaria is "seemingly motivated solely by his own personal animus."

Candelaria, who has openly criticized Lujan Grisham, said the matter is "part of a much bigger issue."

Candelaria said he requested multiple emails last year pertaining to the state's coronavirus pandemic response and federal spending as a lawmaker and member of the public. He was then told the request was "overly broad and burdensome" and that additional time would be needed to provide the documents.

A week later, Candeleria said Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth and former Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, both Democrats, asked him to meet at his law office in Albuquerque where they allegedly told him Lujan Grisham and others were furious he submitted the records request. Candelaria said he withdrew his requests after the meeting.

Wirth declined an interview request. Papen said they did meet with Candelaria but said she preferred Wirth answer questions "because I'm not there anymore."

Papen added that she believes anyone has the right to file a public records request.

Documents show Collins filed an ethics complaint against Candelaria in March, accusing him of violating the state's Governmental Conduct Act by voting on a bill during this year's 60-day legislative session while representing legal clients who "would be substantially affected by the outcome."

The State Ethics Commission told Collins in a letter in March that it didn't have purview over the matter and recommended it be handled by the Legislative Interim Ethics Committee.

"I fully intend to take both of these cases to a judge or jury," Candelaria said. "It is not OK for elected officials or any government employee to threaten, harass or retaliate against a person for requesting public documents."

Monitor's Report Finds Albuquerque Police Department LackingAssociated Press

A federal monitor's latest report says the Albuquerque Police Department is making some progress on use of force but falling short in other ways.

In turn, the police chief and the police officers' union are critical of the report by the court-appointed monitor, James Ginger, KRQE-TV reported.

The report said that years into the department's reform efforts there are still too many instances of officers using unnecessary force and that the department apparently lacks "an appetite for taking serious approaches to control excessive or unwarranted uses of force."

The department routinely fails to follow its own written policy on discipline for violations and should be better staffed, the report also said.

Police Chief Harold Medina said the department does take use of force seriously but faces a backlog of old cases that makes it difficult to review some matters promptly.

Medina also said the department is rewriting its discipline policy to ensure that different types of violations are handled appropriately.

Shaun Willoughby of the Albuquerque Police Officers' Association said the monitor "constantly moves the goalposts" and repeatedly uses "inflammatory language to describe very minute, minuscule things."

Legislators Announce Return To In-Person Committee Hearings - Associated Press

New Mexico legislators will return in July to in-person committee meetings amid evidence of retreating coronavirus infections and risks, the state House speaker announced Monday.

Legislative hearings have been conducted largely by web conference since the spring of 2020 as a precaution against the pandemic.

"We're going to return to our normal protocol of in-person meetings just like before the pandemic," Democratic House Speaker Brian Egolf of Santa Fe told a panel of leading legislators via videoconference.

The Capitol building reopened to the public last week and a lead budget-writing committee gathered on the floor of the House of Representatives to hear testimony from a top state health official and other experts. 

Also Monday, Democrats appointed a new task force on rural economic opportunity and shuffled leadership posts on some year-round committees.

First term Sen. Siah Correa Hemphill of Silver City and state Rep. Candie Sweetser of Deming will together lead the new task force as co-chairwomen to identify barriers to rural prosperity and bring forward proposals to ensure universal access to full indoor plumbing, electricity and internet that often are unavailable in remote areas of the state.

Correa Hemphill ran on a progressive platform to defeat incumbent Sen. Gabriel Ramos in the Democratic 2020 primary election as voters ousted several conservative-leaning Democrats from the state Senate. Sweetser stands at the other end of the Democratic spectrum, voting this year against Democratic-sponsored initiatives to legalize recreational marijuana, overturn a dormant state ban on most abortion procedures and strip police of immunity from prosecution in state courts.

Sen. Bill Soules of Las Cruces will take the reins as chairman of the Legislative Education Study Committee that accompanies a legislative oversight agency on public education. State Rep. Andres Romero of Albuquerque is moving into the vice chairman position at the committee.

Intel Says $3.5B Investment Is Critical To Microchip Future - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Intel will be investing $3.5 billion in its New Mexico plant to manufacture what executives said Monday will fuel "a new era of innovation" and advanced computing as demands increase for the tiny microchips used in nearly all modern devices.

Intel executives were joined by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and other politicians at the plant in Rio Rancho, northwest of Albuquerque, as they shared details of Intel's global strategy as it looks to reclaim the top spot in the semiconductor sector.

Multibillion-dollar expansions also are underway at the company's sites in Arizona, Oregon, Ireland and Israel.

Almost every aspect of life today depends on technology, and the demand for more manufacturing and advanced packaging systems for microchips is more critical than ever as more people are working from home and as many parts of education and communication have gone virtual, said Keyvan Esfarjani, the company's senior vice president for manufacturing and operations.

"The world is continuing to count more and more on advanced semiconductor technologies," he said, "and Intel is absolutely the enabler."

The Santa Clara, California, company recently reported first-quarter earnings of $3.36 billion, topping expectations. Since the beginning of the year, Intel shares have increased by about 26% following a downturn last year as it reported a delay in development of its next-generation manufacturing process for building faster and more powerful chips.

Most of the world's chip manufacturing happens in Asia. Intel is the only company currently producing in the U.S.

President Joe Biden's infrastructure package proposed spending $50 billion to boost the semiconductor industry in the U.S., but New Mexico's elected leaders said nearly $20 million in homegrown tax incentives and economic development funding were key to landing Intel's latest investment.

The incentives include a recently approved program for using a percentage of gross-receipts tax and compensating revenue from the construction phase of projects to help businesses with land, building and infrastructure costs. The governor touted the bipartisan measure as a tool that will make New Mexico more competitive.

"This notion that we don't ever do it right and that the other states around us are doing it better are not true," Lujan Grisham said. "Here's an example where we're absolutely competitive at the right time and in the right ways without having to move too far in terms of an incentive."

Intel's plan in New Mexico marks one of the largest single investments by a private company in the state. The governor said the incentives amount to a fraction of what Intel will be investing overall and of indirect jobs and revenue that will come from the project. Intel already employs about 1,800 workers at the site and has an annual economic impact of about $1.2 billion.

The Rio Rancho plant will be modernized to focus on what the company bills as an advanced packaging system for stacking its chips that will allow for better performance and more capabilities for artificial intelligence, graphics or whatever applications customers are working on, Esfarjani said.

The project will result in 700 plant jobs, 1,000 construction jobs and an estimated 3,500 related jobs in the surrounding community. Local officials said the investment will serve as a shot in the arm as they look to rebound from the economic sting of the pandemic.

Intel first came to New Mexico in 1980. The plant has seen several revisions over the years as the company has invested more than $16 billion in its manufacturing capabilities.

"This is going to become a very integral parts of our production. It's going to become an enabler for advanced packaging," Esfarjani said. "So in my estimation we're all in, there's no looking back. We're absolutely committed to making this a huge success and will be counting on this operation for decades to come."

Bobby Unser, 87, Indy 500 Champ In Great Racing Family, Dies - By Jenna Fryer, AP Auto Racing Writer

There wasn't much Bobby Unser wouldn't do to promote the Indianapolis 500, which is how he found himself at a show-and-tell at an Indiana elementary school a few years ago.

He had the famed Indy 500 winners' Borg-Warner Trophy with him and proudly showed the students the Unser legacy. He pointed to the nine places where their faces are sculpted into the sterling silver — four spots for his little brother, Al; three for himself; two for nephew Al Jr.

One girl had a question: If his brother was there four times and he was there only three, was his brother the better racer?

It was one of few times anyone had seen Unser speechless.

Unser, who began racing jalopies in New Mexico and went on to become a beloved figure across racing and part of the only pair of brothers to win "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing," died Sunday at 87. He died at his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, of natural causes, Indianapolis Motor Speedway said.

"There simply was no one quite like Bobby Unser," said Roger Penske, now the speedway owner. "Beyond his many wins and accomplishments, Bobby was a true racer that raised the performance of everyone around him. He was also one of the most colorful characters in motorsports."

Unser was a member of one America's most famed racing families and  one of the greatest drivers in the history  of the speedway, capturing the race in 1968, 1975 and 1981.

"He is part of the Mount Rushmore of Indy," said Dario Franchitti, another three-time Indy 500 winner.

Unser's final Indy 500 victory in a Penske entry was one of the most contentious outcomes and is still disputed to this day.

Unser won from the pole and beat Mario Andretti by 5.18 seconds, but officials ruled Unser passed cars illegally while exiting the pit lane under caution — drawing a penalty that docked him one position and moved Andretti to winner.

Penske and Unser appealed and after a lengthy process the penalty was rescinded in October of that year.

"Bobby was never exonerated of the infraction and USAC, which was the sanctioning body of only Indianapolis at the time, was a very weak organization," Andretti said Monday. "Roger Penske's lawyers were a lot smarter than the USAC lawyers. And this is a fact: Bobby did commit the infraction. But under the circumstances, the penalty was too severe."

Unser in the end was fined $40,000 and declared the winner for the 35th and final victory of his career.

Andretti, who infamously won only once at Indy, told The Associated Press on Monday that to this day he wears the 1981 winner's ring he was presented at the banquet the day after the race instead of the one from his 1969 victory.

"Every time I saw Bobby I would flash my '81 ring, it's the one I wear, I never gave it back. I would just rub it on his ear," said Andretti, who added he last spoke to Unser about three weeks ago.

Unser was one of six members of the Unser family to race in the Indianapolis 500; an older brother, Jerry, died in a crash preparing for the 1959 Indy 500.

Al Unser is one of only three drivers to win the Indy 500 four times — 1970, 1971, 1978 and 1987. The Unser family tradition stretched to Al Unser's son, Al Unser Jr., who won Indy in 1992 and 1994.

Bobby Unser was born Feb. 20, 1934, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and moved with his family as a child to New Mexico. His father owned a garage along Route 66 and he his three brothers grew up tooling around in old jalopies before he quit high school at 15 and began his racing career at Roswell New Mexico Speedway.

After two years in the U.S. Air Force from 1953 to 1955 — a stint in which he took pride — Unser turned to racing full time in what became a mighty career. His family was legendary at Pikes Peak International in Colorado — nicknamed "Unsers' Peak" because of their prowess at the annual hill climb — but it was "Uncle Bobby" who was the best. He dominated with 13 championships, including six straight from 1958 to 1963.

At Indy, one of the most difficult and challenging race tracks in the world, Unser was magical.

He was one of just 10 drivers to win the 500 at least three times, and Unser and Rick Mears are the only drivers to win the 500 in three different decades. Unser produced 10 top-10 finishes in 19 career starts. He led led in 10 races for a total of 440 laps, which to this day ranks 10th on the all-time list. He won two poles, in 1972 and 1981, and had nine front-row starts.

Franchitti spent time each year at the speedway or at dinner with other past winners and said Unser was "always the largest personality in pretty much any room."

"He showed up at the speedway and regardless of when he last raced, he still understood the race and what it took to win the race and he was still so very insightful," Franchitti said. "He loved the Indy 500 so much. He loved coming back."

The exclusive club of former winners gathers in Indy annually — the pandemic put a pause on the tradition last year — to reminisce about their speedway days. Unser always held court among the giants of motorsport, none ever taking for granted the deadly dangers of Indianapolis.

"He was a fun guy and he liked to talk and to make light of a lot things and always made great conversation, especially at dinner in Indy where everybody convenes. We'd get together for a steak downtown," Andretti said. "The fact that we survived at all. We lost so many. We dodged a bullet."

After his driving career, Unser moved to a 20-year broadcasting career and won an Emmy Award as part of the ABC Sports broadcast team for "Outstanding Live Sports Special" for its coverage of the 1989 Indianapolis 500.

He was in the booth in 1987 when he called brother Al's record-tying fourth 500 victory, and again in 1992 when nephew Al Unser Jr. won Indy for the first time in the closest 500 finish. When his TV career ended, Unser continued to visit the speedway every May. He was a driver coach who assisted on race strategy in 1998 and 1999 when son Robby Unser finished fifth and eighth.

Unser is survived by his wife, Lisa; sons Bobby Jr. and Robby; and daughters Cindy and Jeri.

Navajo Nation Reports 3 New COVID-19 Cases, But No Deaths - Associated Press

The Navajo Nation on Monday reported three new confirmed COVID-19 cases and no additional deaths again.

The tribe had six new cases and three coronavirus-related deaths on Saturday and six new cases and no deaths Sunday.

Tribal health officials said the total number of cases since the pandemic began more than a year ago now is 30,522 on the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah with 1,281 known deaths. 

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said more than half of the reservation's adult population has been vaccinated, but people still need to stay home as much as possible, wear masks and avoid large gatherings.

Last week, the Navajo Department of Health loosened some virus-driven restrictions and transition to "yellow status." 

Restaurants now are allowed to have in-door dining at 25% capacity and outdoor dining at 50% capacity.

Parks are permitted to open at 25% capacity but only for residents and employees. 

Navajo casinos are open at 50% capacity, but only for residents and staff.

Educator Guides Development Of Hobbs Tech Education Center - By Blake Ovard Hobbs News-Sun

Zeke Kaney has spent all of his teaching career in the Hobbs Municipal School District, and while each position he has held has brought its own excitement with it, the newly announced director of Career and Technical Education is ready to build even more into the community as head of the new $50 million Career and Technical Education Center (CTECH).

"This is the kind of job that will keep you around," Kaney told the Hobbs News-Sun while smiling widely during a recent Friday morning.

And, HMS Superintendent TJ Parks said Kaney is the ideal person to lead CTECH forward.

"CTECH is going to have the largest impact on this region of anything that has come along in quite awhile," Parks said. "We had to make sure we had a highly qualified person who understands the school's significance in the community and could hit the ground running."

What can be seen when talking to Kaney for any length of time about Hobbs schools or the CTECH is his passion for education — and for students. While visiting the construction site, almost every aspect of the project brought a smile to his face, and his eyes lit up when he explained how the center would serve the needs of students learning vocational skills.

"What a great way to spend your day with kids," Kaney said. "Eight hours of this with kids being creative and building things with their hands and learning skills — that's going to translate to future work in careers that's relevant to them."

Kaney will literally be building the future with students at the center.

"I think it will be a great way to spend a day," he said, again, smiling widely.

Kaney, who is originally from Anaconda, Montana, started his career as a science — in particular physics — teacher at Hobbs High School. He has been with the school district about two and a half decades and served as the high school principal for six years before taking over as the director of operations for the district. In addition, Kaney has been an assistant principal at Highland Middle School, was the principal at Heizer Middle School and has been a golf coach.

After the 2019 bond passed allowing the construction of CTECH, he played a substantial role in the planning of CTECH and in meeting with local businesses and community partners — such as JF Maddox Foundation, the city of Hobbs and the Permian Strategic Partnership — to identify more specific community needs. Those partners have contributed about $30 million toward construction of the facility.

"He's been involved in every aspect of this school since day one," Parks said. "I know there's nobody in the district that knows more about the facility and the way it needs to operate than Zeke Kaney."

But moving from director of operations to director of career and technical education isn't something Kaney said he was thinking about.

"It was a recent decision that felt like it was just the best move going forward," Kaney said. "As well as I think this is just going to be a pretty awesome deal."

Another aspect of building a new, state-of-the-art technology and vocational education center is fostering a greater sense of community.

"I like that connection you get when a community and a school connects on needs," Kaney said. "I think it makes a stronger overall community. I'm looking forward to what it looks like three years down the road as we're putting kids in positions for employment and internships and I'm really excited to see what that connection between industry partners and kids, and we're helping the community, and the community is helping these kids."

While the construction phase of CTECH is happening, there's more than enough to keep Kaney busy as the director of operations and as the director of career and technical education. But one thing remains constant — Kaney looks forward to students learning in the center.

"There's a lot of work that has to be done right now. You have to order equipment, you have to make sure things are getting done. There are always things needing attention. Opening a new building is not easy," Kaney said. "When the kids are in there and we're functioning, that's going to be fun."