WED: Candidates Clash In New Mexico Congressional Election Debate, + More

9 hours ago

Candidates Clash In New Mexico Congressional Election Debate - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

Major-party candidates for an open congressional seat in New Mexico clashed over solutions to violent crime, police accountability, the southern border wall and the pandemic's economic challenges as early absentee voting ballot began.

Four candidates have their names on the ballot for the 1st Congressional District post to succeed Deb Haaland after her departure from Congress to lead the Department of the Interior. 

Election day is June 1 for a seat held by Democrats since 2009.

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.

At a combative hourlong debate, Moores emphasized his unbending support for police officers, while Stansbury highlighted her focus on families and a humanitarian approach to immigration. Libertarian nominee Chris Manning also joined in as the "rogue" option, advocating for drug decriminalization and a shift in police resources toward the homicide beat and fewer speeding tickets.

Moores said the border wall project from former President Donald Trump needs to be completed to stem drug trafficking and asylum seekers, asserting that President Joe Biden's suspension of some construction has led to inhumane conditions in southern New Mexico.

Moores also repeatedly sought to link Stansbury to the so-called BREATHE Act from the Movement for Black Lives in 2020 that would divest taxpayer spending from traditional policing and agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Agency and invest in alternative approaches to public safety. 

In response, Stansbury emphasized her work in the Legislature coordinating capital spending for police and other first responders. 

She said investments should take on the root causes of crime through addiction services and better public education — and that policing reforms, including a federal rollback of police immunity, are needed to fix a broken criminal justice system.

She punched back at Moores by questioning how he could accept funds for his business from federal relief packages and still oppose Biden's pending initiatives on infrastructure spending and a $1.8 trillion proposal for education and families that includes free preschool.

Moores called the line of questioning "despicable," saying he put his personal safety on the line to help his company conduct COVID-19 testing during the pandemic. He is co-owner of a diagnostic testing laboratory that received about $1.8 million in federal payroll-support loans that may not have to be repaid.

Stansbury is a public policy consultant for environmental and philanthropic groups who invokes her Albuquerque upbringing within a low-income family. She ousted an incumbent Republican from the Statehouse in 2018 amid a wave of successful campaigns by progressive New Mexico female legislative candidates.

Moores, a third-term state Senator and former football lineman for the University of New Mexico, has been a vocal critic of the state's aggressive pandemic restrictions. On Tuesday, he highlighted Latino family ties dating back to the region's Spanish colonial period. 

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.

But Democrats account for a dominant 47% of registered voters, versus 28% for Republicans, in the district that 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.

Moores avoided a direct answer when asked by moderators who won the 2020 presidential election. "Obviously, Joe Biden is current president of the United States and hopefully we can change that in a couple more years," Moores said.

In the state Legislature, Stansbury and Moores have offered starkly contrasting views.

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 as a crucial source of employment in New Mexico. Stansbury has highlighted her advocacy for modernizing the electrical grid to address climate change and create jobs.

"We have to elect someone with a vision, someone that will work with President Biden and across the aisle," Stansbury said.

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.

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.

Families, Advocates Mark Day Of Awareness For Native Victims - By Felicia Fonseca And Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

From the nation's capitol to Indigenous communities across the American Southwest, top government officials, family members and advocates are gathering Wednesday as part of a call to action to address the ongoing problem of violence against Indigenous women and children.

U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and other federal officials are expected to commemorate the annual day of awareness as a caravan of female motorcycle riders hits the streets in Phoenix, advocates take to social media, and families prepare for a night of candlelight and prayer vigils. 

Haaland, the first Native American to lead a U.S. cabinet agency, called May 5 an unfortunate tradition.

The former Democratic U.S. representative from New Mexico remembers hearing families testify about searching for loved ones on their own and bringing clothing to congressional hearings that represented missing and slain Native Americans.

Haaland will display a red shawl on an empty chair in her office Wednesday to symbolize those who have disappeared and honor the movement that rang the alarm. She said she believes the nation has reached an inflection point.

"This year more than any, I feel we are ready to solve this crisis," she told reporters Tuesday. "Everyone deserves to feel safe in their communities, but the missing and murdered Indigenous peoples crisis is one that Native communities have faced since the dawn of colonization. For too long, this issue has been swept under the rug with the lack of urgency, attention and funding."

Haaland cited studies and federal statistics that show at least 1,500 Native Americans and Alaska Natives are missing and Native women are at an increased risk of violence.

Indigenous women have been victimized at astonishing rates, with federal figures showing that they — along with non-Hispanic Black women — have experienced the highest homicide rates. Yet an Associated Press investigation in 2018 found that nobody knows the precise number of cases of missing and murdered Native Americans nationwide because many go unreported, others aren't well documented, and no government database specifically tracks them.

Over the past year, advocacy groups report that cases of domestic violence against Indigenous women and children and instances of sexual assault increased as nonprofit groups and social workers scrambled to meet the added challenges that stemmed from the coronavirus pandemic.

President Joe Biden issued a proclamation  Tuesday on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day. He has promised to bolster resources to address the crisis and better consult with tribes to hold perpetrators accountable and keep communities safe. Haaland said that includes more staffing in a U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs unit dedicated to solving cold cases and coordinating with Mexico and Canada to combat human trafficking.

The administration's work will build on some of the initiatives started during former President Donald Trump's tenure. That included a task force made up of the Interior Department, the Justice Department and other federal agencies to address violent crime in Indian Country.

Advocates have said a lack of resources and complex jurisdictional issues have exacerbated efforts to locate those who are missing and solve other crimes in Indian Country. They also have pointed to the need for more culturally appropriate services.

Bryan Newland, principal assistant secretary for Indian Affairs at the Interior Department, said staffing at the Bureau of Indian Affairs unit will go from a team of 10 to more than 20 officers and special agents with administrative and support staff it previously didn't have.

He also said the federal government has started distributing funding under the American Rescue Plan Act, including $60 million for public safety and law enforcement in Indian Country.

"We're really looking to build upon many of the things that have been done, to expand them and bring focus to them," Newland said.

Haaland said success would be measured by solving cold cases.

"Right now there are people in this country who don't know where their loved ones are. They haven't been found," she said. "We want to be able to answer that question. We want to make sure that folks can have some closure about their missing loved ones."

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."

New Mexico Urges Registration Of Younger Teens For Vaccine Associated 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.

Monitor's Report Finds Albuquerque Police Department Lacking Associated 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."

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.

Treasury: Some Tribes Will Get More Money From CARES Act - By Felicia Fonseca Associated Press

Some Native American tribes will receive more money from a federal virus relief package approved last year after the U.S. Treasury Department revised its methodology that tribal nations contend was badly skewed. 

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act set aside $8 billion for tribes. The Treasury Department distributed 60% of it, or $4.8 billion, based on population data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Three tribes sued over the methodology, alleging they were shortchanged by millions because tribal enrollment figures were higher than those reflected in federal data.

It's unclear exactly how many tribes, aside from the trio of plaintiffs, will benefit from the revised calculation or how much they'll get.

The Shawnee Tribe in Oklahoma and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians in Florida were among those given the minimum $100,000 because the HUD data showed they had a population of zero. The Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation in Kansas argued it should have received $7.65 million more than it got.

Pilar Thomas, who is representing the Shawnee Tribe, said Tuesday that she's still reviewing the methodology to determine the impact.

Meanwhile, the U.S. District Court judge overseeing the case from Washington set a hearing next week in light of the Treasury Department saying it will start making payments to plaintiffs this week.

About $530 million remains for tribes from the CARES Act funding, most of which is tied up in a U.S. Supreme Court case that centers on whether Alaska Native corporations are eligible for a share. The high court held oral arguments last month and seemed inclined to rule in favor of the corporations but hasn't issued a final decision.

In the case involving the Shawnee, Miccosukee and Prairie Band Potawatomi tribes, a federal court has said the tribes are likely to succeed in their challenges over the Treasury Department's population-based disbursements and ordered $21 million from the remaining funds withheld. 

The Treasury Department said it will look at the difference between the federal data and the enrollment data provided by tribes and rank them, so the top 15% get an additional payment. The higher the ratio between the two data sets, the larger the percentage of funding a tribe will get, the department said.

"The funds available for reallocation are limited and, therefore, only the most substantial disparities can be addressed," the department wrote in a briefing paper.

The Treasury Department acknowledged a request for additional information Tuesday but did not immediately respond to questions. 

Not all of the 574 federally recognized tribes across the United States have provided their own enrollment figures to the federal government, the Treasury Department said. 

Eric Henson, an adjunct lecturer at Harvard University who has studied the tribal disbursements, said that points to a need for a certified enrollment data set for tribes, with either the federal government reaching out to tribes or the tribes keeping updated figures. 

"That's one foundational part of this proposed solution that kind of makes my head spin with questions," said Henson, who is Chickasaw.

The Treasury Department has said it used HUD data because it would correlate with the amount of money tribal governments have spent responding to the coronavirus pandemic. Tribal enrollment figures don't distinguish between members or citizens who live on and off reservations.

U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta in Washington initially ruled the Treasury Department had discretion in how it distributes CARES Act funding to tribes and the methodology wasn't subject to court review.

A federal appeals court revived the tribes' claims and sent them back to Mehta for a decision on the merits.

Navajo Nation Reports 12 New COVID-19 Cases And 1 More Death - Associated Press

The Navajo Nation on Tuesday reported 12 new confirmed COVID-19 cases and one additional death. 

Tribal health officials say the total number of cases since the pandemic began more than a year ago now is 30,543 on the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah with 1,282 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.