Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

WED: Progressive mayors seek reelection in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, + More

Progressive mayors seek reelection in Albuquerque, Santa Fe – By Morgan Lee And Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

Progressive mayors are seeking reelection in New Mexico’s largest city and its fast-growing state capital as voting begins Tuesday, contending with challenges from Hispanic candidates from the more conservative wing of the Democratic Party.

The Nov. 2 election is a preamble to statewide and congressional contests in 2022, where Democrats hope to extend their hold on all statewide offices including governor and super-majorities in the state House and Senate, and reclaim a congressional swing seat. Voting begins Tuesday by mail and at county clerks’ offices, with early voting at additional locations to start on Oct. 16.

In Santa Fe, publishing entrepreneur and Mayor Alan Webber is using the campaign trail to promote a guaranteed minimum income program for parents attending community college. He vows to eliminate local childhood hunger and attend to climate change as an existential threat.

Challenger and fellow-Democrat JoAnne Vigil Coppler — a city councilor and Latina native daughter of Santa Fe with a long resume in public administration — says Webber has overreached at the expense of fundamental city services and recreation facilities, such as a popular public swimming pool that broke down during the pandemic.

In Albuquerque, first-term Mayor Tim Keller is facing opposition from the more conservative ranks of his own party over concerns about his ability to contain crime in the city. His challengers include two-term Democratic county Sheriff Manny Gonzales, who backed a move by then-President Donald Trump to send in new federal law enforcement agents to Albuquerque.

Albuquerque-based political science professor Lonna Atkeson said the two mayoral races illustrate tensions within the Democratic Party. The discord could derail two highly educated white male incumbents — both with ties to Harvard Business School — in a heavily Democratic and Hispanic state with enduring currents of cultural conservatism.

“There’s a lot of potential for wedges, and there is a huge gap right now between the progressive wing of the party and the more conservative wing of the party,” Atkeson said. “You see that in both mayoral races, where someone is saying, ‘You know, we need to focus on services as opposed to all of this gigantic stuff that is not related to our local government.'”

The ballots are nonpartisan, allowing multiple candidates from the same party.

Among Republicans, conservative radio station owner and talk show host Eddy Aragon is running for the top job in Albuquerque, describing a city afflicted by economic insecurity, drug addiction and mental health issues.

In Santa Fe, Republican environmental engineer Alexis Martinez Johnson is running for mayor as a political outsider, after losing a bid for Congress last year. Registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans more than 4-to-1 in the Santa Fe area.

Santa Fe’s mayoral contest is overshadowed by simmering conflicts over historical monuments, with election challengers lambasting the city’s response as inadequate when a tumultuous crowd toppled a downtown monument representing Union soldiers who died fighting Indigenous tribes and Confederate soldiers.

The monument, which had an inscription that referred to Indigenous peoples as “savages,” was a point of civic pride among local fraternal orders and reviled by many Native Americans for glorifying military campaigns against their ancestors.

Webber has helped funnel federal pandemic aid toward grants for private businesses. He also has painted his election opponents as untrustworthy for resisting a pandemic ordinance in 2020 that required face masks to reinforce state policy. 

Vigil Coppler says she supports masks but found the city ordinance clumsy and ineffective. Johnson defied the ordinance last year and was fined.

Keller in Albuquerque hopes to extend a political winning streak that vaulted him from the Legislature to statewide office as New Mexico’s public auditor before winning the mayor job in 2017. 

Concerns about crime in the city came to a head this summer when Albuquerque marked a grim milestone — a record number of homicides with more likely to be added to the tally before the year’s end.

Keller has tried to defend his record, saying his administration is coming up with plans and programs that focus on root causes, such as addiction and poverty. 

In a nod to his progressive leanings, Keller also believes the Albuquerque Police Department is adequately funded and that more money needs to be funneled toward prevention programs and behavioral health services. More than 45% of Albuquerque’s general fund budget already is dedicated to public safety.

Homelessness and affordable housing also have been issues in New Mexico’s largest city, where the mayor conceded during a recent debate that the number of people living on the street has more than doubled during his first term in office. He blames the pandemic.

New Mexico governor thanks oil and gas, cheers hydrogen plan – By Cedar Attanasio Associated Press / Report For America

New Mexico’s Democratic governor is seeking legislation to help jump-start hydrogen production from natural gas in her state, a process that generates harmful greenhouse gases but could one day be harnessed to provide environmental benefits.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham outlined the effort briefly at a convention of oil executives Monday in a speech that acknowledged the state’s reliance on industry tax revenue while pledging to enforce pro-environment regulations.

It’s the latest tightrope walk for the governor who has promised action on climate change while also working to shield the state’s oil and gas producers from a federal drilling moratorium on public lands issued by fellow Democrat President Joe Biden.

Lujan Grisham’s first message to the executives was to put on their masks, citing her own emergency regulations issued weeks ago in response to the surge of the delta variant of the coronavirus.

She paused while some 300 attendees complied, before launching into a 20-minute speech thanking oil and gas producers for their contributions to the economy and tax revenues that form the backbone of state education funding.

She pledged to kick-start the hydrogen fuel industry in New Mexico with legislation in February.

“We are working on that as we speak,” Lujan Grisham said, adding that it’s part of an effort to turn New Mexico into a hydrogen fuel “hub.”

The bill could include taxes and incentives for energy producers to produce hydrogen, legal frameworks to facilitate production and storage, refueling corridors for truck traffic and training programs for workers in the industry.

“The Hydrogen Hub Act will continue (to) help us reach our ambitious climate goal of decreasing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 45% by 2030 — and boost our economy in the process,” said New Mexico Environment Department spokeswoman Kaitlyn O’Brien.

Like electric car batteries, hydrogen fuel cells emit no carbon dioxide when used. But electric cars, like the growing number of hydrogen vehicles including forklifts, are only as “green” as the energy used to power them.

Most energy used to produce hydrogen currently comes from natural gas, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, and directly contributes to the pollution that causes. But supporters of the technology, including Biden, see it as a pathway to reducing carbon emissions as it becomes more environmentally safe. 

New Mexico’s first large-scale hydrogen project describes itself as “blue” — harnessing natural gas to divide water to create hydrogen. A recent study by Cornell and Stanford found the process generates 20% more carbon emissions than burning natural gas or coal for heat.

In what could have been an applause line for an industry with few friends in the White House, Lujan Grisham said she’s advocating for them at the highest level.

“We continue to have conversations with the Biden administration to make sure that they understand the critical importance of this industry in our state,” the governor said.

But like most of the speech, it was met with a silent buzz of ceiling lights and an occasional cough.

In March, Lujan Grisham wrote Biden asking to exempt New Mexico from an executive order halting gas and oil production on federal land. She argued the move would push hydrocarbon mining to Texas, which shares a border above ground and the oil-rich Permian Basin beneath it.

But Lujan Grisham describes herself as a “stakeholder” of the industry, not necessarily a friend.

She pledged to restrict methane emissions at mining sites and continue enforcing regulations requiring reduced use of freshwater and thorough cleanups of environmental spills.

The speech made no mention of an oil spill currently coating the coast of California, or the record fires made worse this summer by global warming.

Producers say methane rules will cost billions.

The governor will have to walk another tightrope in February when pro-environment legislators from the state’s growing progressive wing will have a chance to weigh in on the hydrogen legislation, and New Mexico Oil and Gas representatives will too.

For many environmentalists, the governor’s methane rules and support for hydrogen don’t go far enough, fast enough, to curb global warming. Student protesters have started to picket the governor’s events and office.

A handful of student climate activists blocked hotel doors after the governor left Monday’s event. They sang and held a sign that read “Whose side are you on?”

Back in the convention hall, most of the oil and gas executives took off their masks immediately after the governor left.

Las Cruces settles suit claiming ‘rough ride’ after arrest – Las Cruces Sun-News, Associated Press

The Las Cruces Police Department has settled a lawsuit by a man who claimed he was seriously injured during an arrest by a former officer. 

The Las Cruces Sun-News reported Monday that records show the City of Las Cruces quietly settled with Warren McCowan for $180,000 in March but admitted no wrong doing. 

In turn, McCowan filed a motion to dismiss the suit with prejudice.

In the suit, McCowan said Officer Mark Morales arrested him in August 2015 for driving while intoxicated. En route to the jail, Morales allegedly placed McCowan in the back seat but did not secure him with a seatbelt. The officer then deliberately drove at a high speed and jerked his vehicle so that McCowan would bounce around.

According to McCowan, he was slammed around “like a ping pong ball.” He also said he suffered a torn shoulder when officers yanked him up from the floor. The shoulder injury later required surgery.

McCowan’s attorney says Morales had no body camera and cameras at the jail weren’t working that day.

Morales resigned from the police department in August 2019. He had been on administrative leave for an unrelated matter.

Authorities searching for escaped inmate in Chaves County – Associated Press

Authorities in Chaves County say an inmate has escaped custody.

Chaves County Sheriff Mike Herrington posted on the agency’s social media that 37-year-old Daniel Cobos escaped late Sunday night from Chaves County Detention Center.

He says Cobos is considered dangerous. 

He did not say how the suspect was able to leave or why he was in custody.

The Roswell Daily Record reports Cobos is serving time on charges of failure to appear on a felony charge; possession of controlled substances; and resisting, evading or obstructing an officer.

He was described then as 5-foot-9 and 141 pounds. He also has tattoos all over his scalp and neck.

Navajo Nation reports no COVID-19 deaths for 5th day in row – Associated Press

The Navajo Nation on Monday reported 29 more COVID-19 cases, but no additional deaths for the fifth consecutive day.

The latest numbers pushed the tribe’s totals to 34,172 confirmed COVID-19 cases from the virus since the pandemic began more than a year ago. The known death toll remains at 1,447.

Based on cases from Sept. 10-23, the Navajo Department of Health had issued an advisory for 40 communities due to an uncontrolled spread of COVID-19. 

The tribe’s reservation is the country’s largest at 27,000 square miles and it covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

Navajo officials are urging people to get vaccinated, wear masks while in public and minimize their travel. 

Officials said all Navajo Nation executive branch employees had to be fully vaccinated against the virus by the end of September or submit to regular testing.

The new rules apply to full, part-time and temporary employees, including those working for tribal enterprises like utilities, shopping centers and casinos. 

Any worker who did not show proof of vaccination by the deadline must be tested every two weeks or face discipline.

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