WED: Whole State Now In Least-Restrictive Virus Status, Democrat Stansbury Wins CD1 Race, + More

Jun 2, 2021

  

Governor Puts All Counties In Least-Restrictive Virus StatusAssociated Press

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Wednesday issued a new public health order that places each of New Mexico's 33 counties in the least-restrictive category when it comes to pandemic-related mandates.

While state officials pointed to the decreased risk of COVID-19 transmission statewide, Lujan Grisham's administration acknowledged that five rural counties would have slipped back into the more restrictive yellow category within the state's color-coded risk system had it not been for the new health order.

The governor has set a goal of ending the color-coded system at the end of June, as long as 60% of residents are fully vaccinated by then.

"We're almost there," she said in a statement, suggesting that more vaccinations would pave the way for small businesses and the economy to "roar back to life."

Vaccination rates in De Baca, Guadalupe, Harding, Roosevelt and Torrance counties have lagged as not all residents want to get shots.

With the pace of vaccination registration slowing overall, the state on Tuesday rolled out a new effort that uses cash to get more people in line. New Mexico is offering the largest single cash prize — $5 million — among a growing number of states staging lotteries to promote inoculations.

According to the latest state data, about 56% of eligible residents are fully vaccinated.

Republican state lawmakers are criticizing the governor for using federal pandemic relief aid for the vaccination lottery. They argue that Lujan Grisham's vetoes earlier this year of legislative proposals for how to use the money were unconstitutional and that Democratic lawmakers have been unwilling to take action to preserve the Legislature's authority.

"It is clear she wants to use this money to rehabilitate her image amid numerous scandals and New Mexico's anemic recovery," said Sen. Craig Brandt of Rio Rancho.

Urging Democratic lawmakers to push back, he said that giving any governor the unilateral authority to dole out billions of taxpayer dollars is "unconscionable and unconstitutional."

Legislators in March assigned $1.1 billion to backfill the state's unemployment insurance trust, underwrite roadway projects, provide several years of tuition-free college to in-state students and shore up finances at state museums. Lujan Grisham vetoed those provisions.

Santa Fe Opera Gears Up For Ticket Sales, Season Opener - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

The gates at the famed Santa Fe Opera are open again, and General Director Robert Meya said Wednesday that he and the entire company are excited to return to the stage in July following nearly a year of planning and preparation amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Meya said during a virtual news conference that the company recently obtained approval from state officials to increase theater capacity and begin ticket sales on June 10. That means the open air venue will have about 1,000 additional seats for every performance this summer and for the first time will offer nightly simulcasting outside on giant video walls.

"While the past year has presented countless challenges, it has also pushed us to explore new avenues for bringing opera to our community," Meya said.

That has included investments in the opera's audio and visual infrastructure for things like the simulcasting and other digital offerings, such as virtual backstage tours.

More than $5 million in tickets had been sold last year before the opera was forced to cancel the 2020 season due to the pandemic. Without a regular season, the opera was faced with a $10 million loss in revenue, leaving officials to stretch federal relief money and donations as far as they could go.

In a regular year, the opera's operating budget is about $25 million, with 40% coming from ticket sales and donations making up another 40%.

Some patrons held on to their tickets for future years while others donated theirs back to the opera to help compensate seasonal staff. Sponsors also helped to match donations.

Meya did not address the opera's financial situation during the news conference, but acknowledged that the journey over the past year has been long.

"The fact that we will be on stage in a few weeks is a testament to the hard work, unfailing optimism and sheer faith of the hundreds of staff members — both year-round and seasonal — who call the Santa Fe Opera their home," he said.

In recent years, the venue has been the backdrop for productions about the dawn of the nuclear age in 1940s New Mexico and a world premiere of a techno-infused opera about Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who died last fall, also used to be a regular visitor to performances in Santa Fe.

Among the new productions this season will be the world premiere of The Lord of Cries by John Corigliano and Mark Adamo. There also will be a special, one night-only concert featuring soprano Angel Blue in early August.

Among the health precautions this season, masks will be required for everyone visiting the opera.

As the opera prepares for a different kind of opening night, new Chief Artistic Officer David Lomelí said the industry also is navigating a new era that includes audiences in cyberspace. He believes the Santa Fe Opera can lead a think tank of creators who can tell stories relevant to the world today while still holding true to the traditions of the medium.

"We are experiencing a generational shift in our industry. The industry leaders of our companies are changing," said Lomelí, a native of Mexico who recently joined the Santa Fe Opera. "An opera company today will need all the artistic firepower that they can summon in order to capture the minds of an audience that is already bombarded with myriad options for entertainment at the reach of their hands."

Like its audience, Lomelí said he believes the industry itself also is moving toward more diversity among its artists.

Navajo Nation Reports No Additional Deaths From COVID-19Associated Press

For the second day in a row, the Navajo Nation is reporting no additional deaths of COVID-19.

The Navajo Department of Health reported Wednesday that only six new cases of the virus were reported on the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

The Navajo Nation has reported 1,322 deaths as of Wednesday since the start of the pandemic and 30,847 cases.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez says more than half the reservation's adult population is fully vaccinated but officials want to see at least 75% of the eligible population vaccinated to reach community immunity.

He urged people to keep their guard up and get vaccinated if they haven't already.

The vaccine is available during drive-thru events or by appointments at health care facilities across the reservation.

Las Cruces Board Selects Ramos As School SuperintendentAssociated Press

Interim Superintendent Ralph Ramos has been chosen as permanent superintendent of the Las Cruces public school system, filling a vacancy created by the Feb. 25 death of Superintendent Karen Trujillo.

The Board of Education selected Ramos on a 4-1 vote Tuesday evening following a search for a successor for Trujillo, who died after struck by a vehicle while walking in her neighborhood.

Ramos began his 28 years with Las Cruces Public Schools as an eighth-grade science teacher. He began moving up in the district's administrative ranks after transferring to a high school in 2000.

Before Ramos became the interim superintendent, he spent 12 years as the principal at Camino Real Middle School.

During the virtual forum on May 26, Ramos said he intends to lift up student voices and hear their opinions about their learning, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We need the student voice at the table as well," Ramos said.

Democrats Seek Momentum In Lopsided US House Victory - By Morgan Lee and Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

A major Southwestern metro region delivered a resounding victory to a Democratic congressional candidate who embraced the Biden administration's prescription's for economic recovery, as voters rebuffed Republican overtures across Albuquerque's heavily suburban and Latino political landscape.

Tuesday's special election vaulted 42-year-old Democrat Melanie Stansbury, a second-term state representative, into the congressional seat held previously by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.

The election is a precursor to a handful of races to fill vacancies in Congress ahead of 2022 midterm elections. Democrats held a 219-211 majority in Congress going into Tuesday's vote in New Mexico's 1st Congressional District.

Stansbury won roughly 60% of the vote in a four-way race, handing a stinging defeat to three-term Republican state Sen. Mark Moores.

Uncertified election results on Wednesday showed a victory margin of 24.5 percentage points for Stansbury — far greater than Haaland's 16-point win in 2020. That even edged past Biden's 23-point win in New Mexico last year.

Stansbury highlighted a working-class, public school upbringing in Albuquerque — her mother was a factor worker and crane operator — and she embraced top-line Democratic initiatives on pandemic relief, infrastructure spending and interventions to slow climate change.

State Democratic Party official say they used the special election to rebuild advocacy infrastructure and return to in-person political events, keeping in mind the party's narrow majority in Congress.

Stansbury leveraged fundraising drives by splitting contributions with other Democratic politicians. Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, campaigned in New Mexico alongside Stansbury during the final week of early voting.

The Democratic effort contacted voters 350,000 times in its largest field program for the district in more than a decade, state party Chairwoman Jessica Velasquez said.

"We know that we can't afford to lose a single seat" in Congress, Velasquez said. "I think that this race bodes really well for Democrats moving forward. We've seen a lot more Democrats turning out to vote early, a huge amount of enthusiasm, especially since we've returned to holding some in-person events and frankly it's been a great opportunity for us to continue to build Democratic infrastructure."

Republicans had little to salvage from the lopsided loss.

Moores focused on local concerns about the crime rate in Albuquerque over national politics, and he leveled criticism at New Mexico's delayed reopening of the economy as the pandemic wanes. The public safety mantra bore echoes of Trump and his condemnation last year of crime rates in Democrat-led cities as he dispatched federal agents to Albuquerque.

Rod Adair, a demographer and political consultant who previously served as a Republican in the New Mexico state Senate, noted that the Republican congressional nominee lost ground in voting margins for each of the five counties represented in the 1st Congressional District, compared with 2020 voting returns.

He described a "moribund" state Republican Party that was unable to help a skilled GOP candidate, and failed to link the economic distress of the pandemic to Democratic leadership in the White House and the New Mexico governor's office.

"The party was invisible," Adair said of the GOP. "Overriding all of this, New Mexico is migrating leftward, and we've seen that in the political demographics of the state and especially in" the 1st Congressional District.

Stanbury's victory preserves an all-female House delegation for the state. Republican U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell last year ousted a Democratic incumbent from the conservative-leaning 2nd Congressional District in southern New Mexico.

The 1st Congressional District encompasses Albuquerque, rural Torrance County and other outlying areas that include the Indigenous community of Sandia Pueblo. Libertarian nominee Chris Manning won a little over 1% of Tuesday's vote, and independent Aubrey Dunn Jr. got nearly 3%.

The district's voters have heavily favored Democratic candidates in recent years. Prior to 2008, the district often backed Republicans for Congress, including Heather Wilson, who later became secretary of the U.S. Air Force under President Trump.

Democratic political consultant Sisto Abeyta says the state's Democratic voters remain highly averse to the Trump brand of politics that still overshadows GOP candidates.

"We're used to the Pete Domenici Republicans," Abeyta told KANW radio, in reference to the deceased six-term U.S. senator who retired in 2008. "The Republican brand kind of just wrapped themselves around the Trump brand, and they haven't shaken loose from it."

Democrat Melanie Stansbury Wins US House Race In New Mexico - By Susan Montoya Bryan And Morgan Lee Associated Press

Democrat Melanie Stansbury won election to Congress for New Mexico on Tuesday with a campaign closely tied to initiatives of the Biden administration.

Stanbury prevailed in an open, four-way race to fill a vacant seat previously held by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. The 42-year-old state legislator outpaced her Republican rival by more than 30,000 votes, garnering roughly six of every 10 votes as ballots were tallied into the night.

Stansbury closely tethered her bid for Congress to proposed and enacted Democratic legislation on pandemic relief, infrastructure spending and interventions to slow climate change. Her victory shores up the Democratic majority in Congress ahead of 2022 midterm elections.

She strode on stage in Albuquerque with both arms raised high, in celebration of her win. Thanking supporters and volunteers, she said the grit and determination that fueled her campaign was learned from her own mother, who worked in a denim factory and later as a crane operator.

"When the moment demands it, when our families and our communities demand it, when our country demands it, we step up and find the solutions for communities and we figure it out," Stanbury said. "And that is exactly what we did in this campaign and that is why I am standing before you tonight."

Stanbury's victory preserves an all-female House delegation for the state. She defeated third-term Republican state Sen. Mark Moores to fill an Albuquerque-based seat that has been held by Democrats since 2009.

Libertarian nominee Chris Manning and independent Aubrey Dunn Jr. campaigned unsuccessfully to represent the 1st Congressional District, which encompasses Albuquerque, rural Torrance County and other outlying areas that include the Indigenous community of Sandia Pueblo.

Stanbury reiterated her push for a $15 minimum wage, economic and racial equality and police reforms. She said there's a lot of work to do and she wants to give everyone a seat at the table as the country and its infrastructure is rebuilt.

Amid Election Day voting, she emphasized the need for a major round of federal infrastructure spending.

"This is especially important for New Mexico because it includes funding for things like broadband and clean energy," Stansbury said.

The district's voters have heavily favored Democratic candidates in recent years, shunning former President Donald Trump with a gap of 23 percentage points in 2020 and reelecting Haaland with a margin of 16 percentage points as voter participation reached an all-time high.

Tuesday's election is among a handful of races to fill vacancies in Congress ahead of 2022 midterm elections. Democrats held a 219-211 majority in Congress going into Tuesday's vote in New Mexico.

Moores tried unsuccessfully to flip the seat to Republican control by highlighting concerns about crime in Albuquerque and painting his Democratic opponent as a radical progressive.

Sean Patrick Maloney, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said from New Mexico that enthusiasm is up among Democrats and that Stansbury's win helps ensure work can continue in Washington on the Democratic agenda.

New Mexico's 1st District seat has consistently been a stepping stone to higher office for Republican and Democratic politicians, including now-deceased Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan Jr., former U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

The district relies heavily on federal military and research funding as home to Kirtland Air Force Base and Sandia National Laboratories.

Trump in 2020 fell flat with Albuquerque-area voters after he sent federal agents to bolster local law enforcement efforts.

Republicans last year flipped the state's sprawling 2nd Congressional District in southern New Mexico as Yvette Herrell of Alamogordo ousted incumbent U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small.

New Mexico Offers Largest Single Vaccination Prize In US - By Cedar Attanasio Associated Press / Report For America

New Mexico bet big Tuesday that cash can persuade people to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, offering the largest single cash prize among the growing number of states staging lotteries to promote inoculations.

Vaccinated residents who register on New Mexico's "Vax 2 the Max" portal can win prizes from a pool totaling $10 million that includes a $5 million grand prize, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced.

"Getting vaccinated is the right thing to do — for yourself, for your family and for your state," Lujan Grisham said. "I'm excited to add a little fun to our nation-leading vaccination push."

At least 55% of eligible residents in the state are fully vaccinated, but the Department of Health wants to reach 70% and close in on possible herd immunity.

Ohio and California are also offering lotteries that have shown some success in boosting vaccination rates. California previously offered the largest single prize of $ 1.5 million from a total lottery pool of $116 million.

The prize money offered by New Mexico would go far in the state that's one of the poorest in the country, ranking 48th in per capita income of around $45,800, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Lujan Grisham said the lottery program is funded by federal pandemic relief money.

Starting next week, New Mexico officials will draw prizes of $250,000 in each of four different regions of the state, as well as smaller prizes ranging from lottery "scratcher" tickets to in-state vacation packages and museum tickets. The $5 million prize drawing will be held in August.

To be registered for the drawings, residents must sign up online at vax2themaxnm.org, which is separate from the state's vaccine scheduling site. Winners will have to produce their vaccination cards.

Alamogordo Woman Indicted For Murder In 2017 Homicide – Associated Press

An Alamogordo woman has been indicted for murder in the 2017 death of man whose body was found in a Mesilla ditch.

The Third Judicial District Attorney's office announced Tuesday a grand jury in Doña Ana County indicted Bryanna Terry with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. She is also facing one count each of robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery.

Prosecutors say Doña Ana County Sheriff's detectives found more evidence through new technology.

It was not immediately clear if Terry had an attorney to speak on her behalf.

Terry and her boyfriend, Justin Bullock, are both accused of killing 18-year-old Dakota Lunceford.

Lunceford's body was found in August 2017 by a farmer. His death was ruled a homicide. A medical investigator reported signs of blunt force trauma to his head.

At the time of his death, authorities said Lunceford had relatives in Alamogordo and that he was last seen alive there about a week earlier.

Police initially arrested Terry and Bullock for tampering with evidence related to Lunceford's death. They allegedly lied to police that their cellphones were broken to avoid having their devices seized.

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